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Leukaemia Foundation celebrates National Volunteer Week 2019

Leukaemia Foundation celebrates National Volunteer Week 2019

Volunteer drivers who take blood cancer patients to and from vital medical appointments last year travelled more than 1.5 million kilometres, the equivalent of driving 37 times around the world.

It’s a service the Leukaemia Foundation’s General Manager of People Living with Blood Cancer Emma Craig said could not be run without volunteers, as we celebrate National Volunteers Week this week (May 20 to 25).

“Volunteers are a vital part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s services. Without them we just could not offer this service, nor host the fundraising events which help raise vital funds to support Australians living with blood cancer,” Ms Craig said.

“Volunteers and members are part of the founding fabric of the Leukaemia Foundation, which was actually formed more than 43 years ago in Queensland, with the crucial support and funds raised by volunteers and the community.

“Those founding volunteers and their dedication to fundraising helped to bring the Leukaemia Foundation to life, and many hundreds of volunteers continue to be a big part of our organisation today,” she said.

“Some of our volunteers have been with us for as long as 40 years.”

“The contribution of our volunteer drivers is not just the service they provide behind the wheel, but the company and comfort they provide to people living with blood cancer. Often these people are very sick, and they are a long way from home and their family and friends.

“Our drivers provide such a valuable service just by being a familiar face, offering words of kindness and compassion, on what is often a long road to recovery.

“They are the unsung heroes of our organisation and the contribution they make to our services is immeasurable.”

The Leukaemia Foundation also thanks the volunteers who work tirelessly to support fundraising at events across the nation, and those who provide vital support across the organisation.

The Leukaemia Foundation will host Volunteer Week thank-you events across Australia this week.

To find out more call the Leukaemia Foundation on 1800 620 420

Australian study first ever to use CAR T-cells to prevent relapse after treatment

Australian study first ever to use CAR T-cells to prevent relapse after treatment

Dr Ken Micklethwaite
In a world first, the Australian COMMITTAL trial uses CAR T-cell therapy to improve survival for people with B-cell ALL who have an allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT).

Dr Ken Micklethwaite, a clinical haematologist and bone marrow physician, who runs the CAR T-cell program at The Westmead Institute of Medical Research (Sydney), describes the study as “completely revolutionary and very exciting”.

“It’s Professor David Gottlieb’s baby. He’s been talking about this idea–a transplant that eliminates all the things that cause death and complications in transplant patients–as long as I’ve known him, and that’s more than 15 years,” said Dr Micklethwaite, Medical Director of the Sydney Cellular Therapies Laboratory.

Relapse is the major cause of death; followed by infection and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) which affects two-thirds of transplant recipients.

“What we are trying to do is prevent these complications from occurring,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“The whole idea of the COMMITTAL study is to make the transplant better.”

Allogeneic stem cell transplant

With a standard of care allogeneic SCT, the donor harvest given to the recipient is a combination of stem cells and a host of other cells that have both positive and negative effects. And normally the immune cells can cause GVHD, a graft-versus-tumour effect, and also prevent infection.

Dr Micklethwaite described the transplant on the COMMITTAL trial, as a “special sort of transplant”.

“It’s a CD34-selected transplant where the recipients are given stem cells that have a marker on their surface for CD34.

“With a CD34 transplant, we specifically isolate the stem cells that are the ‘good stuff’ and leave out the cells that do the ‘bad stuff’,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

This process involves removing the immune cells that cause GVHD and making immune cells that can prevent infection and prevent relapse.

“It’s a very sophisticated and highly engineered transplant where we give immune cells to fight infection, then we give the CAR T-cells,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“We’re trying to prevent the three major causes of why people die after a transplant.

“This is a world first. It’s completely revolutionary and very exciting.”

COMMITTAL trial

Dr Micklethwaite said bone marrow specialist, Dr Emily Blyth, who has been involved in cell therapies for the last 10 years “has been central to the success of the CAR T-cell transplant program, from the clinical side of things”.

In January, the first two patients – both adults with B-cell ALL in first remission – received this treatment protocol on the COMMITTAL pilot trial.

“The results are pretty exciting, but it’s early days,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“No-one has used CAR T-cells in this context before… where they are given as a preventative therapy after transplant.

“So far, we’ve seen the CAR T-cells grow in the blood, which is really very interesting because normally, when you give CAR T-cells in the relapsed setting, the amount of CAR T-cell growth in the blood depends on how much disease the patient has.

