Australian researchers stopping melanoma in its tracks
11 September 2017
A team of Australian researchers has made the ultimate move in the battle to beat melanoma, successfully trialling a combination of new treatments to stop the disease in its tracks and prevent it from spreading or metastasising to distant organs.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, with one Australian dying from advanced melanoma every five hours.
Ground-breaking results from two international clinical trials conducted by investigators at Melanoma Institute Australia are being presented today at one of the world’s largest medical oncology conferences, the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2017 Congress in Spain. The research has also been published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine today.
The trials, COMBI-AD and CheckMate 238, proved successful in preventing the spread of disease in Stage III melanoma patients whose tumours had been surgically removed. Until now, these patients were at a high risk (40−70 per cent) of their disease progressing to advanced and fatal melanoma.
“These results will change the way we treat melanoma patients as well as their quality of life,” says study author Professor Georgina Long (pictured), Conjoint Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia and Chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research at The University of Sydney.
“Until now, Stage III melanoma patients who have had their tumours surgically removed have simply had to play the waiting game, to see if their melanoma would metastasise or spread. Living with such fear severely affected them and their loved ones.
“Results from these clinical trials suggest we can stop the disease in its tracks – effectively preventing it from spreading and saving lives. Our ultimate goal of making melanoma a chronic rather than a terminal illness is now so much closer to being achieved,” she said.
In the COMBI-AD trial, patients were randomised to receive a combination of targeted therapies (dabrafenib and trametinib) or placebo for 12 months. Targeted therapies block the action of a particular gene which is a driver for melanoma. It was aimed at patients who are BRAF positive. It not only prevented resected Stage III melanoma from recurring, but it increased overall survival.
The CheckMate 238 trial involved patients with high risk Stage III and Stage IV disease who had had all melanoma surgically removed. They were randomised to be treated with the immunotherapy nivolumab or ipilimumab for 12 months. Immunotherapies reboot the immune system to attack the melanoma cells. Results showed nivolumab decreased the chance of relapse, and it had a superior safety profile over ipilimumab. This benefit was seen in patients regardless of BRAF mutation status. The follow up period is too short to yet determine long-term survival rates.
Research had already shown that targeted and immune therapies can successfully treat patients with advanced (Stage IV) melanoma that could not be removed surgically.
These clinical trials are the first in the world to give the treatments to melanoma patients at an earlier stage of the disease to prevent spread and recurrence.
“These clinical trials show we now have ammunition to prevent melanoma spreading and progressing, which until now was a critical area of disease behaviour where we had no control,” Professor Long said.
“This will change how melanoma is treated around the world, as we no longer have to passively wait to see if the melanoma spreads.
“We can now actively and effectively attack the melanoma at an earlier stage, reducing the dreadful anxiety for patients about progressing to a potentially terminal illness and ensuring they have much better outcomes,” she said.
History teacher and mother Renae Aslanis was a patient on the COMBI-AD trial. After having 10 lymph nodes removed, she decided to enter the clinical trial rather than just "watching and waiting". Now four-and-a-half years later, she is still "going strong"! Read more.
- Long G.V, et al. Adjuvant Dabrafenib Plus Trametinib for Stage III BRAF-Mutated Melanoma. New England Journal of Medicine.
- Weber, J. et al. Adjuvant Nivolumab Versus Ipilimumab in Resected Stage III or IV Melanoma. New England Journal of Medicine.
In a recent issue of Cancer Cell journal, Prof Georgina Long AO and Prof Richard Scolyer discuss the challenge of bringing together clinical work and scientific research to underpin successful cancer research.
Clinicians around the world now have access to a new online calculator that predicts the risk that a patient’s primary melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Professor Long has been appointed as an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia (General Division) for distinguished service to medicine, particularly, to melanoma clinical and translational research, and to professional medical societies.
“I had a complete response within about six months. All of my tumours disappeared."
‘We are extremely proud of our ongoing contribution to the global effort to save lives from melanoma, with Dr Silva’s prestigious award proof that we continue to lead the way,'
MIA's Co-Medical Director, Professor Richard Scolyer, has achieved a Google Scholar h-index of 100.
We know what Melanoma March means to our community, so when we had to cancel our physical events, we created Melanoma March Virtual so that everyone across Australia could still connect to honour loved ones and support each other.
A must-read personal account by Garry Maddox in The Sydney Morning Herald of how immunotherapy is revolutionising melanoma treatment.
On Friday, a publication that lays out the steps needed to find out if a systematic screening program for melanoma would benefit all Australians was published in the Australia & New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
Melanoma March events have been cancelled. A Virtual March will be held on Sunday 29th March. Read this statement from MIA CEO Matthew Browne.
Thank you to the thousands of Aussies who bought ‘Game On Mole‘ t-shirts, took selfies, shared t-shirt pics on social media and started lifesaving conversations around sun safety and skin health.
Melanoma patients now have greater access to subsidised immunotherapy thanks to additional treatments today being listed on the PBS.
Brisbane couple Leon and Tamra Betts were, like thousands of others around Australia, on the couch watching MAFS when newlywed Natasha ran through her weekly beauty routine. When they heard the 26-year-old mention solarium use, they were shocked, and then saddened, prompting this open letter to all young Australians.
Professor Richard Scolyer, Co-Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia, will welcome international attendees this weekend to a sold-out, two-day course on ‘Pigmented Lesions and Other Hot Topics in Dermatopathology’.
It is time for a reality check on solariums.
They have no place in anyone’s beauty routine.
Throughout January our community created, hosted and participated in some amazing events, each of them helping us on our quest to reach zero deaths from melanoma.
Australian television presenter, interior designer and mother Kyly Clarke has been announced as the new Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign Melanoma March.
Melanoma Institute Australia has recently partnered with three other organisations to boost support for melanoma patients and their carers across Australia.
Melanoma patients and their families across Western Australia will benefit from strengthened and expanded services with the merging of melanomaWA and Melanoma Institute Australia.
Australian researchers have played a critical role in the discovery of a potential new test to predict which early stage melanoma patients are at high risk of their disease recurring and progressing.