Melanoma Research

The AMRF is committed to funding research aimed at furthering knowledge and offering better outcomes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

Our aim is to support research that leads to a reduction in the incidence of melanoma and its impact on those living with the cancer. The AMRF will focus on supporting early career researchers in Australia.

The Foundation has established an evaluation framework to assist in the identification of the key research areas to optimise our funding support. Over the past few years the AMRF has provided funding to support research that has had a positive impact for some with melanoma.

Current Research Projects being funded:

Introducing Dr Pablo Garcia Valtanen supervisor for Ms Samantha Watson, a PhD student at University of South Australia (UniSA), who is investigating the potential for treating melanoma with a medicine that has successfully targeted oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory. Although different, certain cancerous cells in the oesophagus and in melanoma share common traits such as the expression of disease specific molecules on their surface.

One of these molecules, is the focus of Ms Watson’s project which is trying to find new ways for treating melanoma. Her goal is to establish the potential for the use of antibodies in the clinic. This strategy has already generated positive results with oesophageal cancer models and Ms Watson now expects to replicate this success in melanoma cells.

Meet the team

Ms Samantha J Watson

Currently an Honours degree student at the Experimental Therapeutics Laboratory (ETL) and PhD candidate from next year. The work funded by the AMRF will be integrated as part of Samantha’s thesis project to conduct laboratory tests towards a new treatment method to complement existing chemotherapy drugs.

Dr Pablo Garcia Valtanen

Postdoctoral scientist managing and supervising the ConCa project for the last 2 years. Dr Garcia Valtanen will directly supervise and contribute to Samantha’s work funded by AMRF.

Ms Jamie Zhang

An experienced Research Officer who has worked on all aspects of the ConCa project for the last 3 years and contributed enormously to the success of the project.

Professor John D Hayball

Head of the Experimental Therapeutics Laboratory and professor at University of South Australia supervises different projects that link industry and academia to bring therapeutic candidates closer to the clinic and treat cancer as well as infectious diseases.

Mr Antony Scammell

Founder and Director of ConCa Pty Ltd. Mr Scammell has funded, supervised and worked for many years to bring the ConCa project to its current state where candidate antibodies against the human EPHB4 receptor have been developed to successfully attack cancer cells.

Research Articles ​

Research articles and scientific publications are important sources of new information for doctors, patients and the general public. Many of these publications are scientific and complex, but can provide a deeper understanding of melanoma and clinical trials of melanoma treatments to guide therapy. Research articles can contain valuable information and may help patients and families to better understand their situation and possible options. 

Please contact our CEO Julie Calvert if you have any questions about any of the publications listed below or their relevance to you.

Published Research Articles from AMRF Sponsored Research:

Repetitive long-term Vaccinia Melanoma Cell Lysate (VMCL) vaccination schedules have proved clinically effective in producing Complete Responses and strong durable survivals for up to 6.1 years in a previous study of patients with advanced Stage IV and Stage IIIc melanoma. These studies were expanded to include 54 patients for further evaluation of these findings.

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Patients with advanced metastatic melanoma are often confronted with little prospect of medium- to longer-term survival by any currently available therapeutic means. However, most clinicians are aware of exceptional cases where survival defies the notion of futility. Prolonged survival from immunotherapies, including interleukin-2, vaccines and antibodies to cytotoxic lymphocyte antigen-4, and programmed death-1 receptor inhibitory monoclonal antibody, implies a role for immune system modulation. We aimed to identify cases where exceptional survival from advanced melanoma occurred prior to recent novel therapies to facilitate better understanding of this phenomenon.

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Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is a natural growth factor produced in the body which boosts the immune system cells (T-cells) to fight infection and cancer.  IL-2 was the first approved immunotherapy for cancer in the USA and other countries for the treatment of advanced melanoma.  This paper analysed over 3,300 patients across the world treated with IL-2 for advanced melanoma and examined the complete response (CR) rate (ie where all cancer disappeared), partial response rate (where some cancer disappeared) and the various combinations with other therapies.  The results showed an overall response rate of nearly 20% – a complete response rate of 4-5% and partial response rate of 12.5%.  The highest CR rate resulted from IL-2 combined with vaccine at 5.0%.  The research confirms IL-2 can be a useful treatment.  IL-2 is still used in the USA and Europe. 

