Professor Helen Rizos, Head of Department & Professor Cancer Cell Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW
In the last 5 years, the one-year overall survival for patients with advanced melanoma has risen from 25% to over 70% due the development of two distinct therapies. The first treatment activates anti-tumour immune responses by inhibiting immune checkpoints and the second strategy targets the mitogen-activated protein (MAPK) kinase pathway.
MAPK with combined BRAF and MEK inhibitors is the first-line standard of care for the 40% of Australian patients with BRAFV600-mutant melanoma, and although 70% will respond, only 20% will have responses lasting more than 3 years. Immune checkpoint inhibitors produce longer-lasting responses but lower response rates and the 30-40% of patients who respond to anti-PD1 immunotherapy will develop resistance and progress within 12-24 months.
Currently we do not know how to accurately identify patients who will respond to immunotherapy, and we have no predictive strategy for selecting novel combination therapies for patients who acquire resistance. The identification of resistance effectors provides new targets for drug intervention, and potential targets for up-front combination strategies to prevent or delay acquired resistance.
Professor Helen Rizos has been working in melanoma research since 1994, when she joined Professor Graham Mann’s team at the University of Sydney as a postdoctoral fellow. Helen focussed on the genetics of melanoma susceptibility and was the first to confirm that mutations in p14ARF predispose to melanoma. In 2001 she established her own research group within the Westmead Millennium Institute. Her research focussed on the functional analyses of melanoma tumour suppressor proteins and oncoproteins and her team studied the contribution of melanoma-associated mutations on oncogene-induced senescence. In 2014, Helen moved to Macquarie University and is now a member of the newly established Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Her team continues to explore genetic effectors contributing to melanoma progression and therapeutic response, and are beginning to explore melanoma responses to the new suite of immune therapies. Helen has been an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow since 2011.