Rizwan Haq, MD, PhD
My last patient with metastatic ocular melanoma passed away at age 59. She was a hardworking family woman, who left behind a husband and two small children. Her family implored me to “find a cure for this terrible disease in [her] lifetime.” I am motivated by all my patients with eye melanoma. I have no effective treatment to offer them. As a physician, it is a terrible thing to feel helpless. I pursued medicine and oncology to alleviate suffering. My frustration with the current lack of treatment options for eye melanoma drives me to research until we find an effective therapy.
Eye (“uveal”) melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. There are no approved, effective strategies to treat this type of melanoma. We know that genetic changes in two proteins termed GNAQ and GNA11 cause > 90% of all cases. Targeting these cancer-causing proteins has been exceedingly difficult. We hope to deliver a strategy to target them.
We have found that the cancer-causing GNAQ and GNA11 proteins require constant renewal: the proteins are constantly being destroyed and replaced with new ones. By enhancing their destruction, we can interrupt this cycle. The net effect is the destruction of the GNAQ or GNA11 proteins, and the death of the cancer cell.
Why is this important?
Eye melanoma is diagnosed in approximately 2000 adults annually in the United States. This equates to 5-6 cases per million people per year, and for people over 50 years old, the incidence is around 21 per million per year. Approximately half of patients with eye melanoma will spread to the liver, which is universally fatal. More research is needed to improve patient outcomes. Our approach is innovative because we can, for the first time, target the proteins that causes this type of cancer.
Who will benefit?
Every patient with metastatic eye melanoma, as there is no effective, approved treatment for disease.