National genomics initiative gives 23,000 people their best chance against cancer

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The nation’s largest cancer genomics initiative was launched in Sydney last week with the goal of saving or extending the lives of thousands of Australians battling incurable or advanced cancers, including ovarian, pancreatic and sarcomas.

Over the next two years, PrOSPeCT (Precision Oncology Screening Platform Enabling Clinical Trials) will give 23,000 Australians free access to world-class genomic profiling, clinical assessment of their results by an expert team and matching to the best-advanced precision treatments available locally, including early-stage clinical trials.

Led by not-for-profit cancer genomics pioneer Omico, PrOSPeCT harnesses the combined expertise and resources of cancer research centres and diagnostic and treatment services nationwide, forming a collaboration and setting up new treatment pathways for the community.

PrOSPeCT is being supported by public and private funds totalling $185 million, including grant funding of $61.2 million from the federal government's Modern Manufacturing Strategy, $25 million from the NSW Government, and commercial collaboration between Omico, the National Computational Infrastructure at Australian National University, Children’s Cancer Institute and Roche Australia.

It will be officially launched today at UNSW’s Michael Crouch Innovation Centre by the federal assistant health minister Emma McBride and NSW health minister Ryan Park.

“We are proud to support PrOSPeCT, which will give 23,000 Australians, with incurable or advanced cancers, access to genomic screening, at no cost to them – and then link them to the latest local trials, including advanced medicines," said MInsiter McBride.

Omico will partner with UNSW Sydney’s newly created Centre for Molecular Oncology (CMO), led by Professor David Thomas, oncologist and founder and CEO of Omico.

“Based on science, ‘precision oncology’ harnesses genomics to apply highly specific and effective precision treatments to take on the most challenging cancers. It’s the front line of advanced treatments and through PrOSPeCT we can offer precision oncology nationally to all who may benefit,” said Professor Thomas.

“PrOSPeCT is set not only to transform access to advanced treatments, for those who desperately need them, it will also unify an extensive national cancer network while building our capabilities, infrastructure and skills in cancer research and care. It will place Australia firmly on the global stage, in this rapidly evolving area, setting benchmarks to bring genomics to large numbers of patients,” he added.

The PrOSPeCT initiative is anticipated to lead to an estimated 650 high-skilled local jobs, $525 million investment in local clinical trials and $135 million in savings to the health system through access to innovative therapies via clinical trials.

In addition, the network will provide a platform for interstate collaboration and accelerate the set-up and completion of clinical trials for adults and children with cancer – a major drawcard for new international investment in the Australian medical research sector.

​“Around one person every 10 minutes – or 150 every day – are diagnosed with a rare or less common cancer, which is the beginning of an incredibly challenging journey for them and their family,” said Christine Cockburn, the general manager of Rare Cancers Australia.

“PrOSPeCT brings a nationally coordinated approach at scale to the community that will deliver free genomic profiling of an eligible person’s tumour, no matter where they live, and quickly identify potential matches to new treatments and trials.  From genomic screening, more than a third (38%) of patients will receive guidance on new targeted treatments relevant to them, giving the potential to significantly extend lives.”

Over 10 years, PrOSPeCT will also build a real-world biodata platform of 70,000 profiles, yielding long-term scientific evidence to shape future cancer treatment and research. This database will be accessible to researchers locally and overseas and is anticipated to attract interest and clinical trial investment from the international pharmaceutical and biotech sector.

“Healthcare is complex, and no one can solve it alone,” added Stuart Knight, the general manager of Roche Products Australia, a founding diagnostic and pharmaceutical partner that has invested $20 million in PrOSPeCT.​ “To foster improved outcomes for cancer patients, it is vital for all stakeholders to embrace collaboration. Recognising the value of working together, companies like Roche prioritise collaborative efforts to drive advancements in cancer treatment. The coordinated approach of PrOSPeCT will set new benchmarks for a more connected, modernised system, and Roche is committed to doing our part.”