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Precision oncology launches across Australia


Alisha Dorrigan


27/07/2023 4:47:48 PM

More than 23,000 people with incurable cancers are set to benefit from an initiative to fund genetic testing and identify targeted treatments.

Graphic representing precision oncology.
Precision oncology is a branch of medicine in which an individual’s genotype is used to tailor therapy that can directly target disease processes relating to specific genetic mutations.

Australia’s largest cancer genomics program has been launched at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) by a collaboration that aims to ‘turn the tide on cancer’.
 
Precision Oncology Screening Platform Enabling Clinical Trials (PrOSPeCT) is a landmark project that will fast-track cancer treatment by facilitating genetic testing, identifying targeted therapies and bolstering clinical trial enrolments.
 
It is hoped that PrOSPeCT will either save or extend the lives of more than 23,000 people with difficult to treat or incurable cancers, including people with ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, sarcomas and advanced or metastatic cancers.
 
‘PrOSPeCT is set not only to transform access to advanced treatments, for those who desperately need them, it will also unify an extensive national cancer network while building our capabilities, infrastructure and skills in cancer research and care,’ project lead Professor David Thomas said.
 
‘It will place Australia firmly on the global stage, in this rapidly evolving area, setting benchmarks to bring genomics to large numbers of patients.’
 
Precision oncology is a branch of medicine enabled by genomic technology that refers to personalised cancer care in which an individual’s genotype is used to tailor therapy that can directly target disease processes relating to specific genetic mutations.
 
However, despite the significant potential of personalised therapies, uptake has been slow due to a lack of funding and barriers to equitable access to genetic testing.
 
‘Genomic medicine allows us to look at the genetics of a person’s cancer, rather than treating it based on location [for example breast, colon or skin cancer],’ Professor Thomas said.
 
Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, a GP and UNSW Research Fellow working in the field of cancer survivorship, says integration with primary care will be important as many GPs will want to be provided with related resources and informed about access and referral options for their patients.
 
‘The launch of PRoSPeCT is an incredibly exciting initiative. It will provide more personalised options to patients, especially for those diagnosed with rarer cancers or those cancers with historically poorer prognoses,’ she told newsGP.
 
‘The key will be ensuring awareness and collaboration among all health professionals who care for cancer patients, including in primary care, where we support patients and their families throughout their cancer journeys and beyond. 
 
‘PRoSPeCT enables Australia to enter the era of precision and genomic medicine, allowing opportunity for further scientific and medical research with the hope of great advancements in the field of cancer medicine and enhanced meaningful outcomes to those affected by cancer.’

Professor Thomas told newsGP referrals will need to be made by a patient’s treating oncologist.
 
‘I would suggest the patient’s GP advises that they raise the question of being referred onto our program with their treating oncologist,’ he said.
 
‘Most oncologists are aware of our program and will know about it.’
 
Meanwhile, Christine Cockburn, General Manager at Rare Cancers Australia, says approximately one person every 10 minutes – or 150 every day – are diagnosed with a rare or less common cancer.
 
[This] is the beginning of an incredibly challenging journey for them and their family,’ she said.
 
‘PRoSPeCT brings a nationally coordinated approach at scale to the community that will deliver free genomic profiling of an eligible person’s tumour, no matter where they live, and quickly identify potential matches to new treatments and trials.’
 
PRoSPeCT recruitment will take place nationwide, with people form rural and remote regions able to access the genomic testing and personalised therapy. It will also facilitate clinical trial enrolment as eligible patients will be identified and offered the opportunity to take part in the latest cancer research.
 
The initiative is currently working within a hybrid funding model, and has so far been supported by $185 million in commercial partnerships and government grants. 
 
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