Melanoma treatment researchers receive major research award

Australian researchers of melanoma treatment and patient care globally have won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence.

Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer, co-Medical Directors of Melanoma Institute Australia and world leaders in melanoma research , have tripled the life expectancy for some advanced melanoma patients and altered how the cancer is diagnosed and managed worldwide.

Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the world1, with an estimated 14,000 cases diagnosed every year2. While most people with melanoma can be successfully treated through surgery if it is detected early, more than 1,905 Australians die from the cancer each year2.

According to the researchers, advancing novel treatments like targeted therapies (which modify the actions of specific genes to stop the growth and spread of cancer) and immunotherapies (which uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer), could mean no deaths from melanoma within a generation. The delivery of individualised immunotherapy according to response, has the potential to improve survival in both early and advanced stage melanoma patients and could essentially turn the cancer into a chronic condition.

“Immuno-oncology is the ‘penicillin moment’ for cancer therapy. We’ve discovered how to leverage the relationship melanoma has with the immune system to allow a patient’s immune system to kill the cancer cells. This means we are moving towards melanoma no longer being a possible death sentence, but rather a treatable, chronic condition,”  Professor Long said.

“While we have these remarkable drugs, however, there are still a group of patients who are resistant. We’re starting to understand why patients develop resistance – and if we can tackle this by individualising and targeting therapy, we will impact not only melanoma but all cancers,” she said.

Professors Long and Scolyer and their team at Melanoma Institute Australia are currently focused on how immunotherapies can be “personalised” for melanoma patients. The $80,000 prize that comes with the GSK Award for Research Excellence will support this research.

“Melanoma is the most common cancer in young adults in Australia, and it does not discriminate. As Australians, we’re proud of the success our country has had in leading the fight against melanoma but there’s more to do and discover. There’s a critical need to better understand why some melanomas develop so we can improve prevention and treatment.  We’re working towards making zero deaths from melanoma a reality in our lifetime,” said Professor Scolyer.

The award was presented to Professor Long and Professor Scolyer at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2018 in Sydney. Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director, GSK Australia, said GSK is proud to be able to continue supporting Australian researchers with this award, now in its 38th year.

“The work of Professors Long and Scolyer is an outstanding example of how home-grown innovation and collaboration can impact the lives of patients around the world. We are honoured to recognise their achievements and support research which could underpin further discoveries and better outcomes for patients,” said Dr Weekes.