The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) has embarked on a collaboration between the academic research community and pharmaceutical companies that will pool knowledge and resources to generate new breakthroughs in treatment.
The MRF’s research consortium will bring together 10 major academic centers specializing in melanoma research, and large pharmaceutical companies with individual therapies that have shown promise in melanoma. This initiative will attempt to break down traditional barriers that hinder collaborations between companies and the research community.
“As a community, we have hit a wall. We are fed up with melanoma patients having so few treatment options to battle their disease. It’s time to change course, get creative and accelerate the development of new therapies,” said Randy Lomax, chairman of the MRF.
The research centers in the consortium include Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at San Francisco, Moffitt Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh.
According to Berna Diehl, a spokesperson for the MRF, the pharmaceutical companies involved in the consortium will be announced at a later date.
“We are not aware of any other disease state that has used a model like this to fuel new research,” said Tim Turnham, executive director of the MRF. The consortium’s structure and work will be groundbreaking because of both its collaborative framework and research approach. Research will be geared toward combining multiple investigative drugs, rather than combining approved drugs, or an approved drug with an investigational drug.
The consortium will be coordinated by MRF, which is committed to accelerating medical research by bringing together the leaders in drug development, laboratory and clinical research for finding effective treatments, and eventually a cure, for melanoma. The MRF hopes this initiative will foster the development of effective treatment options for patients with advanced melanoma. Clinical trials are set to begin next year.
Nearly 69,000 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in 2009, resulting in an estimated 8,650 deaths. The vast majority of melanomas are caught early, when the cancer is easy to treat and cure. However, in its most advanced stages few treatment options exist.
The consortium provides a collaborative infrastructure that allows researchers to partner to conduct laboratory research and clinical trials, and to share data and information. It also creates open avenues of communication between researchers and partner pharmaceutical companies. Expanded access and an increased flow of information will allow researchers to systematically explore various combinations of therapeutic agents, from different pharma companies including those currently being tested in phase II and III clinical trials only as standalone therapies.
In the past, the melanoma research community has focused on single-agent approaches. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) was the last drug approved to treat advanced melanoma, but 85% of patients derive no benefit from this drug. The consortium approach to research will address the growing recognition that melanoma patients will need combination therapies to meaningfully increase survival.
The consortium’s approach addresses why some trials have been hamstrung in the past. Academic institutions often do not have the capacity to test investigative drugs without support from pharmaceutical companies, and pharmaceutical companies have not been able to test combination therapies of investigational drugs without support from research and academic institutions.
“The consortium breaks down the barriers to collaboration, and facilitates clinical trials that are otherwise not viable,” said Turnham.