Generous donation focused on genetic testing brings fresh hope to Australian blood cancer patients

Generous donation focused on genetic testing brings fresh hope to Australian blood cancer patients

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 Joint Press Release –

Generous donation focused on genetic testing brings fresh hope to Australian blood cancer patients

Australia cements position as world leader in fight against blood cancer

With the support from a very personal pledge of $5.5 million, an unprecedented number of Australian lymphoma patients will now have access to advanced genomic testing of their tumours at Peter Mac, which will lead to more accurate diagnosis and better treatment choices.

The Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics represents Victoria’s and Australia’s global leadership in the emerging field of ‘personalised medicine’. Its establishment will ensure Peter Mac can significantly expand its repertoire, capacity and sophistication of genetic testing to accommodate the needs of lymphoma patients more widely.

Up until now, a very small percentage of lymphoma patients have been able to access genomics testing, which has meant many Australians affected by hard-to-treat cancers have not had access to personalised medicine, which matches a treatment to the specific condition for that patient.

This has been made possible by the generosity of Christine Wilson and her family. Christine has been treated for lymphoma at Peter Mac and says her family felt moved to act after seeing many blood cancer patients not respond well to conventional treatment or relapse much sooner than expected. Through the Snowdome Foundation, the Wilson family has pledged $5.5 million over four years towards the program of research.

“We were struck by how genetics testing can save lives, or improve quality of life, for a group of patients who are in dire need of other treatment options,” Mrs Wilson says.

“As a patient living with lymphoma for 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of this cutting-edge technology. My family hopes that our support will make the centre’s ground-breaking work accessible to all Australians affected. We are also hoping this will inspire others to give generously towards making this a standard of care for everyone in the future.”

In addition to this generous donation, both Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne will commit additional resources to support broadening the scope of the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre of Lymphoma Genomics to extend the concepts of complex genetic analysis to myeloid malignancies such as acute myeloid leukaemia. Snowdome Foundation’s ultimate goal is to raise $10 million for genomics research.

Associate Professor David Westerman who will lead the research project says the advancement of genomics will eventually eliminate the need for chemotherapy in treating cancer. “With this partnership between research, clinical, university and philanthropy, we are now able to fast-track genetic testing to more patients and monitor the effectiveness of treatments. Genomics and personalised medicine is what will aid targeted, less toxic cancer treatments,” he says.

Commenting on the launch of the project, Professor Miles Prince, Co-Founder and Director of the Snowdome Foundation, says “Acts of huge generosity such as these are what drives world-firsts. The leaps and bounds made possible by this new centre is what will make hope real for blood cancer patients. It will improve the way lymphoma is diagnosed, give patients better treatment choices and will immediately start saving lives.”

Peter Mac Chief Executive Dale Fisher says this represents a significant expansion of Peter Mac’s genomics capability with benefits for patients, clinicians and scientists.

“This will ensure more patients with hard-to-treat cancers can benefit from tailored treatments, as well as supporting the development of more ground-breaking research at Peter Mac in this emerging field of personalised medicine,” Ms Fisher says.

“Peter Mac offers its sincerest thanks to Christine and Bruce, and their immediate family, for their generous contribution and making all of this possible. Across our organisation we are focussed on putting the patient at the centre of everything we do, and the work evolving from this donation is a wonderful example of this.”

Genomics involves testing the patient’s blood to look for critical gene mutations known to play a role in cancer. If found, the patient can be diverted to a new treatment – or enrolled in a clinical trial – to access drugs known to work against cancers involving these specific mutations. In order to provide this useful information, multiple genes (sometimes as many as 50-100) need to be tested simultaneously using a technique known as “Next Generation Sequencing”. This new approach requires cutting-edge and highly specialised laboratory processes, instrumentation and computing power and is performed by haematologist Dr. Piers Blombery and his team of scientists, technicians and bioinformaticians in the Molecular Haematology Laboratory in the Pathology Department at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The Snowdome Foundation is accepting further donations towards the $10 million funding goal at snowdome.org.au/donate.

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Rebecca Smith
That Communications Company rebecca@thatcomms.com

+61 421 380 796

Chloe Tran
That Communications Company chloe@thatcomms.com

+61 405 955 025

About blood cancers

Blood cancers are the third leading cause of death from cancer.* It is estimated that in 2014, 12,165 Australians were diagnosed with blood cancers (lymphoma, leukaemia, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes) and 4,610 Australians will die from blood cancers. Most people who develop a blood cancer will be over the age of sixty, and this is particularly true for the most common cancers:

myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloid leukaemia. *Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview 2014. Cancer series No 90. Cat. no. CAN 88. Canberra: AIHW.

About Christine & Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics

The Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics is enhancing capabilities at Peter Mac to provide personalised medical care for patients with lymphoid malignancies. This is a complex area and to keep pace in a constantly changing field is challenging. The underlying mechanisms of lymphomas are genetically based and so defining the genetic abnormalities for patients has become critical in their day to day care. This grant will allow world class, cutting edge, improved diagnostic care for patients, by extending our testing capabilities on an individual patient basis. Our prognostic capabilities will subsequently be enhanced for patients, as will testing, to gain access for clinical trials. Peter Mac will monitor patients through their treatment journey for response and residual disease, and link these endeavours with active research questions and projects.

Genomic testing generates an enormous amount of important data. This creates a great opportunity and one of our goals in this project is to assimilate data into a comprehensive genomic compendium. The aim is to collate the data, creating a comprehensive lymphoma genomic compendium that can be used internally for day to day practice by the team, but will also be shared on a global scale through the development of a knowledge network to aid other groups and patient care more widely.

About Peter Mac

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is one of the world’s leading cancer research, education and treatment centres globally and is Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to caring for people affected by cancer. We have over 2,500 staff, including more than 580 laboratory and clinical researchers, all focused on providing better treatments, better care and potential cures for cancer.

About Snowdome Foundation

The Snowdome Foundation was formed in 2010 with a mission to accelerate new therapies for Australian blood cancer (myeloma, lymphoma and leukaemia) patients to help them live longer, better lives. It aims to accelerate access to new blood cancer treatments by channelling government and private philanthropic investments into groundbreaking research, clinical trials, and personalised therapies. With the establishment of both the Centre of Research Excellence in Myeloma (CRE-M) and the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics, Snowdome Foundation has directed almost $12 million into the emerging field of genomics. Last year, Snowdome Foundation in collaboration with Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision received the inaugural National Charity award in the 2016 Telstra Australian Business Awards in recognition of their outstanding work.

About The University of Melbourne

A pioneering research university, the University of Melbourne is a leading Australian research university, with research expenditure second only to that of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the largest cohort of research students in Australia.

Joint Press Release
The Snowdome Foundation & Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre