So I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Jagara and the (inaudible) people – the Traditional Owners of this land.
I went to a meeting today. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Honourable Greg Hunt, Minister for Health; Mr Ross Vasta, federal Member for Bonner; Professor Peter Hoj, Vice Chancellor and President, University of Queensland; Professor Perry Bartlett, Region Director of QBI and chair of the CJCADR board; Professor Jurgen Gotz, who is the current Director of the CJCADR Centre here in Queensland; our (inaudible) supporters from the Clem Jones Foundation – Peter Andrew and David Muir. (inaudible) Foundation and (inaudible); our valued (inaudible) Robin Hilton, James Rushworth and John Quinn, welcome; EQ colleagues; distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen.
Look, thank you so much for joining us today here at the University of Queensland. I’m Pankaj Sah, I’m the Director of the Queensland Brain Institute, and dementia, as many of you know, is a devastating disorder which really doesn’t have any current goods therapeutics or cure.
And it affects not just the individuals who suffer it, but entire families and many of the carers as well. In Australia, it affects almost one in ten people over the age of 65 and is the second leading cause of death here.
These statistics are sobering and it presents huge challenges to our health system. Now, we’re all living longer, thankfully, and as a result of this, of course, preventing and treating dementia and preserving quality of life are pretty urgent right now.
And this is one of the main reasons the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia was established in QBI in 2011, and it’s a facility which is entirely focused on trying to understand the cause of dementia and finding therapeutics to it.
Now, in just a few years, our dementia researchers have made significant inroads into this disease with the breakthrough discovery in 2015 that ultrasound technology could be used to open the blood brain barrier to clear the plaques that are formed in Alzheimer’s disease.
This was in animal models, and these animal models managed to remove the plague and fix their memory problems, and basically treated these mice with Alzheimer’s disease. And last year, our researchers built on this discovery and showed that it can also be used to deliver antibodies into the brain, and we are, in fact, developing antibodies to treat this disorder as well.
It’s really exciting, today, to see the federal Government continue to support and invest in key dementia at the Clem Jones Centre. Now, the idea is to build a device which will have therapeutic outcomes for millions of Australians in the coming years.
I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the foresight of our philanthropic (inaudible), including the Clem Jones Foundation, the (inaudible) Foundation and (inaudible), and (inaudible), who have supported us from the outset to progress ultrasound research. I understand this is particularly meaningful for John, Janice and Robin, who are here today joining us.
We’re incredibly grateful, of course, to the federal Government for their generous support, originally in the Centre itself, and progress the ultrasound device.
I invite Mr Hunt to say a few words.
Thank you very much to Professor Pankaj Sah here at the Queensland Brain Institute; to Professor Peter Hoj, the Vice Chancellor at the amazing University of Queensland – not just one of Australia’s but one of the world’s great universities; to Professor Jurgen Gotz, who heads the Clem Jones Centre; to our amazing researchers that we met today – Harrison and Rachel and Rebecca; and our researchers – both home-grown and attracted from around the world; to my friend and colleague Ross Vasta.
Ross and I were out there today at Janoah Gardens, which is a retirement village and an aged care centre, and we were talking about the contribution we made yesterday in terms of 10,000 new homecare places, plus the funding for supporting residential care, but then we talked about this mission.
We have them a little bit of a heads up as to what we were doing, and there was this sense of genuine excitement about how important this is. And so, to then look at John and Glenys, the human face of Alzheimer’s, and the courage and the challenge that they are exhibiting, and this is a challenge that Australian families are facing around the country.
We know that over 420,000 Australians are living with dementia.
We know that the vast majority of those, in particular, have Alzheimer’s. One of the great successes of our health system is that we are living longer and living better, but one of the challenges that comes with that is that that 420,000, we’re expecting, Professor, will grow to over 1 million by 2050. So this is a global challenge, it’s a national challenge, it’s a Queensland challenge and it’s a personal challenge for so many Australians.
Against that background, we see the exciting research here at QBI and the Clem Jones Centre. To see that there is the possibility of opening up the blood brain barrier throughout (inaudible) is to see a pathway to treatment, not just for Alzheimer’s, not just to the broader dementia family; but to all of the neurological conditions.
And so the brain has been one of the last frontiers of medical science, but with the work of the Clem jones Centre and their use of ultrasound, Australians have a chance at more hope of lives being protected and lives being saved. We are saving lives and protecting lives through the work of the QBI.
So against that background, until now, we’ve been very privileged to announce three long-term missions under the Medical Research Future Fund.
In particular, there has been the Million Minds Mental Health Mission; the Australian Brain Cancer Mission dealing with another side of the great challenges relating to the brain; and then there has also been the ten-year, $500 million National Genomics Mission, which is about personalised treatment.
