$19.6 Million Cancer Research Boost To Help Save Lives

17 March 2016

The Andrews Labor Government will deliver close to $20 million in grants to support Victorian researchers who are at the forefront of the latest discoveries in the fight against cancer.

Twenty nine research projects will be supported through the latest Victorian Cancer Agency funding round, with projects focusing on a range of cancers such as blood, breast, bowel, head and neck, lung, melanoma, oesophageal, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

For the first time, health services have received funding for cancer research, with a focus on addressing important issues to help improve the quality of life of cancer patients.

Since being established by the former Labor Government in 2006, the Victorian Cancer Agency has now invested $150 million into translational cancer research.

Translational research is designed to fast-track the conversion of ground breaking cancer research findings into clinical practice and new treatments that deliver better care and outcomes for cancer patients.

This investment also creates jobs by building a highly-skilled cancer research workforce, and attracting and retaining renowned clinicians and researchers.

Recent data shows that in 2014, 30,585 Victorians were diagnosed with cancer and 10,744 died from the disease – this equates to 84 new diagnoses and 29 deaths every day.

The five-year survival rate for Victorians diagnosed with cancer is now 67 per cent compared to 60 per cent five years ago and 47 per cent 20 years ago – a testament to the ongoing investment in cancer prevention, treatment and research in Victoria.

The Labor Government is investing in cutting-edge cancer prevention, providing $2 million to plan and develop a National Centre for Proton Beam Therapy, as well as $25 million to develop a state-wide genomic sequencing program.

From mid-2016, the $1 billion Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) will be a brand new and expanded home for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The VCCC will also provide new state-of-the-art cancer research and clinical facilities and more than 25,000 square metres of dedicated space for over 1200 cancer researchers.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Health Jill Hennessy

“Investment in cancer research means advances in treatments and a better chance of survival for patients, and one day finding a cure.”

“Whether it’s through the latest medical research, new and innovative technology, or world-first clinical trials, the Labor Government is investing to provide better support and treatment for Victorian cancer patients, and their families.”

“Improved cancer survival rates are testament to the ground breaking work of our internationally-renowned cancer experts and our ongoing investment in cancer prevention, research and treatment.”

Victorian Cancer Agency Grant Recipients

Translational Research Projects

  • Investigators: Dr Arun Azad (Lead Applicant), Dr Ron Firestein, A/Prof Helen Abud, A/Prof Paul McMurrick, Prof Gail Risbridger, Dr Simon Wilkins

Research Organisations: Monash University, Hudson Institute of Medicine Research, Cabrini Health

Funding: $2,000,000 over 36 months

Project Description: Prostate and colorectal cancer are the two most common malignancies in Australia. Despite advances in early screening, there is significant need to bring new treatments to patients. Herein, we provide strong rationale for use of a targeted class of epigenetic modulators, termed BET inhibitors, in a subset of prostate and colorectal cancers. Our preliminary results in preclinical models show that BET inhibitor sensitivity is predicted by the presence of distinct enhancer RNAs. We aim to translate our findings directly to patients by characterising the utility of enhancer RNAs to predict BET inhibitor response in a biomarker-informed clinical trial setting.

  • Investigators: Professor Nick Hoogenraad (Lead Applicant), A/Prof Hamsa Puthalakath, Dr Amelia Johnston, Prof Andrew Scott, A/Prof John Silke, Prof Ulf Eriksson

Research Organisations: La Trobe University, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Karolinska Institutet

Funding: $2,466,000 over 36 months

Project Description: Cancer cachexia, a wasting condition that is one of the worst complications of malignancy, is responsible for up to 25% of cancer deaths and has no current effective treatment. We have developed antibodies which effectively block this condition in preclinical models. This proposal aims to assess this new treatment in patients and to develop blood and imaging biomarkers that can identify cachexia.

  • Investigators: Prof Wayne Phillips (Lead Applicant), A/Prof Lara Lipton, A/Prof Michael Michael, Dr Jayesh Desai, A/Prof Niall Tebbutt, Dr Nicholas Clemons, Dr Cuong Duong, Dr Ben Markman, Dr Andrew Haydon

Research Organisations: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, University of Melbourne, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Austin Health, Monash Health, Alfred Health

Funding: $1,853,674 over 36 months

Project Description: This project will test the effectiveness of a new drug (APR-246) for the treatment of oesophageal cancer. APR-246 targets a gene mutated in over 80% of oesophageal cancers and has potent anti-tumour activity in laboratory models. It will be tested as a single agent, and in combination with standard chemotherapy, in patients with advanced oesophageal cancer. We will also undertake laboratory studies to better select patients who will most benefit from APR-246, to establish a blood test to monitor patient response and disease recurrence, and to identify new drug combinations that increase the effectiveness of APR-246.

