Collaborate Against Cancer06 Sep 2021

Children’s cancer treatment platform delivering Father’s Day hope across Australia

The Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) led in partnership by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kid’s Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick is changing the lives of children and their families across Australia.

Thanks to $67 million in funding from the federal government and Minderoo Foundation, ZERO’s genetic testing platform will now be rolled out to all children diagnosed with cancer in Australia, regardless of risk type, over the next few years.

Minderoo Foundation supported with an initial $5M grant towards the costs of the first national clinical trial in 2017, and then a further $12.2M to support the expansion of the program to all 1000 children and young people in Australia diagnosed with cancer each year by the end of 2023.

Reid Nicholls just celebrated his 1st birthday but for most of his life he’s been at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) receiving treatment for a rare brain cancer – high grade glioblastoma.

Minderoo Foundation Co-Chairs, Andrew Forrest and Nicola Forrest, met Reid and his parents, Jeremy and Jade, when they visited the family at hospital and learnt how challenging life has been for them.

“We did 64 days without leaving the hospital, we didn’t even cross the road. We slept here, lived here, ate here, everything. And it was tough. We’ve only really been home for 7 or 8 weeks in the last six months because we’re here so often for chemotherapy,” said Reid’s dad, Jeremy.

Having his son on Father’s Day, with the hope of many more to come, is the best gift Jeremy could have asked for – but his little fighter has given so many other kids and their dads a very special present thanks to a discovery as a result of the ZERO program.

Professor Nick Gottardo, Head of the Department of Clinical Haematology and Oncology at PCH explained how the precision medicine program uses sophisticated genomic mapping to identify the molecular changes driving each individual’s cancer and matches these with targeted treatments. A sample of the child’s tumour is sent to Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney, wherethe comprehensive genetic testing and analysis is carried out. Clinicians and researchers from around Australia then meet virtually to discuss the treatment recommendation for that child.

“I have told Reid’s mum and dad what a special little boy Reid is. He actually prompted the opening of an international trial using a targeted drug, which can be effective against these types of tumours. We’re one of the leading countries in the world with this type of program and it’s absolutely critical to moving us to the next stage of personalised care,” said Prof. Gottardo.

Speaking also with Reid’s parents, Minderoo Foundation Co-Chair Andrew Forrest said, “There is nothing more important on Father’s Day than to be able to spend it with your child. The program gives every Australian child serious hope if they get cancer. I don’t think any of us should forget that while COVID-19 is terrible, there are people dying from cancer every day – we just cannot see that continue without challenging it and the program sets out to challenge it,” said Dr Forrest.

Co-Chair Nicola Forrest said she was delighted to hear that Reid’s own journey may open the way for so many other children facing the devastating diagnosis cancer often brings families.

“ZERO is creating individualised paediatric care for these patients. And it’s unlocking the answers that are going to help so many children. It warms my heart to see Reid with his dad and mum knowing their little boy was the spark for another new research program in Australia,” Mrs Forrest said.

Thanks to this funding, by 2023, every child in Australia diagnosed with cancer will have access to personalised treatment recommendations to give them the greatest chance of surviving their disease and importantly help identify less toxic targeted treatments reducing their risk of long-term health problems.

About ZERO Childhood Cancer

The Zero Childhood Cancer program (ZERO) is a truly collaborative national research and clinical initiative led by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, together with all eight of Australia’s children’s hospitals. The program is the most exciting childhood cancer research initiative ever undertaken in Australia, and is a huge step towards the ultimate aim which is to see personalised medicine become the new model of care for children and young adults with cancer. For participating hospitals and research centres click here.

ZERO aims to identify the precise make-up of each individual child’s cancer by using sophisticated genomic tests (whole genome sequencing, whole transcriptome sequencing and methylation profiling) to identify the molecular changes (including “mutations”) driving their cancer and matching these with treatments most likely to target their unique cancer. The aim is to identify a personalised treatment plan for each child.

Of the first 250 children enrolled on the program:

  • in more than 90 per cent of cases, ZERO identified the molecular, or genetic, basis of a child’s cancer and 70 per cent had at least one new potential treatment option identified based on their cancer’s genetic makeup.
  • 32 per cent of children for whom a therapeutic recommendation was made received the recommended therapy. The early results of those children showed that in 30 per cent of cases the tumour shrank, and in some patients completely regressed. In another 40 per cent of cases the tumour stopped growing and stabilised.

A total of 569 children and young people have been enrolled on the ZERO program since 2017.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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