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10 Nov 2022

Executive Director's Message, November 2022

  • VCCC Alliance
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Murdoch Children's Research Institute
  • University of Melbourne
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital
  • Monash University
  • Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium

Equity up in lights as national priority

A key tenet of our Health Equity program is an explicit focus on addressing inequities in cancer care and outcomes for underserved populations.

It was great to see the theme of the 2022 COSA Annual Scientific Meeting held last week – Equitable cancer care for all – which is so closely aligned with our strategic direction and for other major initiatives, including the new Australian Cancer Plan. It feels like there is real momentum in this area, with transformative potential.

Highlights of the strong VCCC Alliance presence throughout the conference included Dr Kalinda Griffiths, our Research and Education Lead, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, giving a plenary on Indigenous Data Sovereignty, and Associate Professor Craig Underhill, our Regional Oncology Lead, chairing a session outlining the work of the Victorian Teletrials Collaborative, a joint initiative with TrialHub (based at Alfred Health) and Regional Trials Network Victoria.

Our Breakfast Symposium – jointly hosted with VACCHO – on the issues and considerations for a lung cancer screening program for and with Victorian Aboriginal communities, drew significant interest and featured Associate Professor Gavin Wright, Dr Griffiths, and Clare O’Reilly and Dr Jonathan Gillies from VACCHO.

There were also fantastic talks from a host of researchers and clinicians from across our alliance, including Associate Professor Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat, Professor Meinir Krishnasamy, Professor Linda Mileshkin, Professor Ben Solomon, Associate Professor Kate Burbury, Dr Ieta D'Costa, Dr Marliese Alexander and Sonia Mailer, while Dr Vijaya Joshi and Dr Tilini Gunatillake of the VCCC Alliance Health Equity team both presented posters.

Momentum for childhood cancer research

I was delighted to see another transformative funding commitment for cancer in our state, this time in paediatric cancers. This is an important component of any major cancer program and we have a real opportunity to build out this area in this state.

The Victorian Government’s $35m pre-election pledge combined with the Children’s Cancer Foundation $10m represents the biggest investment ever made to children’s cancer research in Victoria and will allow the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC) to amplify its research and play a significant role in the national effort in childhood cancer research.

There are already key efforts underway in personalised medicine with functional genomic screens, immunotherapy, pharmaco and radiogenomics, survivorship and a focus on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG) – a form of brain cancer and the most common cause of cancer-related death in children under 15. I’m excited to see how the VPCC will contribute to this national momentum alongside the national Zero Childhood Cancer initiative.

Victorian research leads the nation

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Investigator Grants were recently announced, with some incredibly impressive results for our members.

A total of $375 million in federal grants was awarded, with $179 million, or nearly 50% of the total national funding to Victoria with excellent outcomes for the University of Melbourne (including Peter Mac), WEHI, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Monash University.

On top of this, Victorian grant applications achieved the highest overall success rate of any state (19%). This is clearly a fantastic result and provides real impetus to continue driving research innovation within and beyond our alliance.

I also want to mention two truly outstanding achievements.

My congratulations to Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac Physician Professor Fary Kahn AM, who was elected a member of the United States’ prestigious National Academy of Medicine (NAM) for her work organising grassroots-level responses in under resourced countries, assisting people with disabilities who are inequitably affected by climate change-related disasters.

Congratulations also to Professor Laura Mackay of the Doherty Institute, who recently became the youngest ever Fellow elected to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. This is a monumental achievement and one I hope inspires the next generation of women in science.

Finally, as we head into November – also known as Movember – a reminder that the numbers for prostate cancer diagnoses are still well down on normal due to the reduction in health checks during the pandemic. So as a prostate cancer survivor myself, please support the campaign this year and encourage the men in your life to get back to the doctor if they are due for a check.

Professor Grant McArthur
Executive Director

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