2018 was a landmark year for the Institute, with some truly exciting progress made towards achieving our goal of saving the lives of all children with cancer. We launched our 5-year Strategy, which sets out bold plans to build on our 35 years of translational research with a new structure for our research teams to encourage collaboration and leverage new areas of technology. Two new, innovative research groups were established at the Institute; Computational Biology, led by Associate Professor Mark Cowley, and Translational Tumour Biology Group, led by Associate Professor Paul Ekert.
The Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial continues to have life-changing results, while we made major inroads into improving the outlook for children with an incurable brain cancer called DIPG (‘diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma’). Our success in 2018, outlined in our Annual Review, has moved us closer to a future we all want to see: one that is free from childhood cancer.
Our 2018 highlights include:
- Our Tumour Biology and Targeting team showed that tiny particles called nanocells can successfully deliver chemotherapy directly to neuroblastoma cells, without harming normal tissues. A clinical trial of nanocells in children is well underway at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and the Children’s Hospital, Westmead.
- Since 2006, the Balmoral Swim has raised $2 million for Children’s Cancer Institute. In April, led by a volunteer committee, over 1000 swimmers participated and raised over $200,000 for vital childhood cancer research.
- In April, a new role – Research Team Leader – was announced to help outstanding early-career researchers establish their own teams and become independent research leaders. In September, Dr Joshua McCarroll was appointed as the Olivia Lambert Team Leader to work in the Cancer Nanomedicine Theme. Dr Charley De Bock commenced in January 2019 to work on one of the most difficult-to-treat blood cancers in children: T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
- Our Brain Tumour Group identified potential new treatments for a currently incurable brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). After testing thousands of drugs, the team has found five that show strong activity against DIPG. A new clinical trial testing the first of these drugs opened at Sydney Children’s Hospital in November, with more trials set to follow.
- In July, the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride celebrated its 20th year, with 360 riders aged from 12 to 75 years cycling 358kms over 3 days raising $460,000 for Children’s Cancer Institute. Since 1999, this cycling challenge has raised over $6.6 million for our childhood cancer research.
- The Prime Minister announced $5 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to boost the Zero Childhood Cancer program as part of the Australian Brain Cancer Mission. The funding will establish the program nationally for all children with high-risk brain cancer, fast track access to national and international brain cancer clinical trials and establish an immune profiling platform for the program to expand therapeutic recommendations for immunotherapy.
- In September, we announced the results from the first 12 months of the Zero Childhood Cancer national clinical trial, which is being led by our Institute in partnership with the Kid’s Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital. In the first year of this trial over 130 children were enrolled from around Australia and a personalised treatment plan was recommended in almost 70% of cases in just 9 weeks.
- The inaugural CEO Dare to Cure event in September attracted 55 CEOs and Business Leaders, from a variety of industries to step out of their comfort zone and take on a dare challenge to raise over $470,000 for our research.
- To commence Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we held Diamond Ball in Sydney. 700 guests attended this magical night raising $1.127 million, the equivalent to funding 11 senior researchers including all their consumables working at the lab bench for an entire year.
- October saw Associate Professor Paul Ekert was recruited as leader of a new research group in Translational Tumour Biology. As well as playing a key role in the Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial through the genomic analysis of tumour samples, Paul and his team aim to develop a new research program that applies novel findings from these analyses, to improve our understanding of tumours and how they might be targeted.
- Associate Professor Mark Cowley joined us in October to establish a new Computational Biology Group at the Institute. Computational biology is critical for our future success, developing innovative computational approaches to analyse the masses of data being generated through the latest genetic technologies. Mark’s team are supporting all our research groups, in particular their analyses form an essential component of the Zero Childhood Cancer program.
- In December, research by our Leukaemia Biology Program has revealed how the most common cancer in children, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), can become resistant to an important class of chemotherapy drugs called glucocorticoids. The discovery could lead to the design of new, more effective treatments for children with ALL.