Leukaemia Foundation – Precision treatment for all young Australians living with blood cancer

Precision treatment for all young Australians living with blood cancer

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Leukaemia Foundation has welcomed news that Australian children and young adults will have greater access to precision cancer treatment following a $67 million additional funding injection for a world-leading research and clinical program.

Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, yesterday announced the joint investment from the Federal Government and the Minderoo Foundation to extend and expand the Zero Childhood Cancer National Precision Medicine Program with a view to ensuring all Australian children and young adults diagnosed with cancer will have access to genomically-guided, precision treatments.

The Zero Childhood Cancer program is the first large-scale Australian study aiming to provide personalised treatments for kids based on in-depth knowledge of their individual cancer.

The program brings together major research and clinical groups working in children’s cancer around the country. Cancer cells of program participants are profiled, with researchers then using this information to build an understanding of the genetic and biological causes of childhood cancers and test new therapies to help find the most effective treatment for each individual participant.

Minister Hunt said the extra funding will expand the program from about 150 children per year to 1000 children per year.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said the program’s expansion was an important lifeline for the close to 400 children currently diagnosed with a blood cancer each year nationwide.

Blood cancer, specifically leukaemia and lymphoma, remains the most commonly diagnosed childhood cancer for Australians 14 years and younger, accounting for about 30 percent of all cancer diagnoses in that age group nationally.

Adolescents and young adults are also significantly affected by this complex set of diseases, with close to 300 15-25 year olds expected to be diagnosed with blood cancer each year.

“The importance of precision medicine in treating these Australians cannot be understated, and it is an initiative that we have been advocating for as a leading national voice for people living with blood cancer and through our leading role with the Blood Cancer Taskforce,” Mr Petch said.

“The reality is blood cancer is not one disease, but many, influenced by genetic mutations that affect disease development and treatment options. Precision medicine targets specific changes in cancer DNA while also taking into account genetic variations between individuals, and in doing so it illuminates potential treatment pathways specifically tailored to that person, often leading to more effective outcomes.

“The Leukaemia Foundation is working towards building a future that ensures equitable access to the latest and most appropriate therapy for all Australians living with blood cancer. The promise of precision treatment capturing all young people means wherever they live and whatever their diagnosis, every Australian in this cohort with a blood cancer can look forward to a treatment pathway specifically designed to be more efficient and effective for them.”

Mr Petch said the announcement was also in line with Leukaemia Foundation research showing Australians living with blood cancer want to see rapid change in cancer research driven by precision medicine.

“We also know that less than 30% of Australians with a blood cancer have access to genetic and genomic testing to inform their diagnosis and treatment planning, which is a number we are hoping to improve through our work with the broader blood cancer community,” he said.

Late last year the Leukaemia Foundation released the first State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report, which led to Minister Hunt supporting the Leukaemia Foundation to establish  a Blood Cancer Taskforce. The Taskforce is now working towards delivering Australia’s first National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer, bolstering the Leukaemia Foundation’s goal to see zero lives lost from blood cancer by 2035.

The Blood Cancer Taskforce unites Australia’s leading haematologists, researchers, patients and members of the blood cancer ecosystem for the first time to work with the Leukaemia Foundation to develop the National Action Plan, which will provide a blueprint to tackle key issues facing people affected by blood cancer, today and into the future.

Mr Petch said the formation of the Taskforce and development of the National Action Plan together mark a major milestone for the blood cancer community and will set the national agenda around blood cancer for many years to come. The National Action Plan is due for release later this year.

The Leukaemia Foundation continues to invest and partner in ground-breaking research which supports precision medicine, such as diagnostics and genomic screening.

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