The cancer community is exceptional in its capacity and determination to work together. As events around the globe seem to lurch from crisis to crisis, and people are faced with war, floods and pandemics, cancer doesn’t go away - although life for people affected becomes even more challenging.
During these incredibly difficult times, we have heard heroic stories of people reaching out to help patients who need urgent care and who have redoubled their efforts to ensure patients are supported despite the most challenging of circumstances.
I’ve been inspired by stories from colleagues in Poland and Germany who are working hard to pick up the cancer care of displaced Ukrainians. In the US a 13-year-old cancer survivor helped a toddler with cancer flee Ukraine and safely travel to the United States to receive life-saving treatment.
Watch too much news and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but the flipside of amazing community responses is both motivating and heart-warming. I acknowledge the efforts made by many and encourage everyone to look out for each other and keep doing what you can to help others.
Setting a new bar
Closer to home, I am heartened to see the continued impetus in comprehensive cancer centres (CCC) – an integrated approach to cancer research, education and care in Australia. From our own experience as Australia’s first and most ambitious CCC, we know what a game changer this can be.
With the Federal Government’s recent budget announcement of a $375m investment towards a new CCC for Western Australia, as well as plans progressing in Queensland, South Australia and the Children’s CCC in New South Wales, it’s clear that momentum for this proven, integrated, public health research-driven approach is gaining traction. It would be great to see formal connections between these centres to ensure consistency at a national level. This will help ensure equity and access for all Australians affected by cancer.
It was good news to see an increase in the available funds for medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) as announced in the Federal Budget last week. However, I share the frustrations of others that funding through ARCS and NHMRC has reduced in relative terms over many years. In our recent submission to the Australian Cancer Plan we emphasised the need for an overhaul of the funding structures to effectively support and incentivise purposeful research, innovation, collaboration and commercialisation.
There is promise in the Federal Government’s recent announcement of the establishment of a Strategic Advisory Committee chaired by Dr Katherine Woodthorpe, to develop a two-decade strategy for health and medical research. The ‘Vision 2040 Strategy’ is intended to provide a holistic perspective that will integrate health and medical research – from theoretical to applied – at a national level to deliver a common vision for the next 20 years.
Again, the comprehensive cancer centre model is relevant here and I look forward to members of our alliance contributing to the consultations.
Sophisticated, collaborative leadership
As we prepare to farewell Prof Maarten IJzerman when he returns to the Netherlands in May, I would like to express my gratitude to some exceptional colleagues who are helping to ensure continuity and strong leadership.
Many thanks to Prof Meinir (Mei) Krishnasamy who will take on the role of Interim Chair of our Cancer Research Advisory Committee (CRAC) and to Prof Christobel Saunders who will take over as Co-chair of our Value-based Cancer Care program. It is fantastic to have such visionary and capable people fill these critical roles for the alliance.
Finally, my congratulations to Prof Michael Jefford, the committee, and the staff who convened and organised the recent Victorian Cancer Survivorship conference as a collaboration between VCCC Alliance and the Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre at Peter Mac.
The heartfelt, personal story of the impact of breast cancer told by RACGP President Dr Karen Price, set the scene for a meaningful, productive and important educational conference in an area of cancer care that is only going to grow as cancer treatments continue to extend life.
Another personal highlight of the conference was learning about the work of Professor Christoffer Johansen from Denmark who has used big data at the population level to address key questions in Cancer Survivorship. This sets the landscape for data linkage as a key priority in cancer research - a consideration as we plan for the future in our own country.
Professor Grant McArthur