Innovative cancer research projects receive vital funding

Monday, 13 May, 2019

Innovative cancer research projects receive vital funding

Cancer research received a big boost in funding last week, thanks to a $5.1 million research partnership between CSIRO and GenesisCare and an $800,000 grant from the Leukaemia Foundation to Cancer Australia.

Using an emerging area of science called theranostics, which combines molecular-level diagnostics and therapy, the CSIRO–GenesisCare research partnership aims to develop new therapies against some of the most fatal and difficult-to-treat cancers affecting Australians, using agents that act like homing missiles to find and latch on to target markers on cancer cells.

“We’re targeting cancers that are currently the most untreatable, such as brain, pancreatic and ovarian cancers and metastatic cancers, because that’s where we think we can make a profound difference,” CSIRO project lead Professor Stephen Rose said.

“We’re exploring a very exciting approach called theranostic cancer treatment, which is a type of precision medicine that finds and attacks individual cancer cells in a person’s body — rather than attacking both cancerous and healthy cells.”

Prof Rose said the project will aim to discover cancer cells’ unique signatures, then design special molecules to find and attach themselves to those cells. “These molecules can then show us exactly where the cancer is located in the body, and deliver radiation directly to the cancer cells,” he said.

Treatments successfully designed in the project will be trialled locally in Australia through GenesisCare’s clinical network, giving Australian cancer patients access to new treatments sooner, rather than waiting for treatments to be developed and trialled overseas first. Access to this form of treatment has historically been limited globally, and it’s hoped this investment may help spark a new theranostics industry in Australia.

“We’ve seen a rapidly developing body of evidence in theranostics in prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours, and this partnership aims to accelerate the time it takes to bring findings from the lab to the clinic for other hard-to-treat cancers,” said Associate Professor Peter O’Brien, Chief Medical Officer at GenesisCare.

“The potential for theranostics is huge. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery have long been the three core pillars of cancer treatment, and in years to come theranostics could be another major weapon in our fight against cancer.”

The Leukaemia Foundation has meanwhile confirmed it will fund priority-driven blood cancer research in some of Australia’s leading research centres through an $800,000 grant to Cancer Australia.

Five innovative projects will benefit from the funding through the Leukaemia Foundation’s ongoing partnership with Cancer Australia — an Australian Government agency that provides grants through its Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS).

“The Leukaemia Foundation’s commitment to these PdCCRS projects supports part of our ongoing, national research strategy to fund innovative projects in areas where a need for research to be prioritised has been identified,” said Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch.

“This funding also enables part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s commitment to fund early-career researchers and part of the $47 million National Research Program, which began in 2002.

“Nurturing early-career medical researchers is critical to discovering better and safer blood cancer treatments and keeping the most promising and exciting talent in Australia.

“The Cancer Australia partnership also provides an opportunity for funds gifted to the Leukaemia Foundation for disease-specific research, to be directed towards high-quality research, and for grants to be co-funded with Cancer Australia.”

The successful funding candidates and their projects are:

  • Kate Vandyke — Increasing drug delivery and improving the quality of life for multiple myeloma patients
  • Laura Bray — Development of a translational bioengineered microenvironment model to advance preclinical acute myeloid leukaemia research
  • Michelle Henderson — Targeting the NAD pathway as a new therapeutic strategy for high-risk leukaemia in children
  • Jenny Wang — Therapeutic targeting of a novel self-renewal signalling in leukaemia stem cells
  • Gabriela Brumatti —Targeting multidrug resistance protein 1 (MDR1) enhances the efficacy of Smac-mimetic-based therapy in acute myeloid leukaemia

Image caption: A PET scan shows metastasised prostate cancer cells glowing in red in the shoulder and pelvis from the specially designed theranostic ‘homing missiles’.

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