Date published: 
15 February 2019
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG HUNT:

I’m really thrilled and delighted to be here at Monash Health today.

I mean what an amazing institution is the broader hospital district, and then the Monash Hospital and the Monash Kids, together they represent the absolute best of the best in terms of healthcare – not just here in Victoria but within Australia and around the world.

To Andrew and Depak who lead this amazing institution; to our incredible children’s cancer specialists; to Sharon and to Peter; to Nick Gottardo who are here working every day, saving lives and protecting lives.

Saving lives and protecting lives. It’s just an honour to work with and support them in their work.

We’ve met a beautiful little boy, Zac and his mother Katie. Zac has been on his own brain cancer battle and, because of the work of Peter and Sharon and the team around them his mum says he’s got a very bright future, and his doctors say he’s got a very bright future.

And that’s what actually matters. Yesterday I had the privilege of working with Young Heart Kids and investing in the future of congenital heart disease.

Today I’m delighted to announce that the Government will invest $38.6 million in 23 new clinical trials for rare cancers and rare diseases, but with a particular focus on brain cancer.

Conditions such as medulloblastoma, glioma, glioblastoma, are all being supported with clinical trials that will bring the highest levels of safety but the bravest new areas of research to helping young Australian patients and patients around Australia.

That’s what matters and Nick, to you and your team, you are involved in some of the most noble work that anybody could be involved in.

When we look at the Rare Cancers, Rare Diseases Clinical Trials Program this is the third round and it involves six different trials for rare diseases.

We have a similar number for those with rare cancers, a similar number for unmet needs and four in particular- four in particular for brain cancer.

And these trials will help beautiful young children such as Zac have a shot at life. And there couldn’t be a better investment of public money than to help save lives and protect lives and offer hope for families.

I think, Nick I might ask you if you can explain your particular project and why it matters. And then either Peter, or Sharon on behalf of the hospital just to thank you for your work.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Nick would you mind stating your full name and title.

NICK GOTTARDO:

Sure, Doctor Nick Gottardo, Head of the Department of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology at Perth Children’s Hospital and Co-leader of the Brain Tumour Research Program of the Telethon Kids Institute. Sorry, it’s a long title.

JOURNALIST:

Thanks mate. How do you spell the surname?

NICK GOTTARDO:

G-O-T-T-A-R-D-O.

JOURNALIST:

And Nick’s N-I-C-K?

NICK GOTTARDO:

N-I-C-K. Ready to go?

So, I’m thrilled that our clinical called SJ Elliot has been funded.

SJ Elliot is actually a trial where the research, the basics for the discovery was actually made here in Australia.

And we quickly partnered up with the best centres in the world, that’s a centre at- in the United States known as St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the DKFZ Cancer Centre Children’s Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany.

And the trial is for children who have developed medulloblastoma, which is the most common malignant brain cancer children get, where the disease has come back.

And the discovery we made was a drug that inhibits some of the protective mechanisms a cell can have when it’s been damaged by chemotherapy or radiation therapy, in that it can repair itself.

And the drug interferes with the ability of the cell to repair itself, so it makes the chemotherapy much more effective.

And we’ve done extensive testing ourselves in Australia and with our international partners, and we have validated the results and hence the trial was born.

In fact, the trial was actually born- was named in honour of a little boy who passed away from medulloblastoma in Perth, whose parents actually created a charity that funded a lot of the work that we did.

So we felt it was the right thing to do, was to name the trial in his honour – little Elliot – so that children in the future don’t have to go through what he had to go through.

So it a really a cutting edge clinical trial born out of Australian research, so we’re quite proud of that.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just clarify the drug that you’re trialling inhibits the cancer cell from repairing itself?

NICK GOTTARDO:

Yes. Yes, so and cancer cells have got the ability to undergo repair. So when they’re damaged by chemotherapy or radiation the cell can shut itself down and undergo a repair process.

So the chemo or the radiation can hurt the cell, but we want it to kill the cell. And what this drug does is it impairs that ability for the cell to repair that damage, and so it just really makes the chemotherapy more effective.

And our vision is that if we can make the chemo more, much more effective, we can then on the one hand cure more children and on the other for the children that are already doing okay, we may well be able to dial down the dose of radiation which is the more toxic treatment – certainly for the long term of developing brains.

JOURNALIST:

Can you tell us how many children, especially in Australia, have this particular type of brain cancer?

NICK GOTTARDO:

So medulloblastoma is the most common of our brain cancers. And we would probably have- well we have overall about 200 children with brain cancer in Australia.

With medulloblastoma we’re looking around 30 to 40 children per year that would have this disease.

JOURNALIST:

And what’s the prognosis at the moment for these children?

NICK GOTTARDO:

The prognosis varies widely actually. We know the disease is not a single entity but actually driven by different genetic drivers which drive it.

And some are good but some are bad, and they’re all bad in that they all need to be treated but some subtypes of medulloblastoma do very well with standard treatment.

But there are other types, the ones that we’re focussed on for this trial, that do very poorly. One type is essentially incurable and another type is probably a prognosis of around 20 to 30 per cent at best, with our best treatments of today.

