Children with cancer to benefit from a new research initiative

A new initiative co-led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and the Hudson Institute of Medical Research aims to improve survival rates and quality of life for children with cancer.

The Federal Government's Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has awarded the $9.6 million three-year funding to a collaboration of Victorian hospitals and research institutes to establish a new initiative – the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC).

Every year, nearly 1,000 children are diagnosed with cancer across Australia. The VPCC will ensure the latest research discoveries quickly reach these patients and help improve their outcomes.

Co-led by Professor Ron Firestein from Hudson Institute and Professor David Eisenstat, Head of the Children's Cancer Centre at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) and Neuro-Oncology Group Leader at MCRI, the initiative draws together researchers and clinicians across Melbourne's Monash and Parkville medical precincts.

This includes RCH and Monash Children's Hospital working together with researchers at Hudson Institute, MCRI, WEHI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Monash University and the University of Melbourne.

MCRI Director Professor Kathryn North AC said, "the VPCC brings the top minds in children's cancer together, wrapping Melbourne's arms around these children."

"The Melbourne Children's Campus, comprising MCRI, RCH and University of Melbourne is so pleased to partner with Hudson Institute, Monash Children's and other leading research institutes across the state on this initiative, cementing Victoria's national leadership in biomedical research capability."

Professor Eisenstat said the VPCC would fill a gap in childhood cancer research.

"This proposal will develop exciting new collaborative research projects across the partner organisations to accelerate the translation of new discoveries into the hospital setting, as well as establish clinical programs that map the childhood cancer patient's journey," he said.

Professor Firestein said the VPCC would leverage the unique research expertise and clinical capabilities across the Monash and Parkville precincts to deliver this vision.

"VPCC will focus on discovery research projects in next-generation precision medicine oncology, tumour immunotherapy and epigenomics," he said. "This will be complemented by clinical programs aimed at improving patient survival and minimising late effects and adverse reactions to therapies."

The research will focus on finding new therapies for cancers with the greatest unmet medical need, including brain, bone and soft tissue cancers which have low survival rates. It will also investigate ways to minimise or prevent severe long-term side effects in children who receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy – which can cause long term damage to vital organs including the heart or brain, as well as further malignancies caused by previous cancer treatment.

Researchers will use a range of cutting-edge technologies and approaches including genomics, drug screening, disease modelling, biobanking, and artificial-intelligence-driven precision medicine, to find new targets and predict which patients will best respond to therapies. A state-wide registry of childhood cancer survivors will be expanded to follow up and transition children to adult services.

Director and CEO of Hudson Institute Professor Elizabeth Hartland said, "this initiative will build capacity and sustainability for paediatric cancer research in Victoria by cultivating local, national and international partnerships, supporting educational events and training the childhood cancer leaders of tomorrow."

The Children's Cancer Foundation was a key sponsor and convenor of this Consortium. Chairman Jeremy Smith said, "the VPCC brings together many of the best institutes in Victoria to focus on children's cancer. It is imperative that this cross-institutional collaboration is cultivated to ensure our children's hospitals can continue to provide the best of clinical care, by rapidly translating leading-edge research into bedside treatment.

"The parents of Victoria expect the very best for their children. This initiative is an excellent start of a process to ensure that our hospitals stay at the forefront of treatment for the decade to come."

The funding was awarded from the MRFF's Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiative - 2020 Paediatric Cancer Grant Opportunity.