UCLA Researchers’ Efforts To Combat Melanoma Get $13 Million Boost From NIH

September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020

LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) have received a $13 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to find new ways to overcome melanoma resistance to some of the most promising targeted therapies and immunotherapies, officials announced Sept. 28.

Significant advancements have been made in the past decade using targeted therapies and immunotherapies for treating people with advanced forms of this deadliest type of skin cancer, but the treatments still only work in some people. Tumors can—and often do—become resistant to these drugs, experts said.

“While these therapies have transformed the way people with melanoma are treated, only about 40 percent to 50 percent of people respond to the therapies, and that is not good enough,” said Dr. Antoni Ribas, one of the principal investigators on the grant.

Ribas is a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the Tumor Immunology Program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

To further improve the response rate, identifying mechanisms that determine how tumors can become resistant to these therapies, and understanding how to identify patients who will and will not respond, to them is critical to developing new and improved treatments.

While melanoma is relatively rare—it accounts for only 1 percent of all skin cancer cases—rates of melanoma have been rising rapidly over the past few decades, and it is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

An estimated 100,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2020, and nearly 7,000 Americans will die from the disease this year.

The five-year grant will allow researchers to investigate the biology of these therapies and will also fund clinical trials to develop new combination therapies to defeat melanoma resistance.

Along with Dr. Ribas, Roger Lo, a professor of medicine and director of the melanoma clinic in the UCLA Division of Dermatology, and Thomas Graeber, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and director of the UCLA Metabolomics Center, are leading the effort.

“These funded projects will allow us to take earlier findings and move them into pre-clinical models and clinical trials to advance treatments for tumors that do not respond or become resistant to current therapies,” Graeber said.