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National Press Club Address ‘No time to waste, no more lives to lose’ says genomics pioneer. A bold and innovative approach is needed to fight cancer

Omico 5 mins read

26 June 2024:  With one Australian dying from cancer every ten minutes and up to a third of these from rare cancers,1 Professor David Thomas, Chief Science and Strategy Officer at not-for-profit Genomics Organisation, Omico, and Director, Centre of Molecular Oncology, UNSW is making an urgent plea for Australia to utilise new transformative technologies now in our hands to extend and save the lives of those fighting the toughest cancers.

Addressing the National Press Club on Rare Cancers Awareness Day (26 June), Prof Thomas will call for a bolder approach to harnessing rapid advances in cancer innovation known as ‘precision oncology’. For Australians with the challenging diagnosis of rare, advanced or incurable cancers he wants the words ‘it’s time to get your affairs in order and prepare your family’ to be replaced with an immediate directive to the genomics tools now available – genomic profiling of the cancer and matching to precision medicines.

“Cancer is the modern plague, with 51,000 Australians dying every year.2 It is a genetic disease caused by mutations in the DNA. Genomic technologies can ‘read’ DNA and map these unique cancer mutations enabling matching to precision medicines which are incredibly powerful and only target the mutations in the cancer. The results are extraordinary. The science is unquestionable – precision oncology can extend and save lives,” adds Prof Thomas.

“It is a great honour to address the National Press Club on Rare Cancers Awareness Day - but my message must be for immediate action,” he adds. “Australia’s health technology assessment is out of date. On average, almost 18 months pass after a drug is shown to be effective and safe before it becomes publicly reimbursed—if it does get reimbursed. We have a system designed for incremental advances, one drug at a time, rather than for transformative healthcare like precision oncology.”

Action is needed to accelerate access and equity, especially for patients with rare cancers, who suffer long-term disadvantage under the current model. Prof Thomas points out the disparity in survival rates between common and rare cancers, with only 62% of those with rare cancers and 45% for less common cancers survive beyond 5 years, compared to 77% for common cancers. 2 “Our data shows Australians with rare cancers today have 40% fewer standard treatment options than those with common cancers.”2

Genomics works, with an analysis from Omico’s Molecular Screening and Therapeutics Study (MoST) finding more than one in three participants (37.5%) carried biomarkers in their cancer with good clinical evidence for therapeutic benefit. Those who accessed matched therapies based on their biomarkers had a median survival time double that of those receiving unmatched therapy.3

The Omico cancer genomics initiative PrOSPeCT (Precision Oncology Screening Platform Enabling Clinical Trials), the largest in its kind in Australia is also actively demonstrating the power of genomics and the new hope it brings. Funded by public/private partnerships, PrOSPeCT is giving 23,000 Australians with advanced, incurable or poor prognosis cancers free comprehensive genomic profiling and potential matching to precision medicines.

Over 6,000 Australians, diagnosed with hard-to-treat cancers and very limited treatment options, have been referred to the PrOSPeCT Three out of four (75%) have an actionable genetic biomarker identified within their cancer, providing potential for matching to precision medicines that would otherwise remain unexplored.

“As a nation, we are in a position today to provide those battling cancer with the tools to fight using rapidly advancing technologies – so they can have a little more time with their families.  We cannot turn our backs” adds Professor Thomas. “As a researcher on the frontline of genomics and precision oncology I can’t accept that we choose to fail those most in need.”

“We have the expertise, the capabilities and networks to deliver this. Whilst some worry that costs will drain the budget, we know innovation can actually grow the economy:  PrOSPeCT - in less than 12 months - has already created more than 900 skilled jobs, economic growth, and boosted local capacity and capabilities. And we have learnt from COVID-19 that we cannot afford not to tackle important health issues.”

“Also like COVID-19, healthcare must be an integrated and collaborative approach. Sustainable healthcare innovation requires us to balance rising costs of healthcare with the economic growth from the life sciences as a future mainstream of the smart economy. We must rise to this challenge now – we cannot leave our mates behind,” concludes Prof Thomas.

