Remarks and Doorstop, Sydney
Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's remarks and doorstop in Sydney regarding rare cancers and rare diseases.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
Thanks very much to Professor Ian Jacobs, the Vice Chancellor here at UNSW. There’s a reason I’ve made a number of visits to UNSW in recent months, and that is because you have a world-class university and a world-class medical research and medical treatment precinct here.
I think the Randwick vision of four great hospitals, a great teaching university, a great medical research university is something which will help define medical research in Australia, but most importantly, outcomes for patients.
And to acknowledge Professor Tony Gallagher from the School of Medicine; our leaders from Cure Brain Cancer, Michelle Stewart; the head of Cancer Australia, Helen Zorbas; Liz, who’s doing such amazing clinical work.
Then, we have Rare Voices and Rare Cancers Australia, Nicole Millis and Richard Vines, respectively. Dustin Perry, who has done such an important role under the most difficult of circumstances, in helping drive forward and lead the Australian Brain Cancer Mission, along with Barrie Littlefield.
And all of you, working in the great task of providing hope and funding and research and outcomes for patients with rare cancers and rare diseases.
So, we know that rare cancers and rare diseases can afflict anybody. None of them are individually common, collectively in the cancer area; roughly 47 per cent of those who lose their battles in any one year can lose them to rare or uncommon cancers.
That means that whilst we’ve been able to make profound progress in survival rates, in areas such as leukaemia, prostate and breast cancer over recent decades in common with the rest of the world, there’s still more to be done. Profoundly more to be done in the rare cancers and rare diseases space.
And so, as Professor Jacob said, we announced last year that there would be $13 million in an initial call for projects to be considered under the Rare Cancers Rare Diseases or Lifting Clinical Trials Program.
The quality and the number of applications were so great that we reviewed the amount of funding. And what was going to be a one-off program, I am delighted to announce today will be a permanent annual program under the Medical Research Future Fund.
And so, the initial $13 million will become a $69 million program over three years, and then we will extend it further beyond that at budget time.
So, this will now, under the Medical Research Future Fund, be a permanent part of the Australian medical research landscape, and it’s a recognition that as we’ve been able to find resolutions – not in every case - but to make enormous progress in leukaemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, similarly we have to do that for the rare diseases and the rare cancers.
So, I am delighted that that funding will now be extended to $69 million over the course of three years. It will involve a round of $26 million that I’m about to announce, so what was going to be $13 million would be $26.6 million of grants that will be delivered immediately.
In addition to that, we will shortly hold a $9 million round in late February for low survival rare cancers and rare diseases. So, the most difficult and heart-wrenching of circumstances for so many families, and we will do that targeted call with a rapid turnaround, and then later in the year we will open up another round for $33 million for rare cancers, rare diseases, and unmet clinical needs.
What is this about? This is about giving hope and solutions to families that are facing the most difficult and tragic of circumstances. It's about saving lives and protecting lives. It's linked with the Australian Brain Cancer Mission and Dustin, again, to have yourself and Michelle and Barry and others here, we’re honoured to have you.
So, I am delighted to announce that there will be 19 projects under the first round of the rare cancers and rare diseases program.
Professor Kerrie McDonald is here from the UNSW, along with Professor Ian Harris, who will receive a million-dollar grant to lead a project in looking at recovery from hip and other joint operations and comparing different pain therapies and treatments.
We will provide $1.4 million to the University of New South Wales to look at treatment of glioblastomas. Now, glioblastomas are the most difficult and agonising of diagnoses for parents and for others, and this is about amazing technology. The use of immunotherapies, coupled with toxins, to try to treat and then to prevent the relapse of brain cancer.
There will be three different brain cancer programs amongst the 19 projects that will be funded. In addition, support for lymphoma and leukaemia projects. Support in relation to such difficult rare diseases as Huntington’s, and cystic fibrosis, and multiple sclerosis.