Because we have a strong economy, we’re able to support these missions, and without the strong economy we wouldn’t be able to support these missions.
But I am delighted to announce, today, that the Australian Government, through the Medical Research Future Fund will allocate $185 million over ten years to a long-term, national dementia aging and aged care mission. This mission starts with a central focus on dementia.
It builds on the commitment that we made through the Boosting Dementia Initiative, and this will be the next great frontier.
So it’s important, Professor, that we make the funding and provide the funding, but I think what is even more important is that it is a ten-year mission, and that means that our researchers will have the opportunity to make long-term commitments and have profound impacts.
The first allocation under that mission is $10 million to the Clem Jones Centre to progress their work on bypassing the blood brain barrier. This is work which will save lives and protect lives, not just here in Australia, but around the world.
The University of Queensland, the QBI, and the Clem Jones Centre are leading the world in dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment.
This diagnostic tool allows us to have a pathway to understand and then to treat; and whether it’s the treatment through the ultrasound itself, whether it’s treatment through the immunotherapies which come from the viral transmission – either would be possible because of this work.
So, I am delighted to announce $10 million for the Clem Jones Centre as the first application under the new National Dementia Mission of $185 million over 10 years. I want to thank all of (inaudible).
… for us all, including for the centre. I’d like to invite Peter Hoj now, the president of the university, to say a few words.
Thank you everyone, and I repeat, without repeating, all the acknowledgment that Pankaj’s already made.
But of course, thank you so much, Minister Hunt, for your personal initiative, for your oversight of the Medical Research Futures Fund; to your Government for this most important initiative. And of course, also wonderful to have you here (inaudible). We know that you also understand how important (inaudible) are. So, that’s one for- to all our (inaudible), thank you from those who are here and those who are not here.
At times where there is a lot of debate in society and sometimes we don’t lift it to the level we should lift it, this is a fantastic day because it tells us that when things are really, really important, we can actually breach the divide to come together and do things that matter to all of us.
The Clem Jones Centre was started in 2012 with a donation from the Clem Jones Foundation and of course, we launched it in 2013 when Campbell Newman was the Premier.
And Campbell Newman made a very strong contribution by offering a $9 million contribution to set it up and get it on its way; and in the very same year, Tony Abbott then matched that funding with $9 million; and that is really what has enabled to now be in a position to come up with an investment proposal for Australia to address an issue which will, and already is, affecting a lot of people.
And I think it’s very nice to see that we now have a federal government who follows up on this investment. It is also nice to see that the State Government, despite some changes in political winds since 2013, is also contributing $5 million to this; and of course the University of Queensland has also already injected $5 million towards getting our $30 million target to make this work. I think it’s a wonderful thing.
QBI, of course, was founded in 2002, 2003, when some people had some good ideas. And we now have 450 people there, and as the Minister said, it is one of the world’s premier neurosciences and brain research institutes.
And again, it’s a combination between philanthropy, (inaudible), government and the institution have made that possible. So, we can all celebrate because this is great. But the real celebration, if this works, Minister - and I know you know this, this is why you’re behind it, will of course be to future generations.
It’ll be to our children and grandchildren. It will be to grandchildren who will have a grandparent pushing their pram rather than pushing their grandparent’s wheelchair. It will be to children who will have grandparents reading to them rather than having to read to (inaudible). And for that, we should all be very, very grateful, and on this occasion, we are exceptionally grateful for the federal government’s generosity.
It means a lot and we will do our upmost in collaboration with our governments to deliver on that vision. Thank you very much.
Happy to take your questions on the mission. (inaudible) invite you up to talk about the mission. If there are any questions on that, and we can deal with other matters after the dementia issue.
So, what other project (inaudible)?
So there are three principle areas. Firstly, and most significantly, is dementia and Alzheimer’s research and that will be open for calls very shortly. Secondly, what we’ll be looking at, in particular, is one of the great threats with ageing and that is falls – falls and other injuries, which come with age, which come with infirmity and how to prevent and how to treat.
And then thirdly, we’ll, in particular, be looking at what are the therapeutic preventative work and steps that can be taken within aged care to assist in positive aging and managing that process within the aged care facilities. At the end of the day, this is heart and soul a dementia issue.
And why does this project? (inaudible)
So this project is expanding on from an investment which has already been made by the philanthropic community, the State Government, and the federal government; and what’s happened is that it’s progressed to being what’s regarded as a highly prospective technology.
In other words, it’s been assessed and reviewed and determined to be, arguably, the most significant opportunity for breakthrough dementia and Alzheimer’s treatment in Australia.
Can we ask Jurgen a question? Is that okay?
So, what is the next stage? A trial? Is that the next step?
