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Putting Skin Cancer on Trial

New study could pave the way for advanced, personalized medicine

As scientists gain a greater understanding of cancer, it is becoming clear that the disease varies from person to person in part based on our genes. While some genes make us resistant to illness, others increase the risk of specific disease. That’s why cancer treatments are moving toward “personalized medicine” --custom-tailored therapies based on our individual gene structures. Personalized medicine focuses on physicians adjusting treatments for each individual to provide the best hope for response and outcome.

Patricia LoRusso, D.O., director of the Phase I Clinical Trials Program and professor of Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, will soon conduct a Phase II clinical trial that explores the gene structures of patients with advanced stage melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer. The study results could pave the way for better melanoma treatment methods as well as developing a paradigm shift in how treatment decisions are made to treat cancer. Melanoma kills more than 9,000 people each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

“There is a significant need for new treatment options for advanced stage melanoma patients,” says Dr. LoRusso, who will co-lead the study with Jeffrey Trent, Ph.D. of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona. “During the study, we will do extensive genomic profiling of each patient’s blood and tumor. Using that data, we will create individual treatments using several new drugs as well as other conventional medications. It’s a very labor-intensive and complicated study. We’ll work with seven drug companies and 10 other cancer centers around the country.”

The Stand Up To Cancer® charitable program and the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) are jointly funding this Phase II study, called the Genomically Enabled Metastatic Melanoma Trials, with additional assistance from the Gateway Foundation and additional sponsors. Drs. LoRusso and Trent are directing the SU2C/MRA Dream Team, which is comprised of a group of some of the nation’s leading cancer experts. Karmanos and TGen are the lead sites for the study, which will launch in January 2014.

This trial will enroll approximately 100 patients nationally with metastatic melanoma who have failed immunotherapy and have certain molecular characterizations. 

Dr. LoRusso says clinical trials are critical to providing new and better treatments for cancer patients.

“If you have cancer, try to seek out a clinical trial,” she says. “Clinical trials are the only way to truly advance the science and treatment of cancer. We hope this study will pave the way for personalized medicine trials for other cancer types, not just melanoma.”

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