Funding the boldest scientific research is vital so more children survive their cancer diagnosis and thrive. Discoveries made in the lab work hand in glove with clinical studies, which are a key to helping the 950 Australian kids diagnosed every year sooner. Here are the nine clinical trials The Kids’ Cancer Project are funding now and into the future.
Zero Childhood Cancer
The Zero Childhood Cancer Program is led by Children’s Cancer Institute and The Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.
Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director at the Children’s Cancer Institute is overseeing what has been described as the most exciting and innovative childhood cancer research initiative ever undertaken in Australia.
The Zero Childhood Cancer Program aims to give every child in the country diagnosed with cancer with a less than 30 per cent survival rate access to the program, connecting clinical and research collaborators in every major Australian city.
“The thinking that underpins the Zero Childhood Cancer Program is that every child is unique, their genetic makeup and biology is unique,” says Professor Haber.
“We analyse the genetic and biological characteristics of each child's tumour and use that information to identify the specific drugs or drug combinations that are most likely [going] to target that child's individual cancer,” she says.
Zero Childhood Cancer is not just the name of this program, it's the goal.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $2,287,250 July 2014 to June 2023
Personalised therapy for medulloblastoma
This international collaborative clinical trial is the first of its kind for newly-diagnosed adolescent and young adult (AYA) medulloblastoma patients and it is being headed up in Sydney by Dr Elizabeth Hovey.
While medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumour of childhood, the best treatment for older patients is unknown because they have a distinct tumour biology.
The trial managed by the University of Sydney will give AYA’s diagnosed access to state-of-the-art tumour profiling and targeted therapies with an aim to provide the best treatment outcomes, while reducing treatment-related toxicities.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $167,169 July 2019 to June 2022
The good news about kids’ cancer today is that over 80 per cent of children diagnosed will successfully complete their treatment. The not-so-good news is that those survivors will then go on to have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis, a group of diseases known collectively as ‘the metabolic syndrome’.
Reboot-Kids, developed by a team from the Kids Cancer Centre at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, is a parent-led eHealth program designed to increase long-term survival by improving dietary habits. It will be delivered through a web-based nutrition education and goal setting platform, supplemented by telephone consultations with a dietitian or other health-care professional.
In this stage 2 controlled trial, Dr Jennifer Cohen, a dietician, and Professor Claire Wakefield, a psychologist, will test whether Reboot-Kids improves nutritional intake and reduces metabolic complications in survivors aged two to twelve years compared with survivors not receiving Reboot-Kids.
“The pilot [study] gave us the confidence to start a much bigger trial,” she says. “So now, thanks to the funding from The Kids’ Cancer Project, we’re going to offer it to a lot more families across a lot more hospitals.”
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $249,972 July 2019 to June 2023
International clinical trials support
Ongoing support from The Kids’ Cancer Project has resulted in the growth of the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology/Oncology Group (ANZCHOG) clinical trials portfolio. Further funding will provide fundamental quality assurance and provide additional expertise to the national coordinating centres undertaking lead site responsibility for international trials.
“We’re thrilled to work with The Kids’ Cancer Project. With their support we can open more international clinical trials and provide access to new treatments and therapies for Australian children and young people diagnosed with cancer,” says Dr Chris Fraser, ANZCHOG Chair.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $1,075,000 July 2015 to June 2023
Associate Professor Tamas Revesz at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide is all too aware that while treatment results for standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) have improved significantly, high-risk relapse still has a dismal prognosis. In Australia only 25 per cent of these patients survived in the most recent trial for them.
The main goal of IntReALL-HR (short for international study for treatment of childhood relapsed high risk ALL), is to determine if the addition of Bortezomib, a new therapeutic agent, to the standard chemotherapy treatment protocol will allow more patients to achieve clinical remission.
This clinical trial will not only complement other national and international research programs to improve treatment outcomes of children with HR-ALL but will also gather new knowledge about the disease.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $416,422 July 2018 to June 2022
New state-wide Children’s and AYA Cancer Clinical Trials Unit
Because of funding from The Kids’ Cancer Project, Associate Professor John Heath has been able to establish the first evidence based clinical service and clinical trials program for Tasmanian children with cancer.
In the two years since funding commenced, more than 100 children have participated in clinical studies and five have had treatment included as part of that study. The entire program has a very real effect on patients, for example, one patient has been able to access through a compassionate-use program a number of revolutionary drugs that have not previously been listed.
“This is possible because we’ve been able to show the drug company that we will monitor her as though she’s on a clinical trial,” says Associate Professor Heath.
"So now a ten-year-old girl is benefiting from being on a drug that would be seen as cutting-edge in Paris, London or New York, but she’s able to do it at home in Hobart.”
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $308,517 July 2017 to June 2022
The North Trial
Children and AYAs with refractory or relapsed solid tumours such as neuroblastoma, osteosarcoma and malignant rhabdoid tumours face five-year survival rates less than 20 per cent. Despite the best efforts of the international research community, little progress has been made to improve this dismal outcome.
But now, Dr Paul Wood on behalf of ANZCHOG in Victoria is testing the effects of a new drug called panobinostat, which has been proven to stop cancer cell growth in the lab.
The NORTH clinical trial opened at 14 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand giving all paediatric and AYA patients access to this, the latest treatment offering real hope.
“The trial hasn’t finished so we can’t give out results, but we are seeing some encouraging outcomes,” he says. “We have certain milestones that we have to reach for the trial to continue and, at the moment, we are achieving those milestones. The main one is that patients on the drug are still surviving,” says Dr Wood.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $61,420 July 2018 to June 2021
Impact of treatment on late effects and survivorship on childhood cancer survivors
Professor Natasha Nassar at the University of Sydney is leading the first population-based study in Australia to examine the link between treatment and medical conditions arising in childhood cancer survivors later in life.
An estimated 60-90 per cent of childhood cancer survivors develop one or more chronic health conditions, and 20-80 per cent experience severe or life-threatening complications during adulthood.
Professor Nassar and her team will review comprehensive treatment information available from medical records in NSW and will cross-reference it with data collected in the state-wide cancer registry since 1972. These findings will contribute to and inform a national study to explore the link between treatment and long-term health of childhood cancer survivors.
Findings about the risks of late effects will be relevant to all Australian clinicians, survivors and their families, as well as the international community. Ultimately this important work will lead to the development personalised follow-up care for all childhood cancer survivors.
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $39,578 July 2019 to June 2021
Ready Steady School
Research is helping more children and adolescents survive cancer than ever before. However, diagnosis and treatment disrupts a young person’s education, which can negatively impact social and academic development.
Dr Joanna Fardell, Deputy Program Leader, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and her team have developed and are currently trialling an online resource to meet the needs of children with cancer across all school age groups, while providing support for their parents and teachers.
Owen Finegan, CEO of The Kids’ Cancer Project is thrilled the charity can continue to be relevant in what is known as an ‘epidemic of survival’.
“The Kids’ Cancer Project recognizes while it’s imperative that better treatments and a cure for the disease is discovered, with eight in ten children now surviving, it’s just as important to help them have the best chance in life, starting with education,” he said. “The Ready, Steady, School program will assist in meeting that need.”
The Kids’ Cancer Project funding commitment: $523,308 July 2016 to June 2020