The next stage is definitely the trial, but at the same time, we are also working more in the animal field – (inaudible) from animal models to get a deeper understanding what ultrasounds does to the cells which constitute our brain.
So, try to understand how (inaudible) opens and obviously, we are also trying to (inaudible) the Minister referred to at (inaudible) ultrasound (inaudible) also developing anti-bodies, and ultimately the centre’s also doing a lot of fundamental research and this research will help us in order to be able to treat, not only Alzheimer’s disease, but many forms of dementias, and also to be able to do that at a (inaudible) stage.
Can you tell us about the success that you’ve had with dementia in mice?
It was absolutely surprising. And we started this work in 2014; we published it in 2015. We found that treating Alzheimer’s mice with ultrasound removed amyloid plaques and restored memory functions fully.
And we have taken this to the next step, applying the whole- the same approach to another Alzheimer’s model. We have combined ultrasounds with an antibody fragment, and again, this showed us that there’s potential in this technology to be used to deliver therapeutic agents to the brain.
And you’re now working on- are you trying to work on that different ultrasound- I guess, what’s the next step?
The next step is obviously- I mean, one thing is that a mouse is really small compared to a human, and also that the skull is (inaudible). So, basically, at the moment we are tackling all these technical challenges in delivering ultrasounds through a thick human skull into the brain.
So, there’s up-skilling issue as far as the brain is concerned, but also with regards to the attenuating skull. So, we put together an engineering company. We have engineers in the lab and we have a huge team of biologists and we address this question from all different angles.
And you’re hoping to start clinical trials late next year?
This is correct, but I should say we are starting a safety trial only targeting a small area of the brain. And this is, in itself, unlikely to lead to cognitive benefits, but it’s absolutely necessary that we trial this technology in a small group of patients, and also that we only target a small area of the brain. Of course, we want to be absolutely sure that the technology is safe.
That is risky, though, for those patients who want to participate?
I personally don’t think it’s risky, because we have shown in mice and also in sheep that the technology is safe.
Ultrasound’s tuneable; one can play with the pressure wave, with frequency and with all- it’s like we can play with a lot of parameters, we can make it safe, but obviously you don’t want to ruin anything. We have the full trust in this technology but we need to do a safety trial; as with any therapeutic intervention.
So, if this trial is a success, what’s the future, in terms of when we could maybe see this technology rolled out on a grand scale?
It’s dangerous to make any predictions. As you know, we are dealing with research contact organisations, with clinicians. And so, there are still a lot of steps ahead of us.
We are starting with a phase one clinical trial then we are adding more capabilities to the device. And obviously, with time, with new trials, we will also target larger areas of the brain, because ultimately, we need to treat almost the entire brain. So, it’s a multi-step process. And you gain confidence our way going through these different steps.
And will that trial be conducted in Queensland or in multiple states?
It will be conducted in Queensland.
Here in Brisbane?
It’s too early to say. I mean, I’m not in charge of that.
Definitely in Australia.
But the important thing is that the first patients will be part of the first trial within the next year. And from there, they go out to broader trials – phase two, phase three – and as a consequence of that, more patients will have more treatment and a better chance at beating dementia.
Any other questions?
Andrew Broad’s decision to [indistinct] that was the right decision?
This has obviously been deeply disappointing for everybody – for the public, for his electorate – but perhaps most significantly, for his family, and my focus and my concern is for Andrew’s family. I think he’s made the right decision.
How can you claim to be, I guess the Government of family values, with this sort of scandal?
I think it’s a deeply disappointing incident and he’s obviously paid a very heavy price, but his family has paid an even higher price.
So, my focus is on his family and making sure that they’re alright, and I know this will be very distressing for them. And so, I have to acknowledge and respect that, but he’s paid a very significant price. He’s not just lost his job; he’s lost his career, and the public expects us to maintain high standards.
Minister, obviously there’s been a lot of talk about the fact that it’s not a distraction for the Government, so these things happening must be a distraction for you?
There are two different things here. I understand that there is media interest and I respect that. It’s entirely understandable and completely appropriate. For ourselves, though, we’re getting on with our central task.
Yesterday, one of the things that Ross had argued for: more home care places –10,000 new home care places – lower costs for delivery of these home care services for families, and additional support for residential care. Today, a ten-year boost in dementia mission.
And there’s more to come during the course of this week in other areas of health. And so whilst, absolutely, understandably, there is public interest; it’s equally important to know that as Minister, as a Government, our task, our focus, is laser-like on delivering outcomes for the Australian public. Because what they want is for us to focus on them.
Do you think this has hurt the Government’s chances of re-election?
Look, I think that this is one of the things that occurs. I respect that. He’s paid a high price and his family has paid a high price. My focus is on them. I won’t try to form a political judgment on him.
Okay, thank you very much.