Personalised treatment for childhood cancers in Australia is a step closer thanks to the Zero Childhood Cancer program’s national clinical trial launched today.
ACRF is one of the founding funders of the Zero Childhood Cancer Project, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to the project in 2014.
The trial will see scientists from thirteen leading Australian and international research institutes and doctors from all eight of Australia’s kids’ cancer centres will work together to identify and recommend new treatment options. These will be specifically tailored to suit the individual cancers of children with the highest risk of treatment failure or relapse.
The Zero Childhood Cancer program recognises that each child’s cancer is unique, so they respond differently to anti-cancer treatment. Detailed laboratory analysis of tumour samples will help identify the drugs most likely to kill each child’s specific cancer.
Pilot study paves way for national launch
The national clinical trial builds on a successful NSW pilot study of nearly 60 children begun in late 2015 for children with the most aggressive cancers whose chance of survival on standard treatments was less than 30%.
The pilot study proved the program’s feasibility, successfully putting in place the complex logistics and laboratory testing needed to analyse patient tumours and get meaningful results back to doctors in real-time.
The clinical trial expands the program to give hope to families across the country and will enrol more than 400 Australian children over the next three years, bringing the most advanced diagnostic technologies close to home.
Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute and Research Lead for Zero Childhood Cancer, said the pilot study showed the urgent need for personalised medicine.
“Originally this pilot study was planned for 12 young patients. However nearly 60 children have been enrolled in the program due to the high demand by clinicians and parents.
Professor Haber said personalised treatment gives kids with the most aggressive cancers the best chance of surviving their disease because it is based on reliable scientific information, such as individual genetic mutations, unique to that child’s cancer.
“Using the latest molecular profiling techniques and laboratory testing of patient cancer cells with anti-cancer drugs, Zero Childhood Cancer will give the most detailed diagnosis possible in Australia to date for children with the most aggressive cancers. It is one of the most complex and comprehensive personalised medicine programs in the world,” she said.
Another benefit of personalised medicine is the potential to refine or change an individual child’s cancer subtype. Cancer diagnoses may be changed once detailed genetic and other molecular tests are done, opening up new treatment options. Several children on the pilot study had changed diagnoses as a result of detailed testing.
A/Professor Tracey O’Brien, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, said targeted therapies such as those identified through Zero Childhood Cancer will allow a much more sophisticated approach.
“The information we gather will benefit children on the program first and foremost but will also be incorporated into future front-line treatments. The knowledge gained is likely to unlock further scientific discoveries that will also ultimately benefit future patients. Most of all, it will bring us a step closer to our vision of one day curing all children of cancer.”
The Zero Childhood Cancer initiative will be led by Children’s Cancer Institute and The Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick, part of The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. Participating hospitals and research centres in this collaborative national project include a number of previous ACRF grant recipients:
Any interested parents of children with cancer should contact their child’s paediatric oncologist in the first instance.
Image: Minister Greg Hunt MP with a young cancer patient and their family. Photo courtesy of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.