Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma

Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma

23 July 2019

Barbara Holland tried everything to stop headaches for months before her doctor sent her for an MRI. Her scans showed a tumour in her sinus passages, and four tumours in her brain. In August 2015, she was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma.

Mucosal melanoma, which occurs on the inner surfaces of the body such as the mouth, nose and anogenital region and is not linked to UV exposure, has a very poor prognosis with less than 20% of patients surviving five years after diagnosis.

Now, an Australian-led international team of researchers has discovered that a drug traditionally used to treat a type of breast cancer may hold the key to treating this aggressive and deadly form of melanoma.

The international study, led by researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Melanoma Genome Project, has uncovered the diverse genetic drivers for mucosal melanoma as well as identified potential treatments.

Lead study author Professor Richard Scolyer, Co-Medical Director Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital says the study allowed researchers to not only look for new drug targets, but to also match available targeted drugs to the specific genetic drivers in mucosal melanoma.

“We now understand the genetic drivers of mucosal melanoma, and can match those to potential treatments,” Professor Scolyer said. The study revealed that a currently available class of drug commonly used to treat breast cancer looks promising for treating mucosal melanoma.

“The ramifications of this study are immense and are critical in us reaching our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.”

Published online at Nature Communications, the study detailed the genetic analysis of 67 mucosal melanoma tumours from patients from Australia, China, the United States and Europe. Using both whole-genome sequencing and whole-exome sequencing, the authors identified diverse drivers that suggested that mucosal melanoma has potential therapeutic targets.

The majority of mucosal melanomas sequenced in the study showed potential susceptibility to currently available classes of drug. One in particular, CDK4/6 inhibitors, are a class of drug used to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer.

“While advancements in treatment have drastically improved survival outcomes for cutaneous (or skin) melanoma patients, those treatments do not work as well for mucosal melanoma patients,” Professor Scolyer added.

“But now we can build our treatment arsenal for this group of patients – starting with CDK4/6 inhibitors used to treat a subtype of breast cancer.”

The study also found possible reasons why mucosal melanoma is less responsive to immunotherapy which has had such success in saving the lives of UV-related melanoma patients. It revealed that a mutation in some mucosal melanomas locks immune cells out of the tumour, rendering immunotherapy treatment ineffective.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” said Barbara.

The tumour in her sinuses was removed with surgery, and after three years of immunotherapy, one of her brain tumours is no longer measurable and the others are stable.

“This news is so exciting for other mucosal patients and their families. Hopefully in the near future, they will be able to have the same positivity that I have.”

While rare in Western populations like in Australia, where it makes up less than 2% of all melanoma cases, mucosal melanoma makes up a third of all melanoma cases worldwide.

A previous study also coming from the Australian Melanoma Genome Project found that mucosal melanoma is not linked to UV radiation, as is the case with cutaneous (or skin) melanoma.

There are no known risk factors for mucosal melanoma, making prevention strategies difficult. It is also usually diagnosed at a later stage of disease due to the challenges of monitoring sites where it is found – the internal surfaces of the body.

“The next exciting step is for Melanoma Institute Australia to develop a clinical trial to test classes of drugs and their effectiveness for treating mucosal melanoma,” said study author Professor Georgina Long, Co-Medical Director Melanoma Institute Australia The University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital

“This is the new frontier in melanoma treatment, with very real benefits for patients internationally, and we are proud to be leading the world in saving lives.”

Barbara is no longer on treatment and comes to MIA for three monthly scans.

“It’s amazing to know that there could soon be new treatments for this horrible disease. I think the best part about this discovery is that it gives hope,” said Barbara.

Team Melanoma smashes City2Surf
16 Aug 2019

Team Melanoma smashes City2Surf

We want to thank every member of Team Melanoma and everyone who donated to them. With your help, we are moving closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma!

