With government funding in the research and development sector at a 30 year low, sources of cancer research funding - and indeed 'where" funds should be distributed - are very hot topics.
It's precisely these issues that will, this week, be the focus of a committee of internationally respected cancer scientists, when they gather to select the recipients of the 2014 Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) grants for cancer research.
The ACRF is a private charity and major funding body for cutting-edge cancer research. Since its inception 30 years ago, the Foundation has supported breakthrough Australian research and translational projects with almost $95M in grants.
Six stand-out research projects have been shortlisted this year by the ACRF from a total of 14 applicants. The shortlisted research groups were selected based on their significant potential to make an impact on cancer diagnosis, treatment and/or cure, and they represent a need for almost $25.M in funding. The assessment process is now focused on identifying the most outstanding applications for the grants to be announced in November 2014.
These final interviews will be conducted by the ACRF's esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Professor Ian Frazer AC. This year the Committee will be joined by international cancer researcher, Associate Professor Connie Trimble, whose expertise at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA is in women's cancers.
A/Prof. Trimble's experience and perspective on the international research stage will ensure that the successful ACRF grant recipients represent the cutting-edge of world research.
ACRF Shortlisted Grant Applicants overview: Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, VIC
Develop a purpose-built facility specialising in developing new targeted therapies for all types of cancer.
Monash Institute of Medical Research – Prince Henry Hospital, Melbourne, VIC
Expansion of an existing ACRF centre to tackle issues such as early detection, tumour diversity and drug resistance.
University of Queensland Centre for Advanced Imaging, Brisbane, QLD
A facility specialising in the development and validation of novel molecular imaging agents for cancer.
Children's Cancer Institute, Sydney, NSW
Create an integrated and dedicated child cancer precision medicine centre, focused on delivering personalised therapies for Australian children at high risk of treatment failure.
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, NSW
Build a space housing super-computer resources for a team of bioinformatics scientists, working towards the analysis of biological changes due to cancer treatment and disease progression.
Sydney University Central Clinical School, Sydney, NSW
Develop an ACRF imaging centre which will pioneer targeted radiotherapy and provide an opportunity for academia, medicine, industry and government to collaborate on the science and clinical practice of cancer treatment.
Question: Can you talk us through the upcoming grants?
Prof Ian Brown: Six stand-out research projects have been shortlisted this year by the ACRF from a total of 14 applicants. The shortlisted research groups were selected based on their significant potential to make an impact on cancer diagnosis, treatment and/or cure, and they represent a need for almost $25M in funding. Each application has asked for an amount of money (between $1.5 Million and $5 Million) in support of their projects.
The six shortlisted applicants include:
Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, for a purpose-built facility specialising in new targeted therapies for all types of cancer;
Monash Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, for the expansion of an existing ACRF centre to study early detection, tumour diversity and drug resistance for cancer;
University of Queensland Centre for Advanced Imaging, for a facility specialising in the development and validation of novel molecular imaging agents to identify and treat cancers;
Children's Cancer Institute, NSW, to create a precision medicine centre focused on delivering personalised therapies for children at high risk of treatment failure;
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, NSW, to house super-computer resources for a team of bioinformatics scientists;
Sydney University Central Clinical School, to develop an imaging centre to pioneer targeted radiotherapy to improve cancer treatment, reduce treatment time and reduce cost.
Question: What do these grants mean for the future of cancer research in Australia?
Prof Ian Brown: We're striving for a world where cancer research scientists are enabled and equipped to achieve things tomorrow that they could only dream of today, to eradicate cancer and its effects on people. All of these six research projects have the potential to add to this vision – to help eradicate cancer for future generations.
Question: In particular, what cancer research will these grants be used for?
Prof Ian Brown: There has been a particular interest this year in new technology for looking for molecules which fingerprint cancer cells and for the genetic mistakes that fingerprint cancer cells. This is particularly important for treatment since cancers can change as they grow in the body. The Australian Cancer Research Foundation provides funding that helps speed up vital discoveries for all cancers, not just one or two. The grant funding provided each year enables organisations to get their technology completely up to date so they can be on the cutting edge of international research.
Question: How was the ACRF Shortlisted Grant Applicants chosen?
Prof Ian Brown: All applications are considered and assessed by the ACRF's Medical Research Advisory Committee (MRAC) which is made up of 14 esteemed cancer scientists from both Australia and overseas. This mixture of both national and international experience ensures that the successful ACRF grant recipients represent the cutting-edge of world research. The procedures of the MRAC involves the submission of a detailed grant application which is followed by interviews of selected short-listed applicants. The MRAC's recommendations for funding are reviewed and finalised by the ACRF's Board of Trustees.
Question: How do the 2014 Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) grants for cancer research determine the recipients?
Prof Ian Brown: All applications are considered and assessed by the ACRF's Medical Research Advisory Committee (MRAC). The MRAC's recommendations for funding are reviewed and finalised by the Foundation's Board of Trustees. The funds are not always split evenly, they are prioritised according to the potential impact of the proposed work, and, of course, the amount of funds available through ACRF fundraising. The final assessment process is focused on identifying the most outstanding applications for the grants to be announced in November 2014.
Question: Can you talk us through what cancer projects the foundation has already provided grants for?
Prof Ian Brown: The ACRF has awarded $95 million in grants (52 grants to 32 institutes and universities during the 30 year history of the ACRF) for research into all types of cancer, across prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cancer management in all states of Australia and the ACT. Our most well-known contribution to cancer research is providing the seed-funding for Professor Ian Frazer AC to develop the cervical cancer vaccine.
This year we will exceed $100 Million in total funds awarded since our inception. The largest single grant amount the ACRF has awarded is $5 million. Furthermore, two thirds of ACRF's funding has been awarded since 2006 – a reflection of the increasing need and community interest in funding research that rapidly progresses the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Interview by Brooke Hunter