  • Investigators: Professor Robert Ramsay (Lead Applicant), Dr Jayesh Desai, A/Prof Benjamin Solomon, A/Prof Michael Michael, A/Prof Phillip Darcy, Mrs June Cory, Dr Jordanne Malaterre, Prof John Zalcberg, Dr Emma Link

Research Organisations: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash University

Funding: $1,343,655 over 36 months

Project Description: The tumour cells in patients with bowel cancer and certain head and neck cancer harbour a particular factor that orchestrates multiple pro-cancer processes. We have found that the aberrant production of this factor allows the specific targeting of these cancers by a novel vaccine. Using this vaccine in combination with the blockade of the recently discovered immune system check-point regulators we have developed robust pre-clinical evidence for symptom-free cancer control and cures. In this new project we aim to advance the vaccine into patients to test its safety and as a secondary aim to monitor for evidence of vaccine efficacy. If successful, this specific vaccine has broad applicability and more widely the concept is readily transferable to other cancers.

  • Investigators: Associate Professor Jake Shortt (Lead Applicant), Prof Andrew Spencer, A/Prof John Reynolds, Prof Ricky Johnstone, Dr Hang Quach, Dr George Grigoriadis, Dr Anna Kalff, Dr Tiffany Khong, Dr Patricia Walker, A/Prof David Powell

Research Organisations: Alfred Health, Monash Health, Monash University, Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, The University of Melbourne, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, Peninsula Health

Funding: $1,974,342 over 36 months

Project Description: Myeloma is an incurable cancer of the bone marrow plasma cell. Recent advances have been made using treatments that stimulate the immune system to remove these cancerous plasma cells. We have developed a treatment called MDX1097 that recognizes and binds only to cancerous plasma cells. Cells coated with MDX1097 then become visible to the immune system. Thalidomide is very useful in myeloma as it kills cancerous plasma cells while also stimulating the immune system. We will combine a thalidomide derivative with MDX1097 in a clinical trial for Victorian myeloma patients.

Health Services Research Projects

  • Investigators: Prof Jon Emery (Lead Applicant), Prof Mark Jenkins, Prof Finlay Macrae, A/Prof Marie Pirotta, Dr Driss Ait Ouakrim, Dr Jennifer Walker, Dr Fiona Walter, Prof Ingrid Winship, Dr Patty Chondros, Dr Adrian Bickerstaffe, Mr Richard De Abreu Lourenco, Prof Lyndal Trevena

Research Organisations: The University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital, University of Cambridge, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney

Funding: $300,000 over 36 months

Project Description: There is a mismatch between people’s use of bowel cancer screening tests through faecal occult blood testing or colonoscopy and their individual risk of bowel cancer. Building on the work of our NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) on Optimising Colorectal Cancer Screening, this trial will test the effect of an electronic risk assessment tool, implemented in general practice, on use of the most appropriate screening test for bowel cancer based on a person’s risk of developing the condition in the next five years.

  • Investigators: Prof Terry Haines (Lead Applicant), Prof Helen Truby, Dr Catherine Huggins, A/Prof Judith Bauer, Ms Maryanne Silvers, Ms June Savva, A/Prof Helena Frawley, Prof Julie Barnett, Mr Paul Cashin, Mr Liang Low

Research Organisations: Monash University, Monash Health, Cabrini Health, University of Queensland, University of Bath

Funding: $299,981 over 36 months

Project Description: Patients with stomach or oesophageal cancer have very poor prognosis. Tailored nutrition care provided to patients prior to commencing cancer treatment improves health outcomes. Currently, health services have limited capacity to deliver effective preadmission nutrition care, resulting in patients commencing cancer treatment in a very poor nutritional state. This study examines if using an innovative standardised e-platform enables a dietitian to effectively deliver a tailored very early nutrition intervention to improve body weight, body muscle and fat stores and Quality of Life of those newly diagnosed with stomach or oesophageal cancer.

  • Investigators: A/Prof Michael Jefford (Lead Applicant), Prof Penelope Schofield, Prof Jon Emery, Prof Eva Grunfeld, Prof Alexander Heriot, Dr Andrew Martin, Mr Richard De Abreu Lourenco, Mrs Dorothy King

Research Organisations: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Swinburne University, The University of Melbourne, University of Toronto, University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney

Funding: $300,000 over 36 months

Project Description: After finishing treatment for bowel cancer, survivors can experience a range of issues – with ongoing side effects, emotional, psychological and practical concerns. Most people have follow-up with their cancer specialists (surgeon or oncologist). However, people often report needs that are not met. Follow up with general practitioners (GPs) is a reasonable option for some survivors. A combination of follow up with cancer specialists and GPs (called shared care) may offer a range of advantages and may be cheaper than the standard follow up model. This study will compare standard follow up to a shared care model for bowel cancer survivors

  • Investigators: Dr Maria McCarthy (Lead Applicant), Prof Lynn Gillam, Dr Francoise Mechinaud, Mr Richard De Abreu Lourenco, Prof Sylvia Metcalfe, A/Prof Paul Ekert, Dr Rachel Conyers, Dr Peter Downie, Dr Michael Sullivan

Research Organisations: Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, The University of Melbourne, University of Technology Sydney, Monash Children's Hospital

Funding: $250,839 over 36 months

Project Description: Many rare and relapsed childhood cancers are difficult to cure. A new treatment approach called ‘personalised’ medicine involves whole genome sequencing with the aim of identifying specific drugs to target the tumour. This is an exciting new field but there are many complex issues. In particular there are ethical questions about which patients should be offered genomic sequencing, who should pay for this and for potentially expensive experimental drugs, and how risks should be managed. This study will identify preferences of families and healthcare professionals develop an ethical framework to help decision-making and develop much-needed informational and educational resource.

