Children with cancer will benefit from a new $9.6 million research and clinical initiative that aims to improve survival rates and quality of life, by ensuring the latest research discoveries quickly reach patients.
The Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has awarded the three-year funding to a collaboration of Victorian hospitals and research institutes to establish a new initiative – the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC).
This consortium draws together researchers and clinicians across Melbourne’s Monash and Parkville medical precincts, including The Royal Children’s Hospital and Monash Children’s Hospital, working together with researchers at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Monash University and University of Melbourne, with the support and partnership of the Children’s Cancer Foundation.
Every year, nearly 1,000 children are diagnosed with cancer across Australia.
The newly formed Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium was announced by the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, on Wednesday 2 February at the Hudson Institute in Clayton.
Mr Hunt said childhood cancer remains, sadly, the leading cause of death from disease among Australian children. “In the past decade, Australian researchers have uncovered ever more detail about childhood cancers,” Mr Hunt said. “We now know that cancer in kids is very different to adult cancer. We urgently need to put children at the heart of these discoveries to improve the lives of our youngest population with cancer, ensuring they can live their lives to the fullest.”
Co-led by Professor Ron Firestein, Head of the Centre for Cancer Research at Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Professor David Eisenstat, Head of the Children’s Cancer Centre at The Royal Children’s Hospital and Neuro-Oncology Group Leader at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the initiative draws together researchers and clinicians across Melbourne’s Monash and Parkville medical precincts.
Prof Firestein said the VPCC will leverage the unique research expertise and clinical capabilities across the Monash and Parkville precincts to deliver this vision. “VPCC will focus on discovery research projects in next-generation precision medicine oncology, tumour immunotherapy and epigenomics. This will be complemented by clinical programs aimed at improving patient survival and minimising late effects and adverse reactions to therapies.”
Prof Eisenstat said the VPCC would fill a gap in childhood cancer research. “This proposal will develop exciting new collaborative research projects across the partner organisations to accelerate the translation of new discoveries into the hospital setting, as well as establish clinical programs that map the childhood cancer patient’s journey,” he said.
The research will focus on finding new therapies for cancers with the greatest unmet medical need, including brain, bone and soft tissue cancers which have low survival rates. It will also investigate ways to minimise or prevent severe long-term side effects in children who receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Such therapies can cause long term damage to vital organs including the heart or brain, as well as further malignancies caused by previous cancer treatment (known as secondary malignant neoplasms).
Researchers will use a range of cutting-edge technologies and approaches including genomics, drug screening, disease modelling, biobanking, and artificial intelligence driven precision medicine, to find new targets and predict which patients will best respond to therapies. A state-wide registry of child cancer survivors will be expanded to follow up and transition children to adult services.
Director and CEO of Hudson Institute Professor Elizabeth Hartland said: “This initiative will build capacity and sustainability for paediatric cancer research in Victoria by cultivating local, national and international partnerships, supporting educational events and training the childhood cancer research leaders of tomorrow.”
The Monash Children’s Hospital is one of nine partners in the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium and is co-leading the research and clinical arms of the program.
Dr Peter Downie, Director of the Children’s Cancer Centre at Monash Children’s said that this funding is vital for the overall care of children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer.
“Most importantly, this funding gives us the capacity to investigate new therapies and new ways of harnessing the immune system to improve cure rates and allow survivors of childhood cancer to live normal full and fruitful lives,” said Dr Downie.
The Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium will utilise this funding to improve long-term outcomes for children with cancer through world-class medical research and innovation.