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.
Almost $9 million of new funding was awarded to 13 ground-breaking cancer research projects at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards. The chosen world-class research teams are leading the charge towards a cancer free future by investigating new ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Melanoma Institute Australia researchers, including Co-Medical Directors Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer, Associate Professor Matteo Carlino and Dr James Wilmott, have been awarded Cancer Council NSW Funding of $425,095.
Georgina V. Long is co-medical director of Melanoma Institute Australia and Chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research. She is the first woman president of the Society for Melanoma Research.
Quintessential Aussie girl and media personality Sophie Monk has been announced as a National Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign, Melanoma March.
Australian researchers have for the first time identified specific cells and receptors in the immune system which predict how a patient will respond to treatment with immunotherapies, potentially paving the way for the development of personalised therapy for all cancer patients.
Melanoma March is thrilled to introduce Ricky as our official Principal Partner for 2019!
World record holder, Olympian and Australian swimming champion Cate Campbell has been announced as National Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign, Melanoma March.
MIA's expertise was essential to a recent Nature publication spearheaded by Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Melbourne.
MIA is delighted to be hosting the MD Anderson pathologist on his first ever trip to Australia.
Clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community are invited to make submissions in support of the PBS listing for dabrafenib and trametinib.
Three students from Arden Anglican School in Epping have won Melanoma Institute Australia’s (MIA) inaugural SunSafe Student Ambassador Award.
Mark Whittaker’s ‘Here comes the sun; Defending our summer rays’ (GW 24 Nov) clouds the sun-safe message – which could have disastrous consequences.
Professor Georgina Long is among only 12 researchers from the University of Sydney to be named in the 2018 Highly Cited Researchers List.
‘Wearing sunscreen should be as automatic as wearing a seatbelt. Both are potential life savers.’
The Poche Centre to host 3D total-body imaging system as part of world-first initiative to save lives from melanoma
A prestigious $10 million Australian Cancer Research Foundation grant has been awarded to ACEMID, an initiative that aims to use 3D total-body imaging and a remote medicine network to improve the detection and diagnosis of early-stage melanoma.
Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer have been recognised as world leaders in melanoma research for their ground-breaking work that has changed the diagnosis and treatment landscape of melanoma world-wide, and tripled the life-expectancy of advanced melanoma patients.
Leading researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia have taken out the top accolades at the NSW Premier’s Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research.
An impressive contingent of female delegates from Melanoma Institute Australia have presented findings across the whole spectrum of melanoma research at the Society for Melanoma Research 2018 Congress in Manchester, England.
Over 800 researchers and clinicians from around the world were welcomed to Manchester for the 15th International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research (SMR). Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) has again sent an impressive number of delegates to present both oral presentations and posters with the latest in translational research.
Professor Georgina Long makes history as the first woman and first Australian to lead the Society for Melanoma Research
Professor Georgina Long makes history as the first woman and first Australian to lead the world’s most prestigious international melanoma research association.
Two publications co-edited by MIA Co-Medical Director Professor Richard Scolyer are now available to healthcare professionals. They aim to provide assistance in the care and management of patients with skin cancer, including melanoma.