So, you can’t kind of take a one size fits all because we now know molecularly that they’re very distinct diseases. And that’s also been the exciting new advancements is that we now have the ability to be able to pick out the different molecular subtypes, so we can treat them differently.

And that’s a very exciting prospect for us into the future to do that.

JOURNALIST:

And what will this clinical trial involve in terms of how long it will run for? When will it start for your patients?

NICK GOTTARDO:

Yeah, so we were hoping we will open in the first half of this year, so hopefully by the middle of the year we will be open.

It will open first in the United States and then it will open subsequently in Germany and here in Australia. It will be available for up to 80 children to be enrolled. We’ll probably run for something like 18 months to two years.

JOURNALIST:

This is the sort of brain cancer that Zac has?

NICK GOTTARDO:

Yes, that’s right. It’s called medulloblastoma, yes.

JOURNALIST:

And why is this funding so important, what difference will this make?

NICK GOTTARDO:

Well this funding is really, really critical.

We know with leukaemia, you know, half a century ago that equally most children with leukaemia died.

Now we have cure rates around 90 to 95 per cent for leukaemia, and we’ve done that through the use of clinical trials building one trial upon the next, making and discovering one clinical trial, and taking that forward into the next one.

And in that way we have the model of how to do this, so we’ve proven it, and we now want to replicate that for brain cancer, in this case medulloblastoma. So absolutely critical.

JOURNALIST:

And were you Zach’s treating doctor?

NICK GOTTARDO:

No, actually I wasn’t. That was Dr Peter and his team here, because I treat children in Perth.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, got you. Lovely, thank you.

NICK GOTTARDO:

Pleasure, pleasure.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, a little bit about your work?

PETER DOWNIE:

Yes, what do you want to know?

JOURNALIST:

Well, so you’re based here at Monash?

PETER DOWNIE:

Yes I am.

JOURNALIST:

Maybe just if you could start by talking about how important this funding is for the hospital, what you do here, and how it will be used?

PETER DOWNIE:

So I think that what Nick has said about the funding being critical is almost an understatement. It’s not just critical, it’s absolutely essential, and we can’t run any of the studies without this sort of funding.

I think the other thing is that, as Nick said, that we have a cohort of patients in Australia, but this really has to be an international collaboration.

And Nick and I are great friends in fact, and that’s one of the great things about working together is that we get to know each other and we can challenge each other as well.

And when you become good friends, you can challenge each other, which is always ultimately in the best interest of the science, and therefore in the best interests of the cure rate for the child.

The centres in Australia are all very similar in the sense that we’re all on the same page and we’re all aiming for the same goal.

And a study like this, this particular study looking at a new drug, is the sort of thing that we need to be doing across the board. And you can’t look at new drugs; you can’t test them unless you put them to the rigor of a clinical trial.

JOURNALIST:

What can you tell us about the 23 clinical trials in terms of the way that the different (inaudible) prioritised, and how this?

PETER DOWNIE:

That’s for the Minister to talk about.

JOURNALIST:

Yeah sure. No problem, is there anything else you want to talk about?

PETER DOWNIE:

Except to say that this just a fantastic mission, we couldn’t (inaudible).

JOURNALIST:

Lovely, can we please get your full name?

PETER DOWNIE:

I’m Peter Downie, D-o-w-n-i-e, and I’m a doctor and head of the unit here.

JOURNALIST:

Fabulous.

GREG HUNT:

I might just add one thing.

The Australian Brain Cancer Mission is a partnership between the Government and the philanthropic sector.

These trials are also coming forward as part of the Australian Brain Cancer Mission.

It’s a $107 million dollar joint partnership with the philanthropic sector and so I particularly wanted to acknowledge Professor Andrew Scott who’s here, and also Sam from Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer.

Whilst we’re putting in $38.5 million dollars, Carrie’s foundation is putting in $1 million dollars and the Mark Hughes foundation, $500,000 to these particular trials.

So it’s a unique breakthrough partnership which means that we can do more and everybody who has bought a beanie is contributing to today’s trials.

If you’ve bought a beanie, today is for you, and today is for the kids. So this is where ore kids get better treatment, because of those beanies and because of the contributions that people have made.

JOURNALIST:

What can you tell us about the 23 clinical trials in terms of (inaudible)?

GREG HUNT:

So the trials were selected by the National Health and Medical Research Council so the best scientists in Australia were assessing the best science.

They were selected and composed by the medical research community. And we accepted 100 per cent of the recommendations.

So it’s a competitive process which has sifted and found the highest quality, the most safe, and the most likely trials in terms of their success for the patients.

They also cover leukaemia and lymphoma, non-cancer areas such as childhood kidney disease and Indigenous childhood scabies as well as depression and dementia.

So it’s a wide range of trials, all up that cover conditions that affect so many Australians. But today we’re focusing in particular on childhood brain cancer.

JOURNALIST:

Is it possible to quantify the number of lives that might be changed as part of this?

GREG HUNT:

We think ultimately if these trials are successful tens of thousands of lives will be changed, improved, and in many cases saved.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

GREG HUNT:

Okay, thank you very much.