“If they have a lot of leukaemia, you see a large increase in the CAR T-cells in the peripheral blood, whereas if they only have a little bit of leukaemia, they don’t get a large increase,” he explained.

CAR T-cells

The first two patients on the COMMITTAL trial didn’t have any detectable disease when they received the CAR T-cells.

“In this setting, I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of CAR T-cell growth but what we’re seeing is this quite nice expansion of the CAR T-cells,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“And we’re getting the toxicity we’d expect with that degree of expansion. Both patients have had mild cytokine release syndrome (systemic inflammation with fevers) and are doing reasonably well now.

“We are monitoring them for incidents of infection, persistence of the CAR T-cells in the long-term, GVHD, and potential relapse.

“We hope the CAR T-cells will kill off any leukaemia that might still be around, even if it’s below the limit of our detection, and that they will persist for quite some time and prevent any relapse from occurring, and do that without causing GVHD.

“It’s pretty cutting-edge stuff, this whole idea of a completely engineered graft. It’s a very high tech and refined transplant,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

Clinical trials

The CAR T-cell therapy program at The Westmead Institute of Medical Research has two clinical trials underway–the CARTELL and COMMITTAL studies.

And there are plans for a third study to go ahead in the next two months, pending TGA approval.

Dr Ken Micklethwaite said this ‘local’ program arose out of The Westmead Institue’s immunotherapy program and in response to the “very expensive cost” of current technologies used in international studies and commercial CAR T-cell production.

“Over the last eight years we’ve developed a non-viral vector technique for making the CAR T-cells at a tenth of the cost, so this markedly reduces the overall cost of CAR T-cell production,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“Our clinical trials are about demonstrating that this method for producing CAR T-cells also produces similar efficacy and safety results for patients with leukaemia and lymphoma as the overseas trials.”

Leukaemia or lymphoma

The first two trials are specifically in the setting of allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT).

The first–the CARTELL study–treats people who have relapsed or persistent B-cell leukaemia or lymphoma after a matched brother- or sister-related SCT. So far, there are 10 patients on the study who have had the same sort of responses as the international studies.

“Most of our patients have gone into remission early after receiving the CAR T-cells. Half of them have persisted in remission and we’ve had some relapses, which is the same as the results of the international multi-centre studies overseas,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

The second study is the revolutionary COMMITTAL trial and the third trial is being reviewed by the TGA.

“The third trial will assess our home-grown CAR T-cells outside the stem cell transplant setting, in patients who have relapsed or persistent leukaemia or lymphoma, but who haven’t had a transplant,” said Dr Micklethwaite.

“The first two studies use a healthy donor to get the CAR T-cells, but in the third trial, we make the CAR T-cells from the actual patient themselves, which is what most other studies have done.”

Leukaemia Foundation supports Labor’s $20 million blood cancer Right to Trial

Leukaemia Foundation supports Labor’s $20 million blood cancer Right to Trial

The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes Federal Labor’s commitment of $20 million to give Australian blood cancer patients faster access to leading clinical trial drugs and therapies through a new Right to Trial program.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch today joined Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Health Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King at Perth’s St John of God Hospital to support the announcement.

The funding announcement stems from a $1.8 million project developed by the Leukaemia Foundation and Tour de Cure who will work with the Garvan Institute in Sydney, SA Genomics in Adelaide and QIMR in Brisbane to establish greater access to new and emerging treatments for blood cancer patients. The project is set to commence in June 2019.

“Labor’s additional investment and commitment to establish the Right to Trial program would dramatically expand the initial project and provide access to approximately 1800 blood cancer patients, ensuring they can access the treatments they need.” said Mr Petch.

Mr Petch said the Right to Trial program will help blood cancer patients gain faster access to new and emerging therapies specific to the genetic markers of their disease, up to 5 to 10 years before they would be normally available under traditional Australian clinical trial schemes.

It will also provide a more equitable mechanism for the systematic trialling of treatments, which are emerging or in use, but are not supported by a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) listing for a particular disease.

“Research by the Leukaemia Foundation found that one in five Australian blood cancer patients try to access a clinical trial, but there either aren’t any trials currently available, or they weren’t eligible,” Mr Petch said.

“For some people with blood cancer, this lack of access can be a death sentence,” he said.

Compared to traditional clinical trials, which require trials to open in Australia and recruit sufficient numbers of patients to be considered viable, the Right to Trial model is a new approach to clinical trials, personalised to the individual patient.

“This is about finding the right treatment, for the right patient at the right time.”

Critically, it will provide access to treatments for people with a blood cancer who would otherwise have few or no treatment options left.

