MSU researchers study compounds that could improve melanoma treatments

September 10, 2021

Through a grant funded by MSU Gran Fondo donations, researchers will study two compounds that could improve treatment for melanoma. The team believes a compound they developed and a second one already approved by the FDA could increase the number of melanoma patients who respond well to a therapeutic called immune checkpoint inhibitors and prevent them from developing resistance to the treatment. 

Without support from the thousands of cyclists who have participated in the MSU Gran Fondo over the years, a Michigan State University research team would be unlikely to be studying a potential breakthrough treatment for melanoma.

In the nine years since the first MSU Gran Fondo, participants have raised more than a million dollars, which funds the team’s studies of potential treatments for skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form.

The annual event has “been very important for our research,” said Richard Neubig, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, who heads the team. “It has allowed us to discover a number of compounds that we think can help with melanoma.”

This year, Neubig and his colleagues received a MSU Gran Fondo grant to study two compounds they believe could improve a type of cancer therapeutic called immune checkpoint inhibitors. Although immune checkpoint inhibitors are an important advance in cancer treatment, they work in only 20 percent to 50 percent of melanoma patients, Neubig said.

This grant will allow his team to study a compound they developed called CCG-257081, which they believe will increase the number of melanoma patients who respond well to immune checkpoint inhibitors and prevent them from developing resistance to the treatment. The team also will study a second compound already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that could be repurposed for treating melanoma along with immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Money raised by MSU Gran Fondo allows the team to conduct pre-clinical studies of potential skin cancer treatments. If those basic studies show promise, the team can use the data to apply for larger grants, such as from pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health, to carry the research further, including into clinical trials with human patients.

While MSU Gran Fondo has become a fun annual event, it also has been “really critical” in advancing skin cancer research, said Neubig, who has joined in the bike ride many times and plans to do so again this year.

“I think there’s a good chance these compounds will work,” he said, “but until we do the experiments, especially the preclinical studies, we won’t know.”

Related: More research funded by MSU Gran Fondo