  • Investigators: A/Prof Jennifer Philip (Lead Applicant), Prof Peter Hudson, Prof Jon Emery, A/Prof Linda Mileshkin, Ms Anna Collins, A/Prof Brian Le, A/Prof Vijaya Sundararajan, Ms Susan Hanson, A/Prof Caroline Brand, Dr Sibilah Breen, Dr Sam Mancuso, Dr Sonia Fullerton, Ms Soula Ganiatsas

Research Organisations: St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, Centre for Palliative Care, The University of Melbourne, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne Health, Cancer Australia, Palliative Care Research Network of Victoria

Funding: $296,513 over 36 months

Project Description: Patients with advanced cancer have unmet symptom burden and information needs. Early evidence reveals referral to palliative care appears to address these needs. Yet gaps in understanding remain, particularly around the timing of palliative care for specific cancers, and its impact upon the patient, family and health care system. This study will explore introducing standardized early palliative care at designated time points for patients with advanced lung, breast, prostate and brain cancers. We anticipate early palliative care will improve support and experiences of care for patients, and reduce the current variations in quality cancer care.

  • Investigators: A/Prof Peter Poon (Lead Applicant), Dr Leeroy William, Dr Michael Franco, Dr Jackyn Yoong, Dr Beisi Zhang

Research Organisations: Monash Health, Monash University, West Gippsland Health

Funding: $141,000 over 36 months

Project Description: Regional Australia desperately needs palliative care (PC) expertise for cancer patients. Telehealth uses telecommunications technology to deliver health services over distances. There is surprisingly little research in telehealth to support bedside community PC. Video-consultation by metropolitan PC physicians to home/bed-bound patients during nursing visits has great potential to model an invaluable process to support PC needs throughout our ageing rural population. Our study addresses a viable paradigm to deliver earlier specialist palliative care to rural cancer patients especially those with difficult-to-manage symptoms. Working together with rural medical practitioners, this will lead to improved care planning, carer support and multidisciplinary management.

Clinical Research Fellowships

Dr Sashendra Senthi, Monash University: A Clinical Research Fellowship that aims to improve programmed death 1 inhibitor response against metastatic melanoma with radiotherapy by optimising combination treatment and utilising genetic biomarkers

Dr Mark Shackleton, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: A Clinical Research Fellowship that aims to translate melanoma discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic

Mid-Career Research Fellowships

Dr Renae Taylor, Monash University: The EJ Whitten Foundation Mid-Career Research Fellowship that aims to target castrate-tolerant prostate cancer cells

Dr Gabriela Brumatti, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship that aims to identify new therapeutic strategies using the new clinical drug birinapant, to overcome drug resistance and treat blood cancers such as Leukaemia

Dr Andrew Deans, St Vincent's Institute: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship to improve the use of gene panel testing in familial breast cancer clinics

Dr Kylie Gorringe, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship to develop a personalised risk evaluation of ductal carcinoma in situ

Dr Lev Kats, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship that aims to develop a personalised therapy for leukaemia based on a specific genetic mutation

Dr Enid Lam, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship to evaluate tumour heterogeneity in the initiation and maintenance of acute myeloid leukaemia and following response to therapy

Dr Rodney Luwor, The University of Melbourne: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship that aims to overcome tumour resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor targeted therapy

Dr Ian Majewski, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship to develop new approaches to improve the diagnosis and clinical management of childhood cancer

Dr Carl Walkley, St Vincent's Institute: A Mid-Career Research Fellowship that for the development and application of preclinical models to improve cancer outcomes

Early Career Seed Grants

Dr Dane Cheasley, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: An Early Career Seed Grant that aims to improve the early detection and management of women at risk of developing interval breast cancer

Dr Elizabeth Christie, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: An Early Career Seed Grant to investigate the clinical translation of a newly discovered transcriptional fusion involving the multidrug resistance transporter (ABCB1) in recurrent drug resistant ovarian cancer

Dr William Figgett, The University of Melbourne: An Early Career Seed Grant to develop monoclonal antibodies and chimeric antigen receptor T cells targeting the BAFF receptor TACI for treating chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in pre-clinical model

Dr Jacqui Frowen, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: An Early Career Seed Grant to undertake a prospective study of swallowing and voice outcomes after treatment for small-cell lung cancer

Dr Lahiru Gangoda, La Trobe University: An Early Career Seed Grant that aims to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating chemotherapeutic drug resistance

Dr Dale Garsed, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: An Early Career Seed Grant to develop a unique cohort of long-term survivors of high-grade serous ovarian cancer and to construct molecular insights into exceptional responses to chemotherapy

Dr Lesley Stafford, Royal Women’s Hospital: An Early Career Seed Grant for the development and evaluation of a brief psychoeducational intervention to support parents with cancer who have young children

Reviewed 19 August 2020

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