The first stage of the Zero Childhood Cancer program began in 2016 with a pilot study for children with high-risk cancer being treated in NSW.
During this pilot, the platform required to create a personalised medicine pipeline was established and tested. This involved multiple steps, including developing a process for cancer samples to be sent, from all over Australia, to a centralised tumour bank, along with the establishment of the best possible methods for molecular profiling, drug screening and efficacy testing.
In 2017, following the successful completion of the pilot, a national clinical trial was launched. By the end of October 2018, 127 children with high-risk cancers from all over Australia had been enrolled on the state-of-the-art trial.
The trial is free to all children who meet enrolment criteria and is being sponsored by the Australian and New Zealand Haematology/Oncology group (ANZCHOG).
Story of hope
Already, the Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial is showing some very promising results.
During the first 12 months of the trial, a personalised treatment plan was able to be recommended for almost 70 per cent of participating children, within an average turnaround time of only nine weeks from the time their tumour sample was received. And for some, such as an infant with a rare and aggressive tumour called infantile fibrosarcoma, the trial has proven to be a life-saver.
At 11-months-old, the baby's tumour had grown so large it forced the heart over to one side of the chest so the tiny lungs could no longer work properly. The infant was on life support when the Zero Childhood Cancer team received a sample of the cancer.
Extensive genetic analysis revealed the infant's tumour had a rare translocation (a type of chromosome mutation) likely to be driving the growth of the cancer. A new drug targeting this exact translocation was identified and the baby was put on the drug straight away. Within six weeks of treatment, they were able to go home.
Read more: Ellie's story.
That's just one case which shows the power of Zero Childhood Cancer as a personalised medicine program. By recognising that each child’s cancer is unique, and tailoring treatment on the basis of the scientific analysis of that specific cancer, it is possible to change outcomes.
Where to from here?
The Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial will remain open until 2020 and will be recruiting new children with aggressive cancer each year until then.
Due to the complex nature of childhood cancer, the extraordinary outcome described above will not be possible for every child. However, the more that is learned, the more remarkable success stories are likely in the future.
Through the trial, Zero Childhood Cancer is generating a wealth of new research data, including valuable molecular and genetic information about childhood cancers.
This data is adding enormously to our knowledge and understanding of childhood cancer and will be shared nationally and internationally to contribute to future research discoveries. In this way, Zero Childhood Cancer is not only benefiting children today, but will continue to benefit all children with cancer in the future.