Melanoma researchers win GSK Award for Research Excellence

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Australian researchers who have helped revolutionise the treatment of melanoma and patient care globally have won the GSK Award for Research Excellence. 

Research led by Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer – co-medical directors of Melanoma Institute Australia – has tripled the life expectancy for some advanced melanoma patients and transformed how the cancer is diagnosed and managed worldwide.

Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the world with an estimated 14,000 cases diagnosed every year. Most people with melanoma can be successfully treated through surgery, if it is detected early, but over 1,905 Australians die from the cancer each year.

According to the researchers, advancing novel treatments like targeted therapies and immunotherapies, could mean no deaths from melanoma within a generation.

“Immuno-oncology is the ‘penicillin moment’ for cancer therapy. We’ve discovered how to leverage the relationship melanoma has with the immune system to allow a patient’s immune system to kill the cancer cells. This means we are moving towards melanoma no longer being a possible death sentence, but rather a treatable, chronic condition,” said Professor Long. 

“While we have these remarkable drugs, however, there are still a group of patients who are resistant. We’re starting to understand why patients develop resistance – and if we can tackle this by individualising and targeting therapy, we will impact not only melanoma but all cancers,” she said.

Professors Long and Scolyer and their team at Melanoma Institute Australia are currently focused on how immunotherapies can be 'personalised' for melanoma patients. The $80,000 prize that comes with the GSK Award for Research Excellence will support this research.

“Melanoma is the most common cancer in young adults in Australia, and it does not discriminate. As Australians, we’re proud of the success our country has had in leading the fight against melanoma but there’s more to do and discover. There’s a critical need to better understand why some melanomas develop so we can improve prevention and treatment.  We’re working towards making zero deaths from melanoma a reality in our lifetime,” said Professor Scolyer.

The award was presented to Professor Long and Professor Scolyer at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2018 in Sydney.

Dr Andrew Weekes, medical director of GSK Australia, said the company is proud to be able to continue supporting Australian researchers with this award. It is now in its 38th year.

“The work of Professors Long and Scolyer is an outstanding example of how home-grown innovation and collaboration can impact the lives of patients around the world. We are honoured to recognise their achievements and support research which could underpin further discoveries and better outcomes for patients,” said Dr Weekes.

Professor Long and Scolyer said that winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence is testament to the power of collaboration and highlights the importance of recognising the success of Australian research.

“Collaboration is vital for big research steps and gains. For us, this award recognises not only our team, but the collaborative efforts of our predecessors, colleagues, industry and patients,” said Professor Long. “We stand on the shoulders of others’ foresight and hard work, as well as the generosity of Australian patients whose participation in clinical trials is critical to scientific discovery.”

“It’s important that Australian science and research success is celebrated, and we are grateful to be a part of that story. We are honoured and humbled to have received this award as we, and our team, work hard to impact the lives of patients all over the world,” said Professor Scolyer.

Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are some of Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993), Professor Peter Koopman (2007) and Professor Kathryn North (2011). The 2017 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to Professor Timothy Hughes from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute for research into customising cancer treatment for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).