All Australian children and young adults diagnosed with cancer will now have access to genomically guided, precision treatment recommendations through this world-leading collaborative research and clinical program.
The ZERO program was established in 2017 and connects a powerful, collaborative network of researchers and clinicians across eight of Australia’s leading children’s hospitals as well as major global research centres.
The program has included a national clinical trial providing genomically guided, personalised treatment plans to some of the highest risk children with the most aggressive cancers. The trial has provided considerable insight into the causes of these diseases while providing actionable recommendations for treatment to the clinical teams caring for these kids, meaning ZERO’s success stands to revolutionise the way childhood cancer is treated.
The funding announced today consists of $12.2 million from Minderoo Foundation and $54.8 million from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF), which will allow the precision medicine program to scale from around 150 patients per year in 2019 to 1,000 patients per year by 2023. With a phased roll out over the next 3 years, this investment will ensure that every child diagnosed with cancer in Australia will be eligible for the ZERO program and receive treatment plans tailored to their individual cancer.
Minderoo Foundation Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO said supporting innovative programs such as ZERO was an important part of the Foundation’s work.
“The vision of the ZERO Childhood Cancer program is simple and inspiring: reduce childhood cancer deaths to zero,” Dr Forrest said.
“Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen ZERO achieve incredible breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. Minderoo Foundation is proud to partner with the Australian Government in continued support of ZERO’s work, and we’re pleased the program will be available to all Aussie kids and their families in the future.”
Dr Steve Burnell leads Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative, which has the mission to make cancer non-lethal in this generation.
“ZERO is an example of what true collaboration can achieve even against such a challenging adversary as cancer. The program uniquely mixes world-class translational research with real clinical benefits for these courageous Australian kids and their families,” Dr Burnell said.
“We thank Minister Hunt and the MRFF for their foresight and partnership and we are thrilled to continue our support for this ground-breaking program to further expand it across Australia.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said ZERO’s comprehensive approach was unique in childhood cancer.
“Cancer is always a devastating diagnosis. Each year, about 750 children aged 14 or less are diagnosed with cancer in Australia,” Minister Hunt said.
“Many of these children have cancers that are very difficult to treat and have a less than 30 per cent survival rate.”
“If your child is battling cancer, you want to know that the latest research is translating into effective treatment as fast as possible, with many experts working together to achieve one common goal; save lives.”
“I thank the Minderoo Foundation for their contribution, our joint aim is to provide every Australian child with cancer with the best possible chance to recover and live a happy, healthy life,” Minister Hunt said.
Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute explained the impact of this funding.
“This funding will not only help us to identify personalised therapies for many more children with cancer throughout Australia, but also to identify new genetic targets and potential new treatments for children with cancer, and to understand why children develop cancer and which particular children may be at risk,” Professor Haber said.
“The research that this funding will allow us to conduct with the data that is collected will increase early intervention and our ability to improve control and ultimately prevention of this devastating disease.”
The expansion of the ZERO program will help demonstrate the long-term value of a comprehensive approach to genomically guided, personalised treatment and research in Australia. Given the inclusion of the entire population of Australian paediatric cancer patients, a wealth of valuable research and clinical insights about childhood cancers is being generated as well as important information on the value of such personalised medicine programs as a potential model for implementing similar programs in other diseases.