UCLA cancer research pioneer honored for advancing the understanding of treatment-resistant melanoma

Dr. Roger Lo to receive AACR’s inaugural Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research
Roger S. Lo
Roger S. Lo

The American Association of Cancer Researchers (AACR) will honor Dr. Roger Lo, an accomplished physician-scientist widely recognized his work in understanding treatment-resistant melanoma, with its first annual Waun Ki Hong Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research

Lo will accept his award and present the lecture, “Therapeutic Resistance in Melanoma” at the AACR Annual Meeting 2017 on April 3 in Washington, DC.

The new Wuan Ki Hong Award is bestowed upon a worthy independent investigator who has conducted highly meritorious laboratory, translational or clinical cancer research, and at a relatively early stage in his or her career. The award pays tribute to its namesake, the visionary Dr. Wuan Ki Hong, for his visionary research contributions throughout his extraordinary career.

Much of Lo’s clinical and research efforts have focused on two significant breakthrough therapeutic approaches for treating metastatic melanoma: BRAF-targeted therapies, which selectively block key cancer-driving genes and signals, and immune checkpoint or PD-1 antibodies, which unleash the body’s tumor-fighting immune or T cells.

However, not everyone’s melanoma will benefit equally from these therapies, and initial benefits might wane over time. It remains unclear how best to derive benefits from both types of therapies when one type of therapy alone fails to control the disease.

Lo’s early studies have already provided rationale for successful clinical trials. A recent study by Lo, which provided critical insight into the key mutations and cell-signaling pathways BRAF-mutant melanoma cells use to become resistant to inhibitor drugs, was cited as one of the year’s major achievements in cancer research by the AACR in 2014. Beyond mutations, recent discoveries have uncovered dimensions, such as epigenetics and immunologic factors, which determine the clinical behavior of melanoma.

“Research into the development of therapies targeting mutant BRAF and blocking the immune checkpoint PD-1/L1 has resulted in great successes in the fight against metastatic melanoma, but has also revealed key gaps in our knowledge,” Lo said. “To me, this award celebrates the incredible scientific advances made against melanoma and the true benefits new therapies are delivering to patients. It also underscores the need to study therapeutic resistance directly in the patients in order to maximize benefits to each patient. This award recognizes my incredible research team and the melanoma program at UCLA. I am truly grateful to be recognized on their behalf as the first recipient of this award.”

In current research. Lo is leading a team of experienced clinicians and scientists to analyze tumor tissues donated by patients and generate hypotheses his team can analyze in laboratory models. Using state-of-the-art technologies to comprehensively and quickly profile cancer characteristics and uniqueness, Lo will seek to identify markers of response and resistance to therapies and additional therapeutic targets. The iterative process can accelerate concepts seeding clinical trial designs.

A professor of dermatology and molecular and medical pharmacology in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Lo is also director of the Melanoma Clinic in Dermatology at UCLA, and a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Lo was the 33rd recipient of the AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research in 2013.