World-first brain cancer clinical trials launched in Melbourne

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A world-first clinical trial platform launching in Melbourne could help transform research into new therapies for brain cancer and deliver more targeted, personalised treatment for patients.

The Brain-POP (brain perioperative) clinical trial platform will enable doctors to precisely see the effect of a new drug therapy on a patient’s brain cancer for the first time, by comparing tumour samples before and after treatment.

The new platform is led by The Brain Cancer Centre and research partners WEHI, The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Children’s Hospital, with $16 million in funding support from the Victorian government.

Survival rates for brain cancer have barely shifted in three decades, with 80 per cent of diagnosed patients dying within five years. One Australian is diagnosed with brain cancer every five hours and more children die from brain cancer in Australia than any other disease.

Dr Jim Whittle, laboratory head at The Brain Cancer Centre at WEHI, and medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the RMH, said Brain-POP would begin to address the critical lack of trial options available to brain cancer patients and enable research discoveries to be rapidly translated into the clinic.

“The lack of progress over the last 30 years shows the need to radically change the way that drugs are developed and the way that clinical trials are run for brain cancer,” said Dr Whittle.

“The Brain-POP platform offers a unique approach to help us test whether a drug actually gets into the brain and find out if it’s having the effect we want.

“This is what we need to invest our efforts into - the most powerful and promising therapies, stopping the development of those that don’t work and delivering far better outcomes for brain cancer patients.”

Professor Kate Drummond, the director of Neurosurgery at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the collaborative and integrated trial program would draw on extensive expertise from researchers and clinicians across Melbourne’s biomedical precinct.

“Brain-POP’s unprecedented approach will establish Victoria at the forefront of brain cancer research,” said Professor Drummond.

“This new research program will be available for patients and will transform how we do clinical research in brain cancer, acting as a beacon of hope for patients and their families across Victoria.”

The Victorian Government has committed $16 million in funding to support Brain-POP.

The clinical trial program will deliver perioperative clinical trials with paediatric, adolescent and adult patients that will help researchers to create a holistic picture of brain cancer treatment that has so far been missing from research.

The Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Jaala Pulford, said the Victorian government investment is being used to support a clinical trial platform over the next four years and deliver a globally unique program that is set to save the lives of more children, adolescents and adults with primary brain cancer and brain metastases.

“We urgently need to find more effective and curative treatments for brain cancers. As a global leader in cancer care and medical research, Victoria is perfectly positioned to lead this ground-breaking work," she said.

“This is an important milestone in the search for better treatments and cures for brain cancer and I congratulate the team on their important work to date.”