Melanoma pioneers Long and Scolyer are 2024 Australians of the Year

By Mardi Chapman

25 Jan 2024

Melanoma Institute Australia all-stars Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer are the 2024 Australians of the Year.

They are the first clinician recipients since eye surgeon Dr James Muecke in 2020 and the first duo to share the honour since Thailand cave rescuers Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen in 2019.

Both Professor Long and Professor Scolyer, medical co-directors at Melanoma Institute Australia, are no strangers to accolades from their professions – locally and internationally – and the community.

They have both been recognised as Officers of the Order (AO) in 2020 and 2021 respectively for their distinguished service to medicine – particularly as clinicians and researchers focussed on melanoma – and to professional medical societies.

Both were inducted as Fellows of the prestigious Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences in 2017, with Professor Long also awarded the Academy’s Outstanding Female Researcher Medal in 2021.

Medical oncologist Professor Long and pathologist Professor Scolyer have also both received the University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence for Outstanding Research in 2021.

She was also awarded the 2023 MOGA – Novartis Oncology Cancer Achievement Award.

Both have stellar global reputations and have led or contributed to international clinical trials, expert panels, scientific committees and working groups.

In 2023, Professor Scolyer received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Melanoma Research and a Founder’s Award from the American Society of Dermatopathology.

Their prolific and highly cited publications – individually and together – guarantee both regularly sit at or near the top of melanoma talent lists in various international rankings such as Expertscape and Clarivate.

Public profile

Despite their expertise and standing in the clinic and the lab, Professors Long and Scolyer have not shied from also being the public faces of melanoma prevention, awareness and early detection as required.

They helped stamp an ambitious target of zero deaths from melanoma by 2030 on the national health agenda in 2022 [link here] and recently followed up with the development and launch of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Sun Safe Position Statement.

But it has been a 2023 diagnosis of glioblastoma, not melanoma, that has catapulted the colleagues and friends into a very public demonstration of their unique relationship and their passion and capacity for scientific innovation.

Cue a joint appearance at the National Press Club of Australia, cover stories in major metropolitan newspapers, a plethora of TV and radio interviews, and a moving episode on ABC TV’s Australian Story [link here].

As well, Professor Scolyer has documented every aspect of his cancer journey from the diagnosis of a high grade glioblastoma with multiple adverse molecular prognostic features in late May 2023 through surgery, radiotherapy, neoadjuvant/adjuvant combination immunotherapy and a personalised anticancer vaccine.

His last progress report on Twitter/X was a typically upbeat “no recurrence of my supposedly incurable #glioblastoma!” at 8 months compared to a median time to recurrence of 6 months.

It‘s bittersweet that their media interviews regarding Professor Scolyer’s brain cancer treatment have helped widely publicise the transformative advances they have contributed to in melanoma.

Speaking in a recent radio interview [link here], they again highlighted the experimental nature of his treatment – the neodjuvant combination immunotherapy has never been used before – but also the promise.

“…in melanoma 10 or 15 years ago, if your melanoma had spread around your body, pretty much most patients will be dead within five years – less than 5% survival – and we’ve been able to transform those survival rates to now more than 55%,” Professor Scolyer said.

Meanwhile, treatment for brain cancer has not changed for more than 18 years, he said.

“The science that has been generated out of my brain tumour has blown open that field and changed the field which everyone who is involved can be extraordinarily proud of because the field needs to change.”

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