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Patricia LoRusso, D.O. selected to Co-Lead Stand Up To Cancer Melanoma Research Alliance Dream Team

First Female Physician-Scientist Appointed to help Lead Dream Team  

Patricia M. LoRusso, D.O., of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan; and Jeffrey M. Trent, Ph.D., of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona; have been selected to lead a prestigious Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) - Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) Dream Team. They will direct a Dream Team made up of some of the nation’s leading cancer experts to find more effective treatments for an aggressive form of skin cancer.

The Melanoma Dream Team will conduct personalized medical trials and extensive genomic profiling on patients with BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt) melanoma. The title of the Dream team project is “Personalized Medicine for Patients With BRAF Wild-Type Cancer.” 

For the first time, SU2C is partnering with the MRA, as well as SU2C’s scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research, to fund this Melanoma Dream Team, a $6 million, three-year grant. As co-leader, Dr. LoRusso is the first woman to serve in a Dream Team leadership role since SU2C began funding Dream Teams in 2009. Together, Drs. LoRusso and Trent blend exceptional clinical and genomic expertise. Dr. LoRusso is director of Phase I Clinical Trials and the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, and professor of Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Dr. Trent is president and research director at TGen and the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. LoRusso is a world-renowned expert in clinical and translational research, and Dr. Trent is an internationally recognized expert in molecular-based approaches to cancer.

“Dr. LoRusso is an incredible leader and a pioneer in the area of testing novel therapeutics to advance personalized cancer care, developing the next standard of care that will be used around the world,“ said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO, Karmanos Cancer Institute. “This appointment is a testimony to the dedication of Dr. LoRusso and Dr. Trent and their relentless commitment to eradicate cancer. We congratulate them and their entire Dream Team on this outstanding recognition.”

With more than 70,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed each year and more than 8,000 people dying from this disease annually, more needs to be done to stop this aggressive disease. Approximately half of those diagnosed with melanoma are older adults. About 50 percent of all melanoma cases are BRAFwt melanoma cancer.

Currently, patients who develop metastatic melanoma have a dismal prognosis, with a median survival of six to nine months and a five-year survival rate of 15 to 20 percent. About half of patients with metastatic melanoma have an oncogenic mutation in their tumor’s BRAF gene, but the other half of patients are BRAFwt and have no mutation in the gene. Very little progress has been made to identify new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic melanoma patients with BRAFwt disease.

“Although there has been progress made in the area of melanoma cancer, patients with the BRAF Wild-Type melanoma still represent a disease with unmet needs,” said Dr. LoRusso.  

“I feel very fortunate to co-lead this Dream Team with Dr. Jeffrey Trent, but also to be able to collaborate with our highly skilled team of clinicians, researchers and advocates from across the country to find personalized treatments, and hopefully a cure, for BRAF Wild-Type melanoma.”

According to Dr. Trent, “The SU2C-MRA grant gives us the remarkable ability to align cutting-edge researchers across the globe to join forces to defeat this terrible disease.”

The “Personalized Medicine for Patients With BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt) Cancer” proposal was the winning selection from 17 melanoma-focused submissions received from throughout the country. Proposals were rigorously evaluated by the SU2C-MRA Joint Scientific Advisory Committee chaired by Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant is intended to accelerate the application of new therapeutic agents to the clinic, thus advancing scientific research in the interests of both today’s cancer patients and those who may develop cancer in the future.

About the Melanoma Dream Team

The “Personalized Medicine for Patients With BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt) Cancer” Dream Team is composed of a multidisciplinary group including experts in the medical management of patients with metastatic melanoma, drug development, genomics research, biostatistics, bioinformatics and patient advocacy. It includes laboratory and clinical researchers, senior and young investigators and senior scientists who have not worked together in the past, as well as patient advocates. In addition to Dr. Trent and Dr. LoRusso, team members include:

Principals:

  • Svetomir Markovic, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic
  •  Brian Nickoloff, M.D., Ph.D., Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
  • Neal Rosen, M.D., Ph.D., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  • Nicholas J. Schork, Ph.D., The Scripps Research Institute & Scripps Health
  • Aleksandar Sekulic, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic
  • Jeffrey A. Sosman, M.D., Vanderbilt University
  • Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
  • Craig Webb, Ph.D., Van Andel Research Institute
  • Joshua LaBaer, M.D., Ph.D., The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University

Advocates:

  • Mark Gorman, J.D., National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
  • Derrick Hall, president of Arizona Diamondbacks MLB League
  • Connie Mack, U.S. Senator, Ret.
  • Jane Perlmutter, Ph.D., Gemini Group

The purpose of the team will be to identify patients with BRAFwt metastatic melanoma, do extensive genomic profiling on their tumor and identify a personalized therapeutic intervention based on the patient’s genomic makeup. Once the clinical trial is developed, patients will be able to enter a personalized trial to test the specific drug developed based on their tumor profile. The hope is that this personalized medicine approach will lead to more effective and lasting treatments, and potentially spare the patients from unnecessary treatments that are expensive, highly toxic and all too often have little or no benefit. The target for the start of the trials is estimated at mid-2012. For those interested in information on upcoming clinical trials, please email inquiries to MelanomaDreamTeam@karmanos.org.

In addition to the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team, SU2C has also awarded grants to five other Dream Teams comprised of 221 scientists at 43 institutions.

 

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