September 24 Marks World Cancer Research Day

ACRF appoints Professor Michelle Haber AM and Professor Ricky Johnstone as co-chairs of its Medical Research Advisory Committee. Ensuring bold and pioneering research can continue to be supported in Australia.

On World Cancer Research Day, Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) is delighted to announce the appointment of two distinguished chairs to its esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee (MRAC) – Professor Michelle Haber AM and Professor Ricky Johnstone. The ACRF’s MRAC plays a key role not just within ACRF ensuring the quality and level of research being funded is at the top of its game, but also nationally ensuring the best and boldest new ideas in research can be supported.

Australia is a small but mighty player when it comes to innovation and progress within cancer research globally. From the development of a world-first cancer vaccine for cervical cancer to the globally recognised Zero Childhood Cancer national child precision medicine program (ZERO), we continue to be at the forefront of dynamic research that is changing the way we manage all cancers.

For almost 40 years, ACRF has been backing and supporting these pioneering world-first, world-class projects that have fueled breakthroughs in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship. ACRF has contributed significantly to this landscape, investing more than $174 million into cancer research across Australia since 1984.

As we look to the significance of World Cancer Research Day, ACRF is excited to ensure these types of cutting-edge projects continue to be supported. By bringing Professors Haber and Johnstone in to lead the MRAC, we can ensure the best and brightest minds in cancer research are receiving the support they need to pioneer new breakthroughs.

Haber, the long-time Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute, and Johnstone, Executive Director Cancer Research at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, will succeed outgoing chair Professor Doug Hilton AO, who retired from the role earlier in September.

Mr Tom Dery, chair of ACRF’s board of trustees, said: “The appointments of Michelle and Ricky underline ACRF’s commitment to backing brilliant research projects that blaze trails. We look for excellence when appointing MRAC chairs and our track record speaks for itself.

“All members of the MRAC are senior medical research professionals with a detailed understanding of the global cancer research landscape, so they will only endorse the most promising projects with the potential to provide us with the greatest health and social returns.

“Our sincere thanks go to Professor Doug Hilton, who has been an amazing asset for the MRAC. We wish him all the best in his next endeavours.”

Professor Hilton, reflecting on his time and the impact of ACRF funding, said: “Equipment is an essential requirement of modern cancer research. ACRF grants have enabled investment in infrastructure and technology that advances cancer research and helps our researchers make discoveries that improve the lives of cancer patients and their families. We thank ACRF supporters for their faith in our ability to understand, prevent and find new treatments for people with cancer.”

ACRF CEO Kerry Strydom welcomed the appointment of Haber and Johnstone, emphasising their extensive experience and leadership in the field. Professor Haber joined the MRAC in 2012, while Professor Johnstone became a member in 2019.

“We are immensely grateful for Michelle and Ricky’s willingness to volunteer their time and expertise as MRAC co-chairs,” Ms Strydom said.

“Their contributions will add significant value and I look forward to working closely with them.”
Professor Haber said: “It’s an honour to be appointed co-chair of the MRAC alongside Professor Johnstone. I look forward to building on the outstanding work of previous chairs and seeking out the boldest, most brilliant research ideas to take us toward a world without cancer.”

Professor Johnstone added: “Being co-chair of the MRAC carries a lot of responsibility and I’m privileged to take up this position. The future of cancer research is incredibly exciting and to play a role in enabling ambitious projects is a great thrill.”

To date, ACRF has awarded $174 million to 82 grants across 43 Australian cancer research institutes. This has given scientists the technology, equipment and infrastructure essential to progress towards a cancer-free future.

The impact of funding cutting-edge cancer research is exemplified by the story of Fiona, an oncology nurse who was diagnosed with a tumour in her left kidney aged 49.

If not for significant advancements in cancer treatment over the past 15 years – particularly immunotherapy – she likely wouldn’t be here today to see her children get married and become a grandmother.

“Boundary-pushing research into new cancer treatments was my saving grace – it’s why ACRF’s role in providing funding is so crucial,” Fiona said.

Supporting Points:

  • 2 in 5 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. The remaining 3 will be closely affected by a diagnosis.1
  • The survival rate for many types of cancer has improved by more than 20% in the past three decades.
  • In the last 5 years, the average survival rate for all childhood cancer combined has reached 86% – an increase of 11% since 1994 – 1998, but childhood cancer remains the commonest cause of death from disease in children in this country.
  • ACRF’s year-on-year investment into the cancer research sector equates up to 30% of all non-government funding in cancer research infrastructure in Australia.
  • ACRF receives no government funding, relying on donations and fundraising from individuals, corporates, and community groups.
    Landmark Research Projects:
  • Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research at University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute was awarded a $1M grant by ACRF in 1999.
    o ACRF gave initial seed funding to Professor Ian Frazer’s research into the development of a cervical cancer (HPV) vaccine. Almost 400 million doses of the vaccine have now been delivered worldwide and Australia is leading the charge – on patch to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer entirely by 2030.
  • ACRF Child Cancer Precision Medicine Centre at Children’s Cancer Institute was awarded a $1.5M grant by ACRF in 2014.
    o This world-leading facility is now the operational headquarters for the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) – the most comprehensive precision medicine program for children and young people with cancer in the world. ZERO is currently being expanded and by the end of 2023 will be become available to all Australian children with cancer, regardless of their type of cancer or risk profile.
  • ACRF Centre for Intravital Imaging of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research was awarded a $3M grant by ACRF in 2020.
    o The Australian-designed custom intravital microscopy centre will overcome the limitations of conventional microscopes in viewing the interactions between the immune system and cancer, below the surface of tumours and deep inside tissues. This work will address a major challenge in the treatment of cancer: why some patients have a remarkable clinical response to cancer immunotherapies, while other patients do not respond.
    1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer data in Australia. 2022