Spotlight on MRA’s Ninth Annual Scientific Retreat

By Louise M. Perkins, Ph.D., MRA Chief Science Officer | 28 February 2017 | Allies & Partnerships, Events, Science



In mid-February, MRA held its premiere research event — the 9th Annual MRA Scientific Retreat, in Washington, DC.  A total of 297 individuals registered for the meeting representing a spectrum of key stakeholders in melanoma including academic investigators, pharmaceutical and biotech company representatives, melanoma advocates from various different non-profit organizations, donors and government officials.  Beyond the Scientific Session of the Retreat, several satellite activities held were aimed at making this a very productive three days for MRA and its partners.

Opening Reception

At an Opening Reception that kicked off the Scientific Retreat, MRA’s President and CEO Michael Kaplan thanked sponsors who made the meeting possible and introduced several speakers including Trena Taylor Brown, a melanoma survivor; Lauren Miller, who lost her twin sister Tara to melanoma; and Vicki Goodman of Bristol-Myers Squibb, the corporate Presenting Sponsor for this ninth MRA Retreat.  The underlying theme of their presentations was that while progress in the melanoma fight has been amazing, there is a great deal more to be done.  MRA was recognized for its role in catalyzing continued progress and offering inspiration in the ongoing struggle to eliminate melanoma suffering and death.

Young Investigators’ Breakfast

The first full day of the Retreat began with the annual Young Investigators’ Breakfast that examined “Scientific Publishing from the Inside Out.” MRA’s Scientific Program Director, Kristen Mueller, led the session that engaged four editors from some of the most impactful scientific journals in a panel discussion and audience Q&A. One of MRA’s Young Investigator program goals is to attract and support the next-generation of melanoma researchers. The breakfast aimed to catalyze a discussion expected to result in dissemination of research findings by our Young Investigators in top-tier journals.  Approximately 70 participants attended the session with overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Scientific Session

Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center started off the day-and-a-half Scientific Session with an opening lecture on immunotherapy for melanoma.  Topics covered by both established and young investigators over the ensuing days explored important subjects including: the biological basis of therapeutic resistance; melanoma genomics and heritable influences on melanoma; models, markers and new targets as well as overcoming a difficult to treat disease.  Suzanne Topalian of Johns Hopkins University closed the scientific segment of the meeting by moderating a discussion involving melanoma experts from around the world titled “News from the Field: What’s going well and what remains to be done.”  The 9th Annual Scientific Retreat was brought to a close by MRA Board Member Elliott Sigal, who applauded the work of researchers and MRA in the fight against melanoma and exhorted the group to continue its efforts.  He offered salient advice for researchers both established and early in their career: “Let your North Star always be the patient's interest.”  We couldn’t agree more.

MRA Grant Review

The day and a half scientific meeting was preceded by a full day of ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ research proposal reviews conducted by MRA’s esteemed Grant Review Committee.  A central observation from this year’s review was that the research proposals reviewed were extraordinarily competitive.  With limited resources, MRA will be faced with difficult choices as it focuses on supporting the most promising portfolio of research projects in 2017.  Once the MRA Board of Directors confers its approval of the slate of proposals, an additional $7 million in funding for cutting-edge melanoma research by both established and young investigators will be provided this year. 

Industry Roundtable Breakfast

An invitation-only event, the annual Industry Roundtable Breakfast, offered the opportunity to discuss “Accelerating Correlative Science in Melanoma” in a small group of 40 individuals comprising academic key opinion leaders, sponsors from across the biopharma spectrum, as well as FDA and NCI representatives.  Marcus Bosenberg of Yale University and Patrick Hwu of MD Anderson Cancer Center co-chaired the session with MRA’s Chief Science Officer, Louise Perkins.  Among topics discussed was the collection of tissue samples from patients on treatment during clinical studies.  These critical materials could provide important insights to further improve patient outcomes but are challenging to obtain for reasons ranging from added cost to the varying perspectives of review boards that regulate clinical study conduct.  A recommendation emerged that MRA work with stakeholders to develop a consensus statement that would advocate for collecting on-treatment biopsy samples around the globe.

Melanoma Advocates & Foundations Forum

In parallel with the Industry Roundtable Breakfast, MRA hosted an enhanced Melanoma Advocates and Foundations Forum. With significant input from MRA President and CEO Michael Kaplan, this year’s Forum brought together patients, industry representatives and representatives of non-profits working to respond to melanoma. The goal of the forum was to support networking among the many organizations responding to melanoma, while also providing valuable information and tools on everything from early diagnosis to understanding the research agenda.  As relayed by one patient in attendance, “…the forum provided a base of understanding that helped to better understand so much of the cutting edge science being presented during the Scientific Retreat that followed.”

We look forward to welcoming our attendees in 2018 for the 10th MRA Annual Scientific Retreat, to be held in Washington, DC, February 28th through March 2nd.

MRA is grateful to its sponsors for their generous financial and in-kind support of the 2017 Retreat. For more information on sponsoring the 2018 Tenth Annual Scientific Retreat, please contact Scientific Program Manager Tasheema Prince

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