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Scientists Receive Grant to Pioneer Personalized Medicine Approach to Melanoma



Scientists Receive Grant to Pioneer Personalized Medicine Approach to Melanoma

Stand Up To Cancer and the Melanoma Research Alliance have named researchers involved in a collaboration between The Scripps Research Institute and Scripps Health as part of a new “Dream Team” to find innovative ways to fight melanoma using a genomics-based personalized medicine approach. The newly funded project may also lay the groundwork for fighting many other types of cancer.

Nicholas Schork, professor at Scripps Research, director of research at Scripps Health’s Scripps Genomic Medicine, and director of bioinformatics and biostatistics at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI), whose team will receive part of the three-year $6 million grant, is excited about the opportunity to explore the potential of personalized interventions for cancer.

“This is big,” he said. “Our group—which I will lead with Scripps Research and STSI investigator Ali Torkamani—will focus on developing quantitative methods to determine what information from a tumor matters for drug selection. How do you translate, say, the expression levels of 20,000 genes into insight into the best drug to use?”

One person dies from melanoma every hour in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, one in 51 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their lifetime.

Approximately half of all patients with metastatic melanoma have a cancer-causing mutation in a gene called BRAF, while the other half of patients have the normal, mutation-free version of the gene, known as BRAFwt. This project will be developing new treatments for patients with BRAFwt melanoma.

Schork, Torkamani, and colleagues will use statistical methods to match anomalies in tumors with individual drugs’ effectiveness against them. This information, combined with findings from other groups across the country participating in the project, will inform clinical trials that will determine whether this personalized approach significantly improves clinical outcome for patients with melanoma.

Stand Up To Cancer—a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization—raises funds to accelerate the pace of groundbreaking translational research that will get new therapies to patients quickly.

The Melanoma Research Alliance is a public charity formed under the auspices of the Milken Institute, with the generous founding support of Debra and Leon Black. It supports an international, cross-disciplinary group of biomedical researchers possessing clinical and scientific expertise to explore, identify and pursue innovative solutions to critical research questions, leading to better treatments and a cure for melanoma patients. 

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Investigators Nicholas Schork (left) and Ali Torkamani will lead the Scripps Research/Scripps Health effort to determine what information from a tumor matters for effective drug selection. (Photo by Kevin Fung.)