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Leukaemia Foundation supports WEHI’s new laboratory model to test anti-cancer drugs

Leukaemia Foundation supports WEHI’s new laboratory model to test anti-cancer drugs

A new model which mimics the complexity of human cancers to allow for more accurate testing of anti-cancer drugs has been developed by leading Australian researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne.

Led by PhD students Ms Margs Brennan and Dr Gemma Kelly – both Leukaemia Foundation grant recipients – and Associate Professor Marco Herold, the advanced laboratory model will allow the WEHI team to discover the safest and most effective ways to use the promising drugs called MCL-1 inhibitors.

MCL-1 is a protein essential for the sustained growth of many blood cancers, including lymphoma, as well as some solid tumours including breast cancer and melanoma. The protein allows cancer cells to evade the process that normally removes damaged or unwanted cells from the body.

According to Dr Kelly, the team will look at how the new laboratory model can accurately evaluate MCL-1 inhibitors. This involves identifying the types of cancers sensitive to MCL-1 and the right patient profiles. The team will then determine which combination treatments will be most effective and identify the best dosing regimens.

The Leukaemia Foundation’s CEO Bill Petch said: “This is extraordinary news and I congratulate the WEHI team on this new study. I am especially proud to hear that our grant recipients Ms Brennan and Dr Kelly are instrumental in the development of this research project. I wish them the very best and will closely follow the status of this exciting advance.”

As Australia’s leading blood cancer organisation, the Leukaemia Foundation, through its national research program, has had a long history of supporting research into the development of diagnostics and precision medicines, which have been identified as core research priorities for the organisation.

“Advancements in diagnostics, through new developments such as WEHI’s latest research project, are evolving precision medicine to shape not only treatment but also the prediction of treatment success, and ultimately prevention, through early detection. We are hopeful that the outcome of this study will be promising and as a result, many lives will be saved or improved,” said Mr Petch.

Leukaemia Foundation supports call to introduce ground breaking CAR-T Cell therapies into Australian Public Hospitals

Leukaemia Foundation supports Health Minister’s call to introduce ground breaking CAR-T Cell therapies into Australian Public Hospitals

The Leukaemia Foundation has come out in support of today’s call by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to fast track the revolutionary CAR T-Cell therapy into Australian hospitals.

CAR-T cell therapy involves harvesting a patient’s T-cells, a type of immune cell, and genetically engineering them to attack cancerous cells and destroy them. The cells are then reintroduced into the body’s blood stream, where they search for, and kill cancerous B-cells.

The Leukaemia Foundation recognises CAR-T Cell therapy as a potential game changer in the treatment of patients with aggressive leukaemia and lymphoma.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said introducing the revolutionary therapy into Australian treatment centres had real potential to save Australian lives.

“Initial trials in this field of immunology how shown immense promise and the Leukaemia Foundation has been an advocate for this therapy since Australian trials began,” Mr Petch said.

“Immunotherapies and targeted treatments like CAR-T Cell therapy are the new face of treatment for blood cancers. Any support to fast track these treatments to enable increased access to people living with these blood cancers will change the face of blood cancer treatments in this country.”

“The Leukaemia Foundation has supported the work of some of Australia’s most promising researchers in this field through its National Research Program,” Mr Petch said.

“We now look forward to the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) playing their role in approving the therapy, which we hope to see implemented into the public health system as early as next year.”

Mr Petch also said currently there was limited capability to undertake the genetic engineering process of harvested cells in Australian laboratories.

“Those capability and accessibility issues need to be addressed to ensure adequate measures are put in place so that hospitals can meet the demand and so that access to CAR-T Cell therapy becomes a reality to Australian blood cancer patients.”

View Greg Hunt’s interview here:

Congratulations to Nobel Prize immunotherapy pioneers

Congratulations to Nobel Prize immunotherapy pioneers

The Leukaemia Foundation congratulates the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine winners, James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, for their research and discovery into how the body’s natural defences can fight cancer such as lymphoma.

“As Australia’s leading blood cancer organisation, we acknowledge the efforts of both these winners and how their decades of work on the immune system has helped to pave the way for a new class of cancer drugs that are significantly changing outcome for patients,” Bill Petch, CEO of the Leukaemia Foundation said.

“This new principle for cancer therapy – popularly known as immunotherapy – harnesses the patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells specifically, as compared to conventional cancer treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy that tend to attack both cancer cells and healthy cells alike.”

Professor Allison identified the CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in the body’s natural immunity to disease. Professor Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells, PD-1, and how it acted as a brake on T-cells.

As a result of their work, further development of strategies to release the brakes on the immune system with the aim of eliminating tumour cells even more efficiently have begun after new clinical studies indicates that combination therapy, targeting both CTLA-4 and PD-1, can be more effective.

“We are excited about the future of immunotherapy and will continue to advocate for treatments like these in line with our new national research program priorities,” Mr Petch said.

Mr Petch said that the Leukaemia Foundation’s new national research program would prioritise the use of advanced treatments like immunotherapy and precision medicine and provide people living with blood cancer with a better chance of survival and a better quality of life after treatment.

For further information on the 2018 Nobel Prize award, please visit To hear more from other leaders in blood cancer research, treatment and wellbeing, please visit the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Research Hub here.

Follicular lymphoma and multiple myeloma treatment now available to Australians through $48m PBS listing

Follicular lymphoma and multiple myeloma treatment now available to Australians through $48m PBS listing

The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes the Federal Government’s announcement confirming new medicine for both follicular lymphoma and multiple myeloma will be added to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from 1 October 2018.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said the PBS listing of Gazyva (obinutuzumab) would benefit around 700 people living with advanced follicular lymphoma – a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Gazyva® helps people living with follicular lymphoma by aiding their own immune system to destroy cancer cells. The medicine has also seen success treating people living with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Gazyva® will be subsidised for people living with follicular lymphoma who have relapsed or do not respond to treatment with another medication, in specific rituximab.

“Placing Gazyva on the PBS will mean people living with this disease will now pay $39.50 per script, or $6.40 for concession card holders, instead of paying around $104,000 a year,” Mr Petch said.

“Recent global trials into the effectiveness of Gazyva showed the treatment can improve remission rates substantially,” he said.

“Experts are hoping that improved remission rates is now translating into better cure rates.”

In the same day, the drug Pomalyst (pomalidomide) was also granted extended listing for people living with multiple myeloma, which means more people living with the disease will be able to access the drug at a subsidised price. Pomalyst has previously cost patients around $58,500 per year.

“Access to these drugs will vastly improve the access and potential outcomes for Australians living with these diseases,” Mr Petch said.

“Without PBS listings many people living with advanced follicular lymphoma and multiple myeloma would simply not be able to afford these improved treatments. Access to the latest medicines is vital if we are going to improve remission rates in these diseases, and ultimately save more lives.” he said.

The Leukaemia Foundation is committed to advocating for accelerated access to improved treatments for all blood cancers.