In an advance that helped to launch a new era of personalized medicine in melanoma treatment, I led a clinical trial that partially paved the way for the 2011 approval of vemurafenib (Zelboraf®), by the US Food and Drug Administration. This drug targets a mutation in a gene called BRAF, which is present in about half of patients who have metastatic melanoma. We also learned that a small proportion of melanomas have mutations in other genes, some of which we can target with different drugs.
In addition, I was one of five Memorial Sloan-Kettering scientists recently appointed to a melanoma “Dream Team” sponsored by the nonprofit organization Stand Up To Cancer and the Melanoma Research Alliance. This team’s project focuses on identifying potential therapies for metastatic melanoma patients who do not have the mutated form of the BRAF gene.
My collaboration with Memorial Sloan-Kettering colleagues led to the 2011 FDA approval of the monoclonal antibody ipilimumab (Yervoy™), which prompts the body’s immune system to recognize cancers like melanoma as foreign. I also am working to develop vaccines against melanoma that we hope can be used to direct the patient’s immune system against melanoma cells that may remain following successful treatment.
In addition to my work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, I am a professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College and am active in a number of scientific organizations such as the American Association for Cancer Research, the Society for Melanoma Research, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. I also serve as the chair of the Melanoma Research Alliance Medical Advisory Panel.
I am proud to have received a number of honors and awards for my clinical research, such as the Wings of Hope Award in 2007 from the Melanoma Research Foundation.