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Spotlight on Professor Andrew Wei and the importance of clinical trials

Leukaemia researcher, Professor Andrew Wei hopes that clinical trials in the future will be routinely based on a new strategy of targeting measurable residual disease (MRD), commencing patients on treatment before clinical relapse 

That’s the cornerstone of an innovative platform clinical trial (AMLM26 INTERCEPT) that’s currently underway for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) 

Prof. Wei is Chief Investigator of this study, which he spearheaded, and he hopes to see this world-first study opened beyond Australia. He co-leads the AML program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital. Prof. Wei is also a laboratory head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, in Melbourne. 

There is potential for this strategy to be applied to several cancers where MRD can be monitored,” he explains, “particularly as techniques for monitoring MRD become more sophisticated.” 

Research is a rewarding but challenging vocation 

Prof. Wei says research requires a lot of persistence, hard work and determination to overcome the many barriers which every researcher must face to make their projects a reality. 

“Australia has an excellent research organisation called the ALLG** [Australasian Leukaemia & Lymphoma Group),” which functions as a vehicle to deliver clinical trial therapies to patients in hospitals around the country. 

“The members of the ALLG voluntarily donate their time to support clinical trials in Australia.” 

“I’ve have done volunteer work at different stages in my life. I remember going to South Africa for two months as a volunteer to work outside Soweto, just after Nelson Mandela was installed as the new president,” says Prof. Wei.  

“When I was a medical student, I worked with an amazing lady in her 80s who was called the Angel of Collingwood. She worked as a volunteer for the St Vincent de Paul Society and supported single mothers and homeless children for over 40 years. Watching how hard she worked and the effect she had on people was very inspiring and rewarding,” explains Prof. Wei. 

“When I started medicine, my initial interest was emergency medicine, then haematology, research and finally acute myeloid leukaemia.” My introduction to research was by Professors Andrew Roberts and David Huang at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. They taught me the power of science and the potential it had for answering important research questions. 

“Currently we are privileged to work in an amazing era for haematology, with an explosion of new therapies over the last decade which is only gathering more pace.” 

Training the next generation of researchers 

“Training young people who will continue developing trials and carrying on the work is a key goal,” Prof. Wei says. 

“By training one new researcher, that person could potentially make a 20-30 year contribution to research in this country if they are sufficiently inspired to continue that vocation.” 

“I have had the privilege of training a new trial fellow every two years. So far, most of them have continued in research in some capacity, which means the workforce treating leukaemia in Australia is ever expanding.”  

“They may even go on to train someone else… so it’s planting lots of different seeds, which will grow, hopefully, into a long-term and sustainable workforce to help people with leukaemia.” 

The advancement of AML treatments 

While there are more treatments for AML, Prof. Wei said, “it’s still a very difficult disease to treat”. 

“We still have a long way to go.” 

He said the availability of venetoclax (Venclexta®), which was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in December 2021, making it available to Australians around the country, has “made a big difference to patients everywhere”. 

“This is because the majority of our patients are older, and this treatment is the first new therapy with proven efficacy for this difficult to treat patient population.”  

“In the past, we could not do much for older patients with AML. Transplantation or intensive chemotherapy was not possible.” 

“We are currently using MRD monitoring to identify patients who might benefit from venetoclax-based therapies earlier. We are even using MRD to determine if it is even possible to cease treatment altogether after one year of therapy, with the hope that patients can have an even better quality of life without treatment.” 

* The Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, and more.

** The ALLG is a not-for-profit, collaborative clinical trial group that sponsors, designs, conducts, monitors, and publishes investigator-initiated clinical trials in leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and other blood cancers. The ALLG membership of approximately 450 clinicians is comprised of almost all the haematologists treating blood cancer across Australia and New Zealand. 

Last updated on July 25th, 2023

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.