As well as a medicinal cannabis trial in Queensland to really test the impact of medicinal cannabis on patients with extreme pain and advanced cancer. So, to provide hard clinical data which will help doctors to make decisions as to whether to prescribe or not to prescribe that new treatment for pain, which we’ve allowed through changes in the law.
So, these are Australia’s best and brightest helping Australia’s neediest, and that’s a really exciting thing to be part of.
Medical research is about the human side of our society and our community. It’s also an enormous economic opportunity for Australia. We want to be, and we have the capacity to be, a world leader and a global magnet for the best research and the best researchers.
And what I saw in the labs today, Kerrie and Ian, was not just Australia’s best and brightest, but people coming from around the world to be here, at UNSW, and to work with Helen and others.
The last thing I want to do is announce that we will have, going forward from today, a world-leading Strategic Advisory Group for the Australian Brain Cancer Mission. That’s a $100 million mission and it will be $50 million of federal funding; already $30 million announced of philanthropic funding, including Cure Brain Cancer’s $20 million, and $10 million from the Minderoo Foundation.
But I am very hopeful that in the coming months, the last $20 million will be announced two years ahead of schedule. So, the strength of the Mission has attracted the quality of the philanthropists.
That Mission and the Strategic Advisory Group will be led by Professor Adele Green from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. It will have people such as Professor Doug Hilton on it. It will have Michelle Stewart and Dustin who, as a father and who has been the leader and progenitor of much of this project has contributed so much.
So, a combination of families, of people who have had experience, and then our great medical researchers from around the country who will be involved.
These are enormous challenges. Today is a great day for giving people, families and the community a sense of hope and possibility that Australia will be at the forefront of treating rare diseases, treating rare cancers, and beating rare diseases and beating rare cancers.
I thank you.
These new projects are about saving lives and protecting lives. It’s about giving thousands of Australians with rare conditions the hope and the opportunity to have a better life and a longer life. And there couldn’t be much which is more important.
It involves children, it involves young parents, it involves people of all ages; and giving them the capacity – whether it’s MS, whether it’s Huntington’s, whether it’s cystic fibrosis, whether it’s brain cancer, lymphoma or leukaemia – to beat their condition and to have a better quality of life, and to have a long, healthy life.
I suppose by their nature, rare conditions can often be overlooked with certain types of funding and research grants. So, I guess the focus on this is particularly important given the people in the room today?
Yeah, so individually these cancers and conditions are rare. Collectively, of course, they add up. And there’s been a historic gap. I think that’s the truth and that’s why we’re doing this. We’re filling that gap and the program that we’re announcing today, it’s more than increased the funding gap by fourfold – well over fourfold.
And as a consequence of that, we’ll be able to treat more people, do better research, make Australia a global destination for research into rare diseases and rare cancers. And above all else, find more cures for more people who are in desperate need of it.
Minister, just on a different topic, Universities Australia has criticised the Government’s new anti-foreign interference laws. They’re warning that it could endanger high level medical research by making it more difficult to collaborate with overseas researchers. Are you willing to look at amendments to ensure that there are no unintended consequences?
Look, we will always work with universities. I know when the migration laws came in, there were changes; we worked with the university sector. This is not about the universities, this is about political interference in the political process.
I am absolutely confident that we will both work with the universities and will ensure that they are not the target of it. This comes about from long held concerns about foreign interference in political processes.
Sadly, we’ve seen a very clear case of that. Somebody – Senator Dastyari – will be resigning from the Senate, finally and very shortly. And these laws recognise that our governing processes, our country, should always be run by Australians, for Australians, not by foreigners, for foreigners.
Just on the TPP, Labor has called for independent economic modelling to prove that the new TPP will benefit Australian businesses and exporters. Is the Government willing to commission this research on this?
Look, I’ll leave that to Steve Ciobo, but a year ago, Bill Shorten declared the TPP dead. He ran up the white flag. He walked away from Australian jobs and Australian exports and sadly for him, he’s been exposed as having got it flat, plain wrong and he sold out the national interest, rather than stood up for the national interest.
Okay, thank you very much.