Childhood cancer on notice

Official opening of the new ACRF Drug Discovery Centre

iStock_000000735381XSmall_two-hands-clasping-in-hospital-300x235“Tonight, together, we have put childhood cancer on notice.

“Tonight, we have glimpsed a not to distant future where no child who has cancer need suffer,” declared Bob Muscat, chairman of the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia at the August 19 launch of the $3.1m ACRF Drug Discovery Centre.

Mr Muscat joined University of New South Wales chancellor David Gonski, Children’s Cancer Institute Australia executive director Michelle Haber, CCIA founder Jack Kassas, and Australian Cancer Research Foundation chairman Tom Dery to officially open the new ACRF-funded facilities at the CCIA, part of the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW.

The ACRF Drug Discovery Centre will develop new and improved treatments for childhood cancers.

It houses customised technology that enables one year’s medical research to be done in just a few days.

This drug screening robot is the only one of its kind in Australia devoted to childhood cancer, the disease that kills three Aussie kids on average, each and every week.

Chancellor Gonski described the opening event as a celebration of great research and great donation.

The gift

In his welcoming address Mr Muscat acknowledged the ACRF Drug Discovery was made possible by a bequest to the ACRF from the estate of the late Berenice M. McDonnell.

“This generous $3.1m contribution that has been made to our Institute is an extraordinary offering of hope to the 600 Australian children and so many hundreds of thousands more internationally, who this year have been diagnosed with childhood cancer,” Mr Muscat said.

Professor Michelle Haber said of Mrs McDonnell’s bequest, “this gift will have a truly ongoing legacy in terms of improved survival rates for children with cancer.”

Switching cancer off

“The technology in the ACRF Drug Discovery Centre involves rapid automated screening of thousands of random chemical small molecules to find ones which have the exact structure suitable to block the action of specific genes which we have identified as being responsible for the malignant behaviour of childhood cancer cells,” explained Professor Haber.

“If we can block the action of those abnormally activated genes, and switch them off, then we can block the cancerous behaviour of the cell.

“Even better, because the abnormal genes that we are targeting are only present in the cancer cells, we can then attack the cancer cells but leave the normal cells untouched.

“In short this technology provided by ACRF is the pipeline to a generation of newer, safer drugs with fewer side effects,” she said.

Army huts, not hospitals

Co-founder of the then Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Foundation, Jack Kassas, recalled the emotional, financial and social upheaval of suddenly having to move his family from the quiet town of Childers in Queensland to Sydney when daughter Helen was diagnosed in leukaemia.

While it was clear that doctors at the Sydney Children’s Hospital were doing all they could for children in their care, it seemed very little was being done anywhere in Australia to conduct research into childhood cancer.

Just 35 years ago the young cancer patients were accommodated in unused army huts, Mr Kassas said. And less than half of these children survived.

Today, thanks to people such as Mr Kassas who raise awareness of, and funds to aid discoveries in medical research, up to 70 per cent of children now survive cancer.


Fifty people attended the opening of the ACRF Drug Discovery Centre at the CCIA.

Guests included top researchers from the Lowy Cancer Research Centre, executives from the UNSW, and ACRF trustees, including 2010 Eureka Prize winner and ACRF medical research adviser, Phil Hogg.

Also present was Martin Rogers, director of Prima Biomed; Albert Wong, the chairman of Prima Biomed and director of the UNSW Foundation; and on behalf of the first executive director of the CCIA, Barbara and Heath Mackay-Cruise.

ACRF donors Mina and Nassar Masoumian, fundraisers Grant Ferrier, Betty Holman and Carol Pont as well as supporters Lynne and Brian Kendal, and Marie-Therese and Dr Max Hooper also attended the event.

Click Here for ACRF Drug Discovery Centre for Childhood Cancer Media Release.

Eureka! ACRF medical adviser Professor Philip Hogg wins top science prize.

ACRF staff take a special tour of the new ACRF Drug Discovery Centre.