PrOSPeCT REPORT CARD:

Referrals/genomics

  • Three out of four (75%) of the 6,000 referrals had actionable genetic biomarker identified.
  • Over 750 clinicians from around Australia are actively referring patients.
  • Referrals are nationwide with one third (38%) from rural and regional areas
  • The average age of referred patients is 58 and ranging from 16 to 91 years old.
  • Referral span a broad representation of cancer types including breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, melanoma, rare and less common cancers.

Economic/jobs

  • The initiative has created 164 direct highly skilled jobs in the medical/science sectors.
  • An estimated 820 indirect jobs, across health, administration, pathology and pharmacy.
  • An estimated $138M in foreign investment into local oncology clinical trials.
  • The clinical trial network has grown to 50 sites across metro/ regional/rural areas.
  • 40 traineeships in clinical trial research have been created by research partner Praxis.
  • 53 (and growing), company-sponsored precision oncology trials are being supported by PrOSPeCT. Ten (10) would not have opened in Australia but for PrOSPeCT.
  • Five local pathology providers are now NATA-accredited to deliver profiling services.

 

More on Rare Cancers

Overall, one in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and more than 165,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Rare and less common cancers collectively form over 18,000 cancer diagnoses annually in Australia. They are the third most common cancers after prostate and breast cancer; and with almost 7,000 deaths in Australia each year, rare and less common cancers are second after lung cancer for deaths from cancer in Australia.2

About PrOSPeCT

PrOSPeCT builds on the success of Omico’s Molecular Screening and Therapeutics (MoST) study which recruited over 8,000 advanced cancer patients 2018-2023. MoST was supported by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre.

Led by Omico, by the end of 2025 PrOSPeCT will provide fee comprehensive genomic profiling to 23,000 Australians with advanced, incurable or poor prognosis cancers, and identify potential matches for patients to clinical trials with new targeted therapies. 

 

PrOSPeCT is supported by three core partners:

  • Roche Australia
  • NCI – the National Computational Infrastructure at ANU
  • Children’s Cancer Institute Australia

 

PrOSPeCT is also supported by Bayer Australia, Bioplatforms Australia, Elevation Oncology, George Clinical, Illumina Australia, Microba, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Praxis Australia, Quantium Health, Sonic Healthcare, Southern Star Research, and Syntro Health. For a full list of cancer treatment and research centres and partners in the Omico network, visit: https://www.omico.com.au/about-us/our-network-partners/

References

  1. Rare Cancers Australia. Why Rare Cancer Patients Need Support. Available: https://www.rarecancers.org.au/page/158/why-rare-cancer-patients-need-our-support#:~:text=Approximately%2052%2C000%20Australians%20are%20diagnosed,half%20of%20all%20cancer%20deaths. Accessed: June 2024
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer data in Australia. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia/contents/overview-of-cancer-in-australia-2023. Accessed: June 2024.
  3. ASCO2023-Abstract1540-Poster-134. Genomic therapy matching in rare and refractory cancers: updated results from a retrospective cohort study in the Molecular Screening and Therapeutic (MoST) program. Omico data on file.

 


Key Facts:

About Omico

Omico (www.omico.com.au) is a national, independent, not-for-profit organisation leading the use of ‘precision oncology’ to turn the tide on cancer in Australia. The unique Omico network of researchers, clinicians, hospitals and industry partners is accelerating community access to the latest developments – comprehensive genomic profiling and next-generation treatments.

Omico is truly a nation-wide organisation and is proud that every state and territory is represented by its Members and Participants, as follows:

  • Linear Clinical Research Limited (WA)
  • Central Adelaide Local Health District (SA)
  • Northern Territory of Australia (NT)
  • Department of Health, The State of Tasmania (Tas)
  • Garvan Institute of Medical Research (NSW)
  • The University of Sydney represented by NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre (NSW)
  • The Australian Capital Territory represented by ACT Health (ACT)
  • Metro South Hospital and Health Services, represented by Princess Alexandra Hospital (QLD)
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute (VIC)

Omico extends thanks to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of Sydney for their support for Omico to date.


Contact details:

Issued on behalf of Omico by Cube. Contact: Anne-Marie Sparrow, 0417 421 560 / anne-marie@cube.com.au or Nicole Birch, 0423 916 330 / nicole@cube.com.au 

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