Improving drug treatment for melanoma

Dr Jessamy Tiffen

Dr Jessamy Tiffen

Centenary InstituteCancer Council NSW Funding: $347,214Funding duration: 2018-2020


Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. It kills around 1700 people in Australia each year. The cells in melanoma tumours often have high levels of proteins called BET that turn on genes that help cells grow and become cancerous. New drugs can inhibit the BET proteins and kill some melanomas but little is known about which patients could benefit most from the drugs. This means some of the patients who are treated at present have no chance of responding – delaying other treatments for those patients and wasting precious health care dollars.

The research

This project will test different BET inhibitors on a panel of 55 melanoma cell types – the most comprehensive analysis ever. Dr Tiffen and her team will identify how many melanoma patients will respond to BET inhibitors and find ‘biomarkers’ that can then be used to identify the individual patients who will respond. They will also investigate how BET inhibitors are working. The team will then develop new treatments that combine BET inhibitors with other carefully selected drugs.

The impact

The BET inhibitors Dr Tiffen’s team are investigating are already in early clinical trials for cancers of the blood. Since some of the important ground work has been done for these blood cancers, this speeds up the potential application to melanoma. Clinical trials in humans could occur as much as ten years earlier than usual. This is the ultimate hope for this research and if realised, it would represent a very significant step towards improved treatments. 

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