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Study funded by Conquer Cancer Foundation identifies a new therapy for rare melanoma of the eye

Today, Richard Carvajal, MD, presented a study funded in part by the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO, that will potentially have a huge impact on patients with a very rare cancer – melanoma of the eye. This clinical trial is the first to ever identify an effective drug for advanced melanoma of the eye (metastatic uveal melanoma).

There is no known effective therapy for metastatic melanoma of the eye.  Over the past decade, only 2 of the 157 patients treated on eight different clinical trials testing potential new therapies for this cancer experienced major tumor shrinkage.  In this study, 24 out of 48 (50%) patients on the new drug  called selumetinib experienced tumor shrinkage, with 15 percent achieving major tumor shrinkage.  None of the patients taking the current standard therapy for skin melanoma experienced any tumor shrinkage.  In addition, patients on the experimental therapy had more than twice as long (15.9 weeks versus 7 weeks) before their cancer began to progress (worsened).

The Conquer Cancer Foundation is proud to have directly supported this landmark study for patients with a very rare cancer, which Dr. Carvajal noted “is the largest randomized study of patients with melanoma of the eye.”  The Foundation has been supporting Dr. Carvajal’s career since first awarding him a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award (YIA) in 2008.  Then in 2010 Dr. Carvajal received the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Career Development Award (CDA) to support this pivotal study, which he described as “vitally important as it brings a biologically rational and novel therapy to a disease that is understudied.”

When asked about the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s role in his development as a researcher, Dr. Carvajal says, “The impact of the YIA and CDA cannot be overstated.  Obtaining funding for research is difficult in general and funding is being cut from federal sources at the worst time possible.  Because our understanding of the biology of cancer and  novel agents has increased rapidly in the last decade, now is the time that we could bring the most promise to patients. That’s what the Conquer Cancer Foundation allows us to do and it’s absolutely critical. But with the NIH payline under 10%, it is difficult for new investigators to get involved in research  because they can’t get the funding they need. That’s what the Conquer Cancer Foundation does – gets young people into research.”

With a successful start to his research career, Dr. Carvajal will continue his studies trying to understand the biology of melanoma of the eye. His data suggest that patients with certain genetic mutations in their cancers will have the best responses to selumetinib and he is planning follow-up clinical trials of a combination of drugs that he hopes will extend the therapeutic benefit for a longer time.  He is truly an example of a young researcher bringing hope to patients through personalized medicine.

To learn more about eye cancer, please visit Cancer.Net.

To donate to the Conquer Cancer Foundation to support more young researchers like Dr. Carvajal who are bringing hope to patients, please visit www.conquercancerfoundation.org/donate .