Initial public consultation for Australia’s first national 10-year cancer plan closed last Friday.
Individuals and organisations nationwide were invited to be bold and ambitious in their ideas. The submissions will help to develop strategies to identify and address critical issues in cancer control that need collaborative, coordinated and national action, in a plan to be released by Cancer Australia in April 2023.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the VCCC Alliance submission. I hope Cancer Australia has received input from all quarters to inform this important plan.
Our recommendations are underpinned by our own strategic plan which aims to leverage existing strengths, target critical areas of need, and champions collaboration to build capacity and capability to address systemic problems and accelerate improvements. It is expected that the Australian Cancer Plan (ACP) 2023-2033 will build upon current state and territory initiatives that have themes consistent with our own.
Futures planning made possible
The new national roadmap will consider 2, 5, and ten-year time horizons with a likelihood that the short-term timeline will enable issues around COVID-19 to be addressed as the nation recovers from the pandemic. The disruption we have undergone in research and clinical settings due to COVID provides an opportunity to accelerate innovation and for us to continue to develop education and training programs that will be crucial for a skilled cancer workforce as we move beyond our current circumstances. This month, we begin building a new digital oncology learning hub that will be central to upskilling the cancer workforce statewide.
The ACP’s focus on a ten-year planning horizon also means research-informed changes to the health system will be made possible. This is a good thing for the research community and gives us time to consider new and leading-edge interventions, as well as how we will really improve in difficult areas such as low-survival cancers and equity of access and outcomes. I am certain there are opportunities beyond our current emphasis and thinking that will be relevant ten years from now. Hence having a future-ready and research-led approach to change will be essential.
Three phases of the transformation of cancer research
Working on our submission and the announcement of Maarten IJzerman’s pending return to the Netherlands, led me to reflect on the transformational shifts I have experienced over the past three decades. When I started out as a PhD student and postdoc, we were focussed on understanding what cancer is at the molecular and cellular level and recognised that development of technology to understand the complexity of cancer was going to be essential to shift the dial.
As technology developed for mass DNA sequencing - the comprehensive profiling of gene expression, and genetic techniques to validate new therapeutic targets and modify cell behaviour, meant we were able to embrace the incredible wave of new, developing cancer treatments from targeted therapies to immune checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapies.
As a result, nowadays treating cancer has become more precise. Precision medicine is helping move cancer treatment from a one-size-fits-all approach to successfully treating the disease based on the molecular information of a patient’s specific cancer. Targeted therapies like imatinib and immunotherapies like pembrolizumab and nivolumab along with CAR-T cell therapies are proven game-changers. In parallel, our measures to prevent and detect cancer early including HPV vaccines and population-based cancer screening have combined to see steady improvements in cancer mortality and outcomes.
New era for cancer health services and systems
I believe the next major shift will come in the shape of cancer health services transformation with research improving the quality, organisation and management of health services and systems. Collaboration on a grand scale is enabling us to progress equitable, and evidence-based patient-centred cancer treatments and care.
I wish to sincerely thank and acknowledge Maarten IJzerman for his leadership in establishing a world-class Cancer Health Services Research program across the VCCC Alliance that has placed us in a position to deliver the best outcomes for cancer patients through this next major phase of cancer research. Our discovery, translational and clinical scientists will continue to uncover new approaches and through cancer health services research we will be ideally placed to deliver the best possible outcomes to cancer patients.
As Dean of the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management in Rotterdam, Maarten will be well-placed to contribute on a global scale. The institute, affiliated with Erasmus Medical Centre, specialises in health economics, healthcare governance and health services research. Maarten will continue to work in cancer research and will maintain some of his activities with the alliance, including as a member of our Value-based Health Care program steering group and continuing to build the collaboration with the Centre for Victorian Data Linkage.
4th Victorian Cancer Survivorship Conference later this month
As always, there are numerous events coming up on the VCCC Alliance calendar. A highlight will be the 4th Victorian Cancer Survivorship Conference – Shifting Gears: Rethinking Survivorship on 24-25 March 2022. Well done to the organising committee and I look forward to joining some of you for what looks like an exceptional event later this month.
Professor Grant McArthur