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Melanoma breakthrough -

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KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Within medical circles, melanoma is often called Australia's cancer. With
10,000 new cases diagnosed each year, it's the most common cancer affecting young people in this

While advances in treatment have decreased mortality rates in other cancers, melanoma has remained
resistant to drug therapy. Prospects for patients with advanced tumours are poor, with few
surviving more than a year.

But now, Australian researchers are at the forefront of trials of new targeted drugs, which are
producing some remarkable results.

Tracy Bowden reports.

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: Sydney's Botany Bay on a sunny Sunday morning and members of the Brighton
Beach Athletic Club are out in force.

Relishing every moment is the long-time club president Michael Roberts.

But last year, the senior triathlon champion could barely get out of bed, battling advanced
melanoma, he was told by doctors he didn't have long to live.

MICHAEL ROBERTS: I was really on my knees, actually. I had pain everywhere. I was taking
painkillers every three hours and couldn't eat, lost weight. Really, - well, an oncologist said to
me, he said, "Look, I don't think you'll see 2010."

TRACY BOWDEN: But Michael Roberts was thrown a lifeline. He was offered the chance to join a trial
of a new drug.

MICHAEL ROBERTS: Within 24 hours, the pain had gone. It was the most remarkable, you know, change.
You couldn't believe it. I mean, nobody could believe it.

RICHARD KEFFORD, MELANOMA INSTITUTE: I think it's fair to say that this is the most exciting story
in melanoma in the last 25 years, if not ever.

TRACY BOWDEN: Oncologist Richard Kefford is leading the Australian team in global trials of two
drugs which could revolutionise the way cancer is treated. His research colleague is Dr Georgina

GEORGINA LONG, MELANOMA INSTITUTE: It is a huge change in the way we think about melanoma and
what's happening and how we can try and control it for a time.

TRACY BOWDEN: The experimental drugs taken orally target the genetic mutations driving the
melanoma. Called BRAF inhibitors, the drugs block the mutant BRAF gene, stopping the cancer in its
tracks. The initial trial results have been extraordinary.

RICHARD KEFFORD: What we're finding with both of these drugs is that about 80 per cent of patients
have significant tumour regressions. By that I mean more than 50 per cent reduction in the size of
their tumours in all sites - in liver, in bone, and most remarkably of all, in brain.

TRACY BOWDEN: Clinical photos reveal the dramatic changes in the nodules on Michael Roberts' back.
Within days, it was apparent the drug was taking effect.

MICHAEL ROBERTS: The nodules, I had 23 at the time. You could she them virtually reducing so quick.
And after a couple of months, 21 of the 23 disappeared and I've never seen 'em again since.

TRACY BOWDEN: In a nation which celebrates the great outdoors, melanoma is a major health problem.

The sun smart message is reaching this generation, but skin cancer remains a disease of the young -
the most common form of cancer in Australians between the ages of 18 and 40.

JULIE SUTTON: I had constant pain in my side and around on my back.

TRACY BOWDEN: Julie Sutton is vigilant when it comes to protecting her daughter Jasmine from the
sun. But it was a different story when she was young.

JULIE SUTTON: I'd go sunbake, I'd go red, peel and go white again. But, you know, do these stupid
things like putting Reef Oil or baby oil on.

TRACY BOWDEN: The 39-year-old graphic designer hadn't noticed any unusual spots or moles, but to
her surprise was diagnosed with secondary melanoma.

JULIE SUTTON: When it came up melanoma, I just went, "Ooohhh." You know? You just think, you know,
is there any hope?

TRACY BOWDEN: Julie Sutton was a perfect candidate for the BRAF inhibitor trial and the results
have been dramatic.

JULIE SUTTON: At the beginning I was, you know, had a bit of - a few cries with my husband, you
know, wondering what's gonna happen and what's gonna happen with my daughter Jasmine and everything
like that, but once you start seeing results, it picks your spirits up and you just gotta have to
look forward, I s'pose.

TRACY BOWDEN: But there is a catch. In most patients, after several months the impact of the drug
slows or stops.

GEORGINA LONG: We've just done a recent CT scan and the CT shows that it's - your melanoma's

MICHAEL ROBERTS: After the seven months, the cancer got smart and mutated and got above it.

GEORGINA LONG: These drugs are not a cure and people relapse, so why are they relapsing? And so the
biggest step is: what other things can we do to make these drugs more effective?

TRACY BOWDEN: Michael Roberts is now pinning his hopes on taking part in the next series of trials
which will explore using combinations of the targeted therapies. The drugs have already bought him
precious time, a year he thought he'd never have, and he wants more time to do the things he loves.

MICHAEL ROBERTS: I love swimming more than anything else now. I think as you get older, swimming is
a good thing to get into. Especially ocean swimming; I love ocean swimming. What makes me happy is
to think this must be the beginning of something really - a big breakthrough for melanoma.

RICHARD KEFFORD: I would be astonished if what we're seeing in these early trials doesn't translate
over the next five years into major extension of life for people who have secondary melanoma.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tracy Bowden with that report.