Ground breaking trial brings personalised treatments to those with rare cancers

An innovative suite of clinical trials, matching therapies with individuals on the basis of genetic information, could one day hold the key to rare and uncommon cancers and give hope to patients who have exhausted other treatment options.

Launched today, the Genomic Cancer Medicine Program is a nationally-available program with two main areas of focus – clinical trials matching patients to therapies, and a risk-management program for families with an inherited high risk of cancer.

The Program was officially opened by NSW Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Brad Hazzard. The NSW Government invested $7 million over four years into the Genomic Cancer Medicine Program as part of a bigger $24 million investment through the Sydney Genomics Collaborative.

Mr Hazza said:

This is a very significant milestone for cancer research – not just for NSW, but for Australia. The NSW Government recognises the extraordinary potential of genomics in  helping researchers better understand the role genes play in cancer risks as well as identifying new therapies to improve patient outcomes.

The program was developed by the Garvan Institute in partnership with the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre and led by Head of the Cancer Division at the Garvan Institute and Director of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, Professor David Thomas, and Director of the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, Professor John Simes.

Professor David Thomas said:

The Genomic Cancer Medicine Program is changing how we treat rare cancers. Clinical trials are the essential foundation for the provision of new drugs. Yet, in the past, rare cancer patients haven’t been able to benefit from clinical trials. These individual ‘rare cancers’ are collectively common, accounting for 30 per cent of cancer diagnoses and 50 per cent of cancer deaths in Australia, so personalised treatment is crucial to improving cancer outcomes for many Australians

Through our new understanding of the genomic basis of cancer, we can for the first time, match patients with therapies on the basis of their, and their cancer’s genetic profile – instead of treating cancer according to where in the body it occurs. Indeed many cancers traditionally thought to be tissue-specific are actually caused by the same mutations,” he said.

Professor Simes said “The clinical trials program is using an adaptive design assessing several possible trial treatments at the same time with each trial treatment matched to the patient’s cancer genetic profile. This should allow effective treatments to be identified more quickly and efficiently than with a traditional clinical trial’s program.”

Professor John Mattick AO FAA, Executive Director of the Garvan Institute said the program was a prime example of leading-edge research and genomic technologies having a direct impact on the lives of those affected by cancer.

Professor David Thomas said:

The people we're welcoming to the program have exhausted almost all other treatment options and it's through cutting-edge technology, and exceptional leadership that we are able to offer some hope.

“This is personalised medicine and translational research in action – bringing results and understanding from the laboratory directly to patients” he said.

In addition to personalised treatments, the program seeks to understand the genetic basis of cancer risk, especially in those who develop cancer at a young age. The researchers are developing personalised screening approaches that can catch cancers at an early stage, giving the best possible chance of successful treatment.

Dr Mandy Ballinger, Leader of the Cancer Risk Study said the Genomic Cancer Medicine Program had already received overwhelming interest.

“So far we have more than 230 people enrolled in our clinical studies entirely through word of mouth. We’ve had people come to Sydney from as far as Perth and New Zealand,” she said.

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