Sunbaking is a certified Australian pastime, so it comes as no surprise that we have the highest melanoma rate in the world.
Any lamington-eating, Waltzing Matilda-singing Aussie knows that skin checks are an important part of preventative healthcare, and that our unfortunate position in relation to the inconvenient hole in our ozone layer means that we need to be extra cautious.
UV light penetrates unprotected (read: NOT sunscreen slathered) skin, and damages the DNA within skin cells. These mutations can produce ‘photoproducts’ which ultimately cause skin cancer as well as premature aging, also known as photoaging. Usually, these mutations are kept in check with clever systems within our bodies to remove the offending section of DNA through nucleotide excision repair (NER) and base excision repair (BER) wherein damaged DNA is eliminated.
These DNA repair mechanisms aren’t always able to remove the offending segment of DNA, and skin cancer develops.
The current standard of care in melanoma treatment is excising the offending area, with clean margins. More severe cases require chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat.
Specialty pharmaceutical group Clinuvel (ASX: CUV) is taking a different approach, investigating their already on market drug, afamelanotide, as a solution for DNA repair in damaged skin.
Under their DNA Repair Program the study, CUV151, aims to evaluate the drug as a DNA repair therapy in disease free patients. The study will then inform CUV156 and CUV152, studies which will evaluate the drug’s performance in patients with xeroderma pigmentosum, a condition where the body cannot repair sun damaged DNA on its own.
Dr Tim Zhou, Clinuvel’s VP of Scientific Affairs commented on the upcoming study, saying: “Data from CUV151 will give us insights into afamelantodie’s ability to safely protect skin from light, and restore DNA which has incurred damage from solar exposure. The findings of this study assist us to address much broader audiences using our expertise in melanocortins and other technologies.
“Up to two billion individuals worldwide have deficient DNA repair mechanisms of the skin. Our DNA Repair Program focuses on understanding and quantifying the role of afamelanotide as an interventional therapy to help those individuals who are at greatest risk.”
Afamelanotide is currently commercially available in Europe, the USA, Israel and Australia under the brand name Scenesse. It is the world’ first systemic photoprotective drug used to treat people with light sensitivity based disorders.
The opportunity for Clinuvel in Australia alone is massive, with at least 2 in 3 Australians diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before they turn 70.
Annual expenditure on melanoma is well over $400 million. This figure doesn’t include treatment of pre-cancerous lesions which cost $703 million on their own.