Dr Samra Turajlic is a Consultant Medical Oncologist in The Royal Marsden’s Skin and Urology units. She is the Chief Clinical Investigator of translational studies into melanoma and kidney cancer. Her main research goal is to improve our understanding of the biology of kidney cancer and melanoma and the reasons for the success or failure of different treatments.

As a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research in melanoma and pioneering new treatments for the disease, we collaborate with our academic partner The Institute of Cancer Research, London and other respected organisations.

Dr Turajlic is also a Clinician Scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical discovery centre dedicated to the understanding of disease development and translation. She divides her time between her Royal Marsden clinic and her research group at the Crick. In addition, Dr Turajlic is a member of the National Cancer Research Institute’s Bladder and Renal Cancer Clinical Studies Group, the European Society for Medical Oncology’s Faculty group for genitourinary cancers, and the scientific committees of several research organisations.

Career highlights

1999 Graduates from University of Oxford with a BA in Physiological Sciences
1999-2002 Completes clinical training at University College London
2013 Completes PhD at University of London (ICR) in melanoma genetics and targeted therapy resistance
2014 Awarded Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist fellowship to study cancer evolution at the Francis Crick Institute
2015 Appointed as a Consultant in the Skin and Urology units at The Royal Marsden
2019 Appointed Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute

Q&A with Dr Samra Turajlic

How has the treatment of kidney cancer and melanoma changed during your career?

When I started, the only approved treatment for metastatic melanoma was chemotherapy, which was largely ineffective. The average life expectancy of patients with advanced melanoma was around six months. Thanks to remarkable advances, it’s now four years – and exciting new therapies on the horizon are likely to improve this further. Kidney cancer has followed a similar trajectory in that chemotherapy was not a good option. Today, we have two main classes of potent drugs – targeting molecular changes in the tumour environment or enabling the immune system to attack cancer cells – that have boosted the survival of our patients with metastatic kidney cancer.

What services do you provide at The Royal Marsden?

I see patients with the diagnosis of either melanoma or kidney cancer. I provide a comprehensive evaluation of their disease and recommend the best approach to treatment.

What areas of research are you involved in?

All areas of melanoma and kidney cancer research. I lead a research group at the Francis Crick Institute that focuses on improving our fundamental biological understanding of these two cancers and aims to translate these findings for patient benefit. I am also involved in clinical trials of new therapies and combinations in these cancers. Our laboratory work over the past five years has uncovered the factors that account for the variable clinical behaviour of kidney cancer, and we are currently exploring how we can implement this knowledge to improve how we select patients for treatments.

What developments are taking place in the treatment of kidney cancer and melanoma?

The greatest advances in the past five years have been in the field of immunotherapy. The new generation of drugs – so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors – are now licensed for the treatment of melanoma and kidney cancer. They are not effective in all patients, so trials are exploring combining immunotherapy with other types of cancer treatments, as well as cellular therapies and vaccine approaches.

What does the future look like for treating patients with these cancers?

The key will be in understanding every patient’s disease at an individual level and being able to predict its course and the likelihood of specific treatment being effective. There are also questions about the correct sequence and combination of different available therapies and their side effects. At the heart of these challenges are questions that concern cancer biology, which will only be answered through continued research that integrates basic, translational and clinical studies.

What is special about the service offered at The Royal Marsden?

The Royal Marsden is at the forefront of oncology research internationally and integrates the expertise of a variety of specialists, all of whom bring a unique perspective to the discussion of clinical problems and are always mindful of new scientific and clinical developments.