Fund more ambitious projects, says brain cancer review


By Siobhan Calafiore

5 Feb 2024

Brain cancer funding should be directed towards more ambitious innovations rather than just research that is making incremental improvements to existing survival prospects, a review of the Australian Brain Cancer Mission has found.

The review, released in December [link here], said more early investment in basic research was needed to create a pipeline to feed future clinical trials, considering the typically long timeframes before impacts were felt.

The Australian Brain Cancer Mission, launched by the former government in 2017, has a co-funded $137 million investment to support brain cancer research. It aims to double survival rates and improve quality of life over the next decade to 2027.

Encouragingly, the final report delivered at the halfway mark of the Mission’s 10-year deadline found the Mission had provided more Australians with access to clinical trials and had built additional capacity for more clinical trials in the future.

Researchers indicated that about 1350 additional patients were given access to a clinical trial that they otherwise would not have had, and enhanced capacity would likely lead to 70 additional trial sites over the next five years.

Based on interviews, increased funding for brain cancer research had also led to more brain cancer researchers, some of whom had transitioned from other fields, such as liver and lung cancer, perhaps as a result of improved financial certainty.

“The security of funding provided by the Mission to clinical trials has already started to allow researchers to seek out international trials more efficiently,” said the authors of the review, which was undertaken by the Centre for International Economics.

“As funding is secured, researchers can focus on applying to the trial immediately, as opposed to discovering the trial, then raising funds, then applying. Particularly for paediatrics, where often the best treatments can only be accessed via clinical trials, this certainty of funding has been critical.”

However, the report pointed out that it was too early to definitively say what impact the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grants would have on new health technologies and interventions, although the prospects were positive.

Areas of improvement included having a greater impact on commercialisation, such as encouraging industry to collaborate, engage, and support the brain cancer research sector.

Stakeholder feedback included rectifying the decreased funding for adult cancer compared with paediatric cancer relative to the number of patients affected, insufficient support for larger scale collaborations and the underfunding of basic high risk/high reward research that might discover new treatments, the final report noted.

Among some of the review’s recommendations, it suggested that the Australian Government needed to be clearer about its role and contribution to the Mission, and how this complemented the role of the funding partners, which would allow the funding partners to best leverage their contributions to the areas of need.

The review also called for an implementation plan for the next investment phase to provide clarity to the brain cancer research community, along with increased funding for biology and basic research that would better create a research pipeline.

Brain cancer research has been in the spotlight following melanoma expert Professor Richard Scolyer’s diagnosis of high-grade glioblastoma last year.

A publicly documented world-first treatment journey has followed after Professor Scolyer teamed up with colleague Professor Georgina Long to apply their melanoma expertise to brain cancer and accelerate brain cancer research.

His treatment has so far included surgery, radiotherapy, neoadjuvant/adjuvant combination immunotherapy and a personalised anticancer vaccine.

Professor Scolyer and Professor Long, both from the Melanoma Institute Australia, were announced the 2024 Australians of the Year last month [link here].

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