Australia will provide ‘precision medicine’ to every kid with cancer

A ‘precision medicine’ program that is expected to reduce deaths and improve life spans is about to be rolled out to all cancer patients in Australia under the age of 18.

The precision – or personalised – medicine model is the opposite of a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and can look at genetics, environment, and lifestyle to discover which medicines might be most effective for an individual patient. This is particularly important for something like cancer, where taking the time to try multiple drugs that may not work on a patient can have very harmful results.

The Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) began as a pilot in 2015; was extended to a full clinical trial in 2017 and has now been funded by the Australian Government and Minderoo Foundation to expand to all children – up to 1000 a year – who are diagnosed with cancer.

“Analysing a child’s (genome) can lead to a whole new way of understanding that child’s cancer. This can lead to a more accurate diagnosis, prognosis and risk stratification, and in some cases, a refined treatment approach,” said Professor David Ziegler, Chair of Clinical Trials for ZERO.

“In ZERO’s first national precision medicine trial, we saw some very promising results in children with the highest risk cancers. Some children are alive today who would have died had they not been enrolled on ZERO, while some others had precious months added to their life by changing their treatments.”

Precision medicine isn’t just happening at ZERO though. With the cost of sequencing the human genome now less than $1000 per person, those with rare genetic diseases, and treatment resistant cancers, are sometimes able to receive genome or tumour testing to analyse what type of treatment would be most effective.

With more genetic information on these cancers, there’s potential for better research into the future.

“In the expanded ZERO, genomic analysis will occur from the time of diagnosis for every child enrolled, allowing us to track the way each child’s cancer changes in response to treatment. Analysing the cancer journey of up to 1000 young Australians each year in this way will add volumes to our understanding of childhood cancer, for the benefit of all children diagnosed with cancer in the future,” said Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute.

“The more children who participate in ZERO, the more we learn. In this way, children being treated for cancer today are actually helping the children of tomorrow.”

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