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Zero Childhood Cancer Program launched

September 2, 2015

Zero Childhood Cancer logo
The ‘Zero Childhood Cancer’ Program‘, a personalised medicine program giving hope to children with the highest risk of treatment failure or relapse was launched at the Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI) in Sydney today. The Program will involve the detailed laboratory analysis of each child’s unique cancer cells to help identify the drugs most likely to kill their specific cancer. Researchers and clinicians will then work collaboratively to identify and deliver the most effective treatment plan, specifically tailored to suit each child’s individual circumstances.

In 2014, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation was proud to announce a $1.5 million grant for the development of The ACRF Precision Medicine Centre for Childhood Cancer for children at high risk of treatment failure. Once opened, the ACRF Centre will form an integral part of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program and will be hosted at CCI.

“This is a unique personalised medicine program and it’s exciting to see it come to life. The program will help improve the treatments provided to children and young people with cancer and hopefully have a significant positive impact on their quality of life as well as increase the survival rate for those children with high risk and relapsed cancer,“ said Ian Brown, Chief Executive of ACRF.

The first stage of the program, a pilot study of young, high risk NSW cancer patients will be conducted by Children’s Cancer Institute and Sydney Children’s Hospital Network in in 2016. Following successful completion of the pilot study, a national clinical trial involving 120 children will open in 2017. When fully implemented, the Program will be offered to children throughout Australia who are at highest risk of relapse or treatment failure.

Despite the dramatic increase in childhood cancer survival rates over the last sixty years, from virtually 0% to 80%, nearly three Australian children and adolescents still die each week of cancer (see footnote). Of the 950 children diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia, 150 are either diagnosed with cancer types that have a survival rate lower than 30%, or relapse and subsequently have less than a 1 in 3 chance of cure. It is these children – including those suffering from the most aggressive forms of childhood brain tumours, sarcomas, infant leukaemia and neuroblastoma – who will benefit from the Zero Childhood Cancer Program.

“This is a very exciting initiative that will revolutionise the way in which treatment decisions about childhood cancer will be made,” said Children’s Cancer Institute’s Executive Director Professor Michelle Haber AM.

“The challenge in curing every child is that each child’s cancer is unique, which means they respond differently to anti-cancer treatment. As the Personalised Medicine Program is implemented, and as we gather more information, we will hopefully get better and better at identifying the most effective treatment for each child’s cancer.

We see this as a key step towards our vision of one day helping to cure 100% of children with cancer. Currently, for children with the most challenging forms of cancer, there is very little hope. This Program will offer them the best standard of care here in Australia.”

Professor Glenn Marshall AM, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and Head of Translational Research at Children’s Cancer Institute is very optimistic about the potential of the Personalised Medicine Program to improve treatment and minimise the side-effects and suffering caused by chemotherapy.

“Knowing which drugs will not be effective in a patient is as important as knowing which drugs will be effective,” said Professor Marshall.

“Our ward is full of children suffering as much from the side effects of treatment as they are suffering from cancer. The data we will be gathering and using is exciting in two respects – we will have evidence-based treatment options in the present, and we will be building a powerful research repository for the future.”

To achieve the long term goal of Zero Childhood Cancer, Children’s Cancer Institute and the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network are collaborating with major research centres in the United States and Europe. Initial funding for the program has been received from the Federal government-funded Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx) and capital funding from the NSW State Government. In addition, support has been committed by several funding partners including Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, The Kids Cancer Project and The University of New South Wales, Australia.

Footnote: 0-19 years incidence data. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) Books, 2015 http://www.aihw.gov.au/acim-books Accessed 12 August 2105.

Image: Children’s Cancer Institute

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