“Blood cancer does not discriminate. Anyone can receive a diagnosis at any stage of their life. The Right to Trial program is about supporting everyday Australians.” Mr Petch said.

The funding would also help to establish the Right to Trial framework and a Ministerial Advisory Group for Blood Cancers.

The Right to Trial framework will establish the method for capturing data from these clinical trials to generate the real-world evidence required by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) in the era of high-cost targeted therapy.

The new Ministerial Advisory Group would bring together leading blood cancer clinicians, researchers and patient support organisations including the Leukaemia Foundation to address the current and future challenges faced by Australians living with blood cancer.

“We stand ready to work in partnership with Government to ensure that Australians of all ages diagnosed with a blood cancer have access to the innovative treatments and services they need” said Mr Petch.

The Leukaemia Foundation and Tour de Cure commitment builds upon the Australian Genomic Cancer Medicine Program, which uses genomics to improve the understanding, early detection, prevention and management of solid tumours like ovarian, pancreatic cancers and sarcomas.

“Until now there was no program for blood cancers.” Mr Petch said.

New score to help navigate improved treatment for follicular lymphoma patients

New score to help navigate improved treatment for follicular lymphoma patients

More Australians living with follicular lymphoma could benefit from tailored treatment through development of a new clinical scoring model thanks to funding from the Leukaemia Foundation.

The Leukaemia Foundation will support Brisbane-based researcher Professor Maher Gandhi to design a new genetic, immune and clinical prognostic score to assess the best treatment pathway for follicular lymphoma patients.

Professor Gandhi is the CEO and Director of Clinical Research and head of the Blood Cancer Research Group at Mater Research, as well as Director of Mater Research Institute University of Queensland, and a haematologist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Once established, the score will enable clinicians to determine whether their patient is better suited to receive conventional or novel targeted therapies based on a risk classification, boosting chances of tackling the disease and improving patient outcomes.

The score will also support clinicians to assist patients in making informed decisions regarding their treatment type, and in doing so improve equity of access to new treatment approaches and rationalise their use.

Once developed, the score will be named the Leukaemia Foundation Follicular Lymphoma Prognostic Score in recognition of the Leukaemia Foundation’s contribution.
Follicular lymphoma is the most common indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a major health burden to blood cancer care in Australia. While early stage follicular lymphoma is potentially curable, the disease has very poor outcomes once it reaches an advanced stage.

There has been a steady and unexplained 40% increase in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the past 25 years, with follicular lymphoma representing 23-30% of all NHL diagnosed. Despite the rate of some other NHL plateauing over the past five years, rates of follicular lymphoma have continued to rise.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said the Leukaemia Foundation was proud to support Professor Gandhi’s work.

“We want Australians with blood cancer to enjoy a better quality of life, which is why we have invested $47 million over the past 20 years into innovative research like Professor Gandhi’s to improve the way they are treated,” he said.

“For more than 20 years the Leukaemia Foundation has been funding researchers at leading medical research institutes across the country to undertake projects with the potential to deliver high impact results and better patient outcomes.

“We want to support our health system to ensure people have access to the best possible treatment to treat their disease. Diagnostics are the pathway to precision medicine, which has the ability to deliver advances in disease management through targeted treatment, and that is what we anticipate this new score could achieve once developed.”

The score will be designed based on assessment of diagnostic samples drawn from 1500 ‘real-world’ follicular lymphoma patient cases across Australia.

A study of this magnitude will make a major contribution to the field and permit the score to be adopted worldwide, strengthening the potential for this research to have an impact not only in Australia but also internationally.

“Without the Leukaemia Foundation’s support, work like this to improve lymphoma outcomes could not be done,” Professor Gandhi said.

Development of the scoring model will expand on Professor Gandhi’s ongoing diagnostic lymphoma project to determine the genetic differences between early and advanced stage follicular lymphoma as well as the differences in the make-up of the immune response at the different stages.

Two stages of the research project have been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, with the Leukaemia Foundation providing $200,000 in funding to support the third.

– ENDS –

Leukaemia Foundation supports Australian Research Innovation

Leukaemia Foundation supports Australian Research Innovation

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

The Leukaemia Foundation has 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 partnership ensures research supported by the Leukaemia Foundation is high quality, and that Australian researchers have the opportunity to apply and receive Leukaemia Foundation research funding each year,” Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Mr Petch said.

“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,” Mr Petch said.

