Government backs world first trial in childhood cancers

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Health minister Greg Hunt has announced $20 million for a ground-breaking clinical trial targeting childhood cancers. 

Zero Childhood Cancer is one of the world’s most comprehensive child cancer personalised medicine studies. It is led by Children's Cancer Institute and the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children's Hospital. 

The Australia wide clinical trial will focus on improving survival rates and quality of life for children whose cancer currently has no prospect of cure.

It recognises each child’s cancer is unique, so they respond differently to anti-cancer treatment. Detailed laboratory analysis of tumour samples will help identify the drugs most likely to successfully target each child’s specific cancer.

Professor Michelle Haber AM, executive director of Children’s Cancer Institute and Research Lead for Zero Childhood Cancer, said the pilot study showed the urgent need for personalised medicine.

“Originally this pilot study was planned for 12 young patients. However nearly 60 children have been enrolled in the program due to the high demand by clinicians and parents.

“We're thrilled to broaden the Zero Childhood Cancer program nationally, in partnership with each of Australia’s eight child cancer treatment centres and leading national and international research centres, in order to deliver child cancer personalised medicine to every child at highest risk of treatment failure, wherever in the country they may live,” she said.

According to Mr Hunt, "We must to do everything in our power to protect and improve the lives of these children who face an unimaginable battle so early in their lives.

"I am delighted that as of today, Australian kids will have access to this trial in Sydney, and it will be available to children with high risk or relapsed cancer nationally, as other sites open over the next few months."

Researchers will initially focus on the most common cancers affecting children, including leukaemia, neuroblastoma, sarcoma and brain cancers.  

The initiative will also use genomics and drug screening to provide precision medicine for each child. This will treat each child’s cancer in the most targeted way possible, improving survival, while reducing side effects. 

The initiative will run nationally over a three-year period for children with high risk or relapsed cancer.

"I want to particularly thank our amazing clinicians, researchers, doctors and nurses who have made this project possible. The work you do is truly life changing and I wish you every success," added Mr Hunt.