A Western Australian oncologist is the recipient of the inaugural The Kids’ Cancer Project Research Establishment Fellowship, a grant developed in partnership with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Foundation.
The grant of $180,000 has been awarded to Dr Rishi Kotecha to bolster his staff in the Leukaemia and Cancer Genetics Laboratory at The Telethon Kids Institute for the next two years.
Read more: In Focus: Telethon Kids Institute.
Dr Kotecha is currently leading a project entitled Combinational therapeutics in high-risk infant acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (iALL). Through the study, he aims to identify novel drugs that can treat and improve the outcome of babies diagnosed with the disease before they are one year old.
"The prognosis of babies diagnosed with iALL is dismal," said Dr Kotecha. "Their young age and the aggressive nature of the disease make it very challenging to find better drug combinations."
Dr Kotecha has looked at previous successful methodologies used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) to see how the current 40 per cent survival rate for high-risk iALL can be improved.
"Treatment of ALL represents one of the success stories of modern medicine," said Dr Kotecha. "As recently as the 1950s, that disease was a death sentence for kids; now the five-year survival rate for standard risk patients exceeds 90 per cent."
The doctor, who also has a clinical practice at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, attributes that success to international cooperative group clinical trials.
During the planned two-year study, Dr Kotecha and his team will take four novel drugs through a rigorous roadmap of pre-clinical testing. The evidence generated will provide urgently needed information for a planned collaborative international iALL clinical trial.
"Our goal is to find drugs to improve outcomes for infants with cancer," said Dr Kotecha. "Knowing that whatever we achieve will have impact globally is truly exciting."
Dr Kotecha voiced his delighted in being the inaugural recipient of this grant.
"It is incredibly meaningful to me and my team to receive this grant," he said. "It's great to know that people appreciate the work we're doing and believe it's worth funding. It has given me two years of security, knowing we can continue on with the work and reach our objectives."
Dr Kotecha's submission was reviewed by the RACP Grants Advisory Committee and stood out from other applications. Camille Merčep, Senior Executive Officer of the RACP Foundation was able to make a statement on the Committee's behalf.
"Dr Kotecha's was the strongest application for this inaugural award," said Ms Merčep. "The project is well established and has the potential for translation into clinical practice."
"Together with Dr Kotecha's qualifications and research output," she continued, "it was agreed that the funding would be of significant value to both the project and to Dr Kotecha."
Read more: Combinational therapeutics in high risk infant lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Owen Finegan, The Kids' Cancer Project CEO is delighted with Dr Kotecha's initiative.
"We're thrilled to be able work in partnership with the RACP Foundation to award funding to innovative and collaborative research projects," Mr Finegan said.
This project is an extension of a previous study led by Professor Ursula Kees of the Telethon Kids Institute, which is reaching its final stages," Mr Finegan said. "Research is such a long game so it's incredibly gratifying when you can see one study's learning feed into the next."
"We're entering an era of collaboration and I hope I can have an important role in enhancing the ideal of us all working to achieve the same goal," said Dr Kotecha.
"Hopefully I will live another 30 years," he grinned. And in that time, hopefully by then, there will be a cure for infant leukaemia.