The successful funding candidates are:

Kate Vandyke – South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), Adelaide, South Australia

Disease: Multiple Myeloma
Project title: Increasing drug delivery and improving the quality of life for Multiple Myeloma patients.

Summary: Recent therapeutic advances have seen substantial improvements in the overall survival of patients with multiple myeloma (MM). However, these treatments are associated with significant side-effects, making treatment-related quality of life an increasingly important factor for patients.

Peripheral neuropathy, defined as damage and inflammation to nerves in the hands and feet, is a frequent complication in myeloma patients undergoing treatment with the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib.

Peripheral neuropathy leads to debilitating pain that often necessitates dose reduction or treatment withdrawal, negatively impacting (cont) … treatment outcomes. Dr Vandyke has recently found that a novel N-cadherin inhibitor, LCRF-0006, can dramatically increase the antitumour efficacy of low-dose bortezomib treatment.

The proposed research will examine whether LCRF-0006 can be used to prime the tumour vasculature for the delivery of bortezomib and other myeloma therapies, thereby increasing their efficacy and potentially decreasing their systemic toxicity.

Laura Bray – Queensland University of Technology, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation

Disease: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Project title: Development of a translational bioengineered microenvironment model to advance pre-clinical acute myeloid leukaemia research

Summary: Studies have shown that the standard culture of leukaemia cells on two dimensional surfaces, such as plastic, for research purposes, does not accurately mimic the natural environment of the bone marrow in the human body, hindering the translation of lab results to the clinic.

This study aims to develop new models for drug testing that give us information about the biology of acute myeloid leukaemia development and mechanisms of drug resistance.

Michelle Henderson – Children’s Cancer Institute, Sydney, New South Wales

Disease: Leukaemia
Project title: Targeting the NAD pathway as a new therapeutic strategy for high-risk leukaemia in children

Summary: Rapidly dividing cancer cells can be dependent on a cellular biochemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) as an energy source.

Preliminary work undertaken at the the Children’s Cancer Institute’s has led to the discovery of a new drug that blocks the production of NAD and has remarkably strong anti-leukaemia activity, even against the most aggressive subtypes of leukaemia.

This proposal aims to develop this drug as a novel therapeutic strategy for aggressive leukaemia in children, to ultimately improve their survival and minimise the side effects of treatment.

Jenny Wang – Children’s Cancer Institute, Sydney, New South Wales

Disease: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Project title: Therapeutic targeting of a novel self-renewal signalling in leukaemia stem cells

Summary: Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a fatal form of blood cancer in children.

The survival of AML patients remains poor due to the return of disease after chemotherapy (relapse).

Leukaemia stem cells (LSCs) are the major cause of relapse and Dr Wang and the team at the Children’s Cancer Institute are studying how to eradicate them without harming healthy cells.

This project will develop a novel LSC-targeted therapy with minimal side effects and toxicity that will improve the dismal outcome of childhood AML.

Gabriela Brumatti – Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, Victoria

Disease: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Project title: Targeting multidrug resistance protein 1 (MDR1) enhances the efficacy of Smac-mimetic-based therapy in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Summary: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive blood cancer, and the second most common form of leukaemia in children.

Fewer than 30 per cent of AML patients can be cured with current therapies.

This project will test a novel combination therapy, the Smac-mimetic drug birinapant plus multidrug resistance inhibitors (MDR1i), for the treatment of AML.

This research will determine how this therapy can be effectively used to increase the chances of cure, with reduce side effects for the patient’s benefit.

May is Myeloma Awareness Month

May is Myeloma Awareness Month

Five Australians will be told today they have the blood cancer myeloma.

The Leukaemia Foundation, in conjunction with Myeloma Australia, will host free educational seminars across Australia as part of Myeloma Awareness Month this May, as it commits to raising more awareness around the disease, which saw a 35 per cent rise in disease incidence in the past decade alone.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said there are nearly 19,002 people diagnosed with myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, every single year and 95 per cent are aged over 50.

“When you consider Australia’s population is aging, there is a real concern for people diagnosed with myeloma into the future,” Mr Petch said.

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, is a blood cancer which affects the body’s plasma cells, the cells that produce antibodies.

Myeloma develops when these plasma cells undergo a cancerous change and become myeloma cells, multiplying at an increased rate and take over the bone marrow. As a result, bones can become weaker and break more easily. Patients also experience anaemia, bone pain, kidney damage, frequent infections and increased bleeding and bruising.

The disease typically starts in the bone marrow, and patients can often have no symptoms in the early stages, but the disease can be picked up with a routine blood test. The most common symptom is bone pain, usually felt in the lower back or ribs.

