Progress in the development of new targeted drug therapies addressing the alarming rise of deadly melanoma skin cancers and promising new clinical trial data have been presented during the 7th Annual Melanoma Research Congress and 4th Melanoma and Skin Cancer Centres Meeting in Sydney which was held earlier this month in Sydney, Australia

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australasian Association of Cancer Registries, metastatic melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in Australia. More than 9,500 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma each year and 1,270 die from the disease. Melanoma incidence rates in Australia are approximately four times as high as those in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Furthermore, a recent Datamonitor report (Stakeholder Opinions | Melanoma 2010), showed that despite government efforts to educate people and increase awareness to avoid long exposures to the sun, melanoma is predicted to double over the next decade to around 227,000 new cases every year in developed countries.

The high prevalence of melanoma in Australia makes it a ?national cancer? and it is now the third most common cancer in both men and women in Australia. Males living in Australia have a lifetime risk of one in 18 of developing melanoma and women have a one in 23 lifetime risk. Melanoma often affects people under 40 during the most productive years of life. The conference was attended by 900 international melanoma and skin cancer experts.

The meeting was sponsored by the University of Sydney, and hosted by Melanoma Institute Australia, the world’s largest research and treatment facility of its kind, dedicated to finding ways to improve treatment for melanoma patients. Melanoma Institute Australia combines the latest clinical research with access to some of the best clinicians from Australia and around the world.

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The Highlights
Dr Keith Flaherty from the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre delivered the keynote speech. He presented data from clinical studies of new drugs developed by Roche and GlaxoSmithKline that target BRAF mutations, which occur in 50% of melanomas, 10% of colorectal cancers and overall, eight percent of all solid tumors. These drugs show a promising ability to shrink secondary tumors, known as metastases, in patients with advanced forms of the disease.

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Professor Rick Kefford from Melanoma Institute Australia and Westmead Hospital, in Sydney reported on the latest results for a Phase I/II trial of a promising new oral drug called GSK2118436. The drug is being used to treat inoperable metastases in melanoma patients, which are notoriously resistant to drug therapy.

Other highlight of the International Melanoma Congress was a talk by Dr Jeffrey Sosman from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre who presented new data from a Phase II trial of the drug RG7204. The trial data are highly anticipated due to encouraging results already released from Phase I trials of RG7204, which showed 70% of patients with previously treated metastatic melanoma who tested positive for the BRAF mutation, responded to the drug. RG7204 is being developed by Roche in collaboration with Plexxikon (PLX4032).

Results from a clinical trial of the drug PV10 that selectively targets and destroys melanoma in transit metastases without harming surrounding healthy tissue, was also one of the highlights of the meeting. PV-10 is a proprietary, injectable formulation of Rose Bengal, a small molecule agent that has been in use for nearly thirty years by ophthalmologists to assess damage to the eye. It has also been used as an intravenous diagnostic to detect ailments of the liver. Provectus Pharmaceuticals, which specializes in developing oncology and dermatology therapies, has discovered a novel use for Rose Bengal based on the observation that it is selectively toxic to cancer cells, via a process called chemoablation, whereby cells undergo a form of cell death that mimics both features of necrosis and apoptosis without harming surrounding healthy tissue, significantly reducing systemic side effects.

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