Ready to run over melanoma at City2Surf 2019
08 Aug 2019

Ready to run over melanoma at City2Surf 2019

Lauren O'Brien tells us why she's running for a cause close to her heart

Community Fundraising July Wrap-Up
01 Aug 2019

Community Fundraising July Wrap-Up

MIA could not do what we do without the incredible support and effort of our community fundraisers. We’d like to highlight some of the wonderful events organised by our community in the month of July that are helping us move closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.

Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma
23 Jul 2019

Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma

An international study, led by researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Melanoma Genome Project, has discovered that a drug traditionally used to treat a type of breast cancer may hold the key to treating an aggressive and deadly form of melanoma.

MIA takes centre stage at leading cancer conference
05 Jun 2019

MIA takes centre stage at leading cancer conference

Researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia took centre stage at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago. Results presented by MIA’s contingent have the potential to create better patient outcomes and change the way advanced melanoma is treated .

International Clinical Trials Day 2019
20 May 2019

International Clinical Trials Day 2019

Today is International Clinical Trials Day – a day to recognise and thank the amazing people who conduct, organise, and coordinate clinical trials.

Emma Betts' legacy will live on
17 May 2019

Emma Betts' legacy will live on

“I’m the age Emma was when she passed away. It almost feels unfair, that she has to not be here for me to be able to do this. But I will use this opportunity to push as hard as I can to reach our collective goal of zero deaths from melanoma.”

Support PBS listing for three adjuvant treatments of resected Stage III melanoma
13 May 2019

Support PBS listing for three adjuvant treatments of resected Stage III melanoma

As always, part of the PBAC process invites clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community to make submissions in support of the PBS listing.

Support PBS listing for pembrolizumab
06 May 2019

Support PBS listing for pembrolizumab

As always, part of the PBAC process invites clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community to make submissions in support of the PBS listing.

How are the Premier's Awards helping cancer researchers?
02 May 2019

How are the Premier's Awards helping cancer researchers?

MIA had four winners in the 2017 Premiers Awards. Find out how winning has influenced their work over the past year.

Cancer Council awards Melanoma Institute Australia researchers funding for ground-breaking cancer research projects
19 Mar 2019

Cancer Council awards Melanoma Institute Australia researchers funding for ground-breaking cancer research projects

Almost $9 million of new funding was awarded to 13 ground-breaking cancer research projects at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards.

Making a difference to many
15 Mar 2019

Making a difference to many

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.

Aussie icon Sophie Monk calls on Australians to get behind Melanoma March
26 Feb 2019

Aussie icon Sophie Monk calls on Australians to get behind Melanoma March

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.

Melanoma breakthrough paves way for personalised treatment for all cancer patients
14 Feb 2019

Melanoma breakthrough paves way for personalised treatment for all cancer patients

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 announces 2019 Principal Partner
07 Feb 2019

Melanoma March announces 2019 Principal Partner

Melanoma March is thrilled to introduce Ricky as our official Principal Partner for 2019!

Swimming champion Cate Campbell spearheads national campaign to save lives from melanoma
05 Feb 2019

Swimming champion Cate Campbell spearheads national campaign to save lives from melanoma

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 experts collaborate on groundbreaking research
16 Jan 2019

MIA experts collaborate on groundbreaking research

MIA's expertise was essential to a recent Nature publication spearheaded by Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Melbourne.

World-leading pathologist Associate Professor Michael Tetzlaff visits MIA
20 Dec 2018

World-leading pathologist Associate Professor Michael Tetzlaff visits MIA

MIA is delighted to be hosting the MD Anderson pathologist on his first ever trip to Australia.

Possible PBS listing for dabrafenib and trametinib
18 Dec 2018

Possible PBS listing for dabrafenib and trametinib

Clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community are invited to make submissions in support of the PBS listing for dabrafenib and trametinib.

Arden Anglican School wins SunSafe Ambassador competition
13 Dec 2018

Arden Anglican School wins SunSafe Ambassador competition

Three students from Arden Anglican School in Epping have won Melanoma Institute Australia’s (MIA) inaugural SunSafe Student Ambassador Award.