Mr Petch said the Leukaemia Foundation is committed to funding innovative treatments which will help lead clinicians to better treatment outcomes and survivability rates for Australians living with the disease.

“Since 2002 we have committed more than $47 million to blood cancer research, including funding myeloma research project and the careers of early researchers,” Mr Petch said.

Throughout Myeloma Awareness Month this May, the Leukaemia Foundation will host a series of free Myeloma Information Seminars across Australia in most capital cities.

The sessions, nationally will not only have expert speakers outlining what is new or upcoming in treating myeloma which provides hope but also expert sessions that support how those living with myeloma can take charge in their everyday to live with myeloma.

For more information contact media@www.leukaemia.org.au or phone 1800 620 420.

Welcome commitment to reduce out-of-pocket cancer costs

Welcome commitment to reduce out-of-pocket cancer costs

The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes Federal Labor’s commitment to reducing out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients as part of a $2.3 billion funding package announced in last night’s Federal Budget reply.

The announcement includes funding to remove out-of-pocket costs associated with diagnostic imaging, bulk-billed Medicare items for oncologists and specialist surgeons, and a guarantee that every drug recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Council (PBAC) will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to ensure affordable access to treatments for patients.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said that the wide-ranging suite of measures will have a positive impact on people living with blood cancer, which is one of the biggest causes of cancer death in Australia.

“Ensuring affordable and equitable access to the right diagnostics and treatments are important factors in reducing disparities in survival outcomes for people living with blood cancer across Australia.

“We know there are significant differences in treatment options and survival outcomes depending on where a person lives, so this announcement is welcome news to people living with blood cancer, particularly in regional areas and those who struggle to fund the significant out-of-pocket costs associated with cancer treatment.

“We stand ready to work in partnership with Government to ensure that Australians of all ages diagnosed with a blood cancer have affordable access to the innovative treatments and services they need – wherever they live.”

The Leukaemia Foundation provides practical and emotional support to Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer at no cost, thanks to the generosity of the community through our fundraising efforts. We invite all Australians living with a blood cancer, their families and carers to subscribe for ongoing information at call 1800 620 420.

Labor’s commitment to blood cancer

Labor’s commitment to blood cancer

$20M commitment to blood cancer and new Right to Trial program

The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes Federal Labor’s commitment of $20 million to give Australian blood cancer patients faster access to leading clinical trial drugs and therapies through a new Right to Trial program.

Our CEO Bill Petch joined Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Health Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King on 17 April 2019 at Perth’s St John of God Hospital to support the announcement.

The announcement stems from a $1.8 million project developed by the Leukaemia Foundation and Tour de Cure who will work with the Garvan Institute in Sydney, SA Genomics in Adelaide and QIMR in Brisbane to establish greater access to new and emerging treatments for blood cancer patients. This project builds upon the Australian Genomic Cancer Medicine Program, which uses genomics to improve the understanding, early detection, prevention and management of solid tumours and until now no such program existed for blood cancers.The project is set to commence in June 2019.

Labor’s additional investment to establish the Right to Trial program would dramatically expand the initial project and provide approximately 1,800 blood cancer patients with access to the treatments they need.

Through the program, blood cancer patients would gain faster access to new and emerging therapies specific to the genetic markers of their disease, up to 5 to 10 years before they would be normally available under traditional Australian clinical trial schemes. It will also provide a more equitable mechanism for the systematic trialling of treatments, which are emerging or in use, but are not supported by a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) listing for a particular disease.

Our research found that one in five Australian blood cancer patients try to access a clinical trial, but there either aren’t any trials currently available, or they weren’t eligible. For some, this lack of access can be a death sentence.

Compared to traditional clinical trials, which require trials to open in Australia and recruit sufficient numbers of patients to be considered viable, the Right to Trial model is a new approach to clinical trials, personalised to the individual patient. Critically, it will provide access to treatments for people with a blood cancer who would otherwise have few or no treatment options left.

The funding would also help to establish the Right to Trial framework and a Ministerial Advisory Group for Blood Cancers.

This framework will establish the method for capturing data from these trials to generate the real-world evidence required by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) in the era of high-cost targeted therapy.

The new Ministerial Advisory Group would bring together leading blood cancer clinicians, researchers and patient support organisations including the Leukaemia Foundation to address the current and future challenges faced by Australians living with blood cancer.

If you’d like to speak with one of our friendly team members about how we can work with you, your family and carers, to access services and support you need, please call us on 1800 620 420.