Pancreatic cancer research receives $8m philanthropic funding boost

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An $8 million, 10-year philanthropic investment will spearhead new treatments for pancreatic cancer and create a new dedicated research centre at WEHI.

The centre, to be established thanks to an investment by Australian business leader and WEHI President Jane Hemstritch AO, aims to help close the significant survival gap between pancreatic and other cancers.

The Hemstritch Centre of Excellence for Pancreatic Cancer Research will provide a leading team of scientists and clinicians with long-term funding to ask big research questions. They aim to make major progress in treating what is expected to be Australia’s second-biggest cancer killer by 2030.

Pancreatic cancer is a major cancer killer in Australia, with 3600 people dying from this disease each year.

Due to a lack of specific symptoms in the early stages, most patients are diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer affecting nearby organs. More than half of people with pancreatic cancer die within the first six months of diagnosis, and just 11.5 per cent will survive five years.

Sustained research investment has significantly improved survival outcomes for other cancers, including skin, breast, prostate and many blood cancers, but the progress in pancreatic cancer has been slow.

WEHI director Professor Ken Smith said research investment was critical, given the growing number of people being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the poor survival rates.

“This investment is cause for hope for people with this most devastating of diseases, and I commend Jane for her vision, passion and generosity,” said Professor Smith.

“Our team of scientists have the knowledge and drive to create real change in an area where it is so desperately needed, and the assurance of this long-term funding gives them the ability to chase the next pancreatic cancer breakthrough.”

Jane Hemstritch understands the devastating impact of pancreatic cancer. Her late husband, Philip, died of the disease two-and-a-half years after diagnosis. Years earlier, Philip’s father, Reg, died of the disease on the day he was diagnosed.

The experience of watching Philip’s treatment led Hemstritch to become a strong advocate for personalised medicine.

She hopes the Hemstritch Centre of Excellence for Pancreatic Cancer Research will help people rapidly access new, individualised therapies, given pancreatic cancer patients generally have so little time.

“The research team includes clinician-scientists, which will speed up the application of their discoveries to patients,” said Hemstritch.

“WEHI is a world-class medical research institute, and like all others, requires funding from a range of sources to do its work, and I’m pleased to be in the privileged position of being able to provide support.”