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An earlier study of 37 Patients with advanced melanoma treated using repeated melanoma vaccine immunotherapy showed that it was clinically effective in generating relatively high complete response rates (where all tumour disappears), other useful clinical responses (partial removal), and long-term survivals (over 10 years), with no or little toxic effects.  The study showed that in the right situation it is clinically very effective.  AMRF co-funding began in 2008 under the leadership of Chief Investigator Prof Brendon Coventry, University of Adelaide.

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This paper puts together the existing evidence showing that the way many cancer treatments work in the cancer patient is actually through the immune system.  Studies showed that most treatments can cause damage and killing of cancer cells and produce ‘vaccination’ in the patient’s body to help boost the patient’s immune system.  This finding of treatments indirectly working as vaccines in the patient has not been widely appreciated, but is likely to be very useful and important. 

This publication is the result of analysis of some of the data from the initial studies where repeated serial blood samples were taken every 2-3 days from patients during melanoma vaccine treatment. Blood samples showed there was significant fluctuation of the blood marker CRP (C-Reactive Protein) in each patient with advanced melanoma (and some other cancers). The fluctuation shows that the immune system is not constant, but that it seems to be repeatedly switching on and off causing a ‘wave’ or ‘cycle’ of activity. A number of mathematical approaches were used to try to show whether these ‘cycles’ were regular or not. If constant cycles could be shown, then treatments could potentially be consistently targeted at specific parts of each cycle, aiming to improve the clinical outcome. The number of samples taken from each patient was generally too low to accurately show the consistent cycle for each patient. This research has shown that more samples are needed – with more samples per day being required to adequately show the ‘cycle’ in each patient. This has led to new approaches using ‘machine learning’ (see below).

This article follows on from the previous study where repeated serial CRP measurements from patients during melanoma vaccine treatment were taken to look for significant fluctuation of the blood marker to try to find consistent ‘cycles’ for each patient. Advanced ‘machine learning’ mathematics provided state-of-the-art methods to try to anticipate the next day’s CRP levels. This could indicate when to treat patients for most effective outcome. These studies are continuing.

Previously Funded Research Projects include:

These small studies investigated how the immune system fluctuated in its action against melanoma and other cancers in patients by measuring a blood marker to reveal a ‘cycle’ or ‘wave’ of effectiveness. Treatments were targeted to specific parts of the immune system ‘cycle’ for each patient to examine whether clinical outcomes could be improved compared with ‘untimed’ treatments given at any time in the cycle. The studies showed that: (i) every cancer patient had fluctuation in their immune systems; (ii) determining the immune ‘cycle’ shape in each patient was complex; and (iii) the concept of finding the best time in each patient’s immune cycle to administer treatment was not straightforward. However, this approach is still likely to be beneficial with more studies and might increase the effectiveness of some treatments for patients. The work is continuing using more complicated mathematics and is now the subject of a PhD project with Electrical Engineers at the University of Adelaide. The AMRF has co-funded this project along with the Cancer Council SA and the South Australian Medical Research Institute, University of Adelaide and the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

These studies arose from the observation that the immune system continuously fluctuates in advanced melanoma and cancer patients.  This research looked for differences in the effectiveness of the immune boosting agent interleukin-2 (IL-2) according to when it was injected into melanoma tumours growing in mice.  The findings show that the precise timing the IL-2 dose was given was very important, and these results are in the process of publication.  This work is continuing in two other studies at the University of Adelaide to check this initial finding further.  The AMRF has co-funded this project with the University. 

2020 Research Grants

The AMRF will provide funds in 2020 to approved research projects. The number of grants awardedin 2020 will depend on the quality of the applications and the funds requested.

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