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15 Nov 2017

Pancreatic cancer: Avner Foundation awards major grants to improve survival

On World Pancreatic Cancer Day, the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation has awarded grants of over $900,000 to Garvan's pancreatic cancer researchers. The grants will support ambitious new research into the 'matrix' surrounding pancreatic tumour cells, as well as a project to explore whether the immune system can be 'tuned' to fight pancreatic cancer more effectively.

Australia’s leading pancreatic cancer researchers working to double the number of people who survive this disease by 2020 will receive a further $2M in critical funding grants from the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, including $909K awarded to researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Chairman of the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Alan McArthur, said the six grants awarded in this round are another important step in breaking through more than 40 years of no progress in solving the very poor survival rates of pancreatic cancer. Today the 5-year survival rate is 8%, compared with prostate and breast cancer that have a 5-year survival rate of more than 90%.

“These grants to globally-leading researchers provide pancreatic cancer patients, their families and the community with hope that we are unlocking the answers to this hideous problem,” Mr McArthur said.

The Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation announced its 2017 grant recipients at a private dinner that brought together leaders from 18 pancreatic cancer research projects and dedicated corporate sponsors.

Mr McArthur said “The more progress our funding allocations achieve on understanding pancreatic cancer, the more we hope that funds will be forthcoming to invest in future progress.”

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has received two grants out of the six awarded by the Avner Foundation this year. Together, the two grants provide Garvan researchers with $909K support. 

Associate Professor Paul Timpson and Dr Thomas Cox, of Garvan’s Cancer Division, and colleagues have been awarded an Avner Foundation Accelerator Grant ($809K over three years) for his work on mapping and targeting the extracellular matrix in pancreatic cancer. The research team has devised a new way to dissolve cells from tumours, leaving behind the delicate 3D-architecture of the matrix to allow researchers to study and tap into the vast and currently unexplored reservoir of anti-cancer matrix targets in this disease.

Associate Professor Shane Grey, of Garvan’s Immunology Division, has received an Avner Foundation Innovation Grant ($99.5K over one year) for his work on harnessing a novel 'tunable' immune checkpoint to enhance the immunogenicity of anti-pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. This project will test the idea that a patient’s T cells can be ‘tuned’ to increase the ability of their own immune system to find, infiltrate, and kill pancreatic cancer cells.

Innovation Grants are designed to support established scientists and/or early career researchers to develop preliminary data necessary to pursue additional funding in subsequent years, as well as encourage and retain talented skilled individuals in the field of pancreatic cancer.

Dr Marina Pajic, of Garvan’s Cancer Division, is a co-investigator on both the Accelerator and Innovation Grants. Funding from the Avner Foundation has been a key contributor to Dr Pajic’s research, which focuses on uncovering innovative new ways to treat pancreatic cancer.

The dinner also launched the Avner Foundation’s first National Pancreatic Cancer Symposium due to take place at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW on World Pancreatic Cancer Day (16th November). The Symposium has been established to create a ‘network of excellence’ that will accelerate the path to helping the organisation achieve its vision of doubling the number of people who survive pancreatic cancer by 2020.

Caroline Kelly, Director and Founder of Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation said: “For the first time since we started awarding the Innovation and Accelerator Grants, past and present recipients representing different institutions and universities across Australia will share updates   on their progress. The Symposium will offer an unparalleled opportunity for pancreatic cancer researchers to discuss and collaborate for the betterment of the disease.”

The Foundation has a Scientific Advisory Panel comprised of six national and international scientific experts who assess grant applications and make recommendations to the Board for the Innovation and Accelerator Grants, which are awarded annually.

“With funding from the Foundation, there has been a significant increase in the number of researchers doing pancreatic cancer research in Australia”, said Associate Professor Phoebe Phillips who will be convening the Symposium and is a 2016 Innovation Grant recipient. “The next 10 years is looking really bright for pancreatic cancer research, compared to the last 10,” she said.

As the Foundation looks to 2020, the year by which they hope to have doubled the survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients, the organisation has also launched a 5-step plan in order to focus their energies and achieve their bold ambitions. This roadmap outlines a clear vision of what they want to achieve through prioritising research funding, leading advocacy, developing a pancreatic cancer knowledge bank, General Practitioner education and patient care and support.



About the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation

The Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation (APCF) is the peak body in Australia raising and allocating funds for Pancreatic Cancer research. Incorporated as a Foundation - the Avner Nahmani Pancreatic Cancer Foundation Limited on 30 July 2010. It is the only Foundation in Australia exclusively dedicated to Pancreatic Cancer and is named in honour of Avner Nahmani, a former senior executive of Woolworths Limited who succumbed to the disease thirteen months after diagnosis. The name of the Foundation was changed to Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation Limited on 10th March 2015.

About Garvan

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research is one of Australia's largest medical research institutions and is at the forefront of next-generation genomic sequencing in Australia. Garvan’s main research areas are: cancer, diabetes and metabolism, genomics and epigenetics, immunology and inflammation, osteoporosis and bone biology, and neuroscience. Garvan’s mission is to make significant contributions to medical science that will change the directions of science and medicine and have major impacts on human health.


 About World Pancreatic Cancer Day

November is World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month and the 16th November is World Pancreatic Cancer Day (WPCD). Across the world there will be iconic buildings/structures lit up in purple in support of WPCD - including for the first time, the Sydney Opera House. The Opera House will light up on the eve of WPCD i.e. the 15th of November at approximately 8:10pm. The 15th was chosen, as Australia will be one of the first countries in the world to ring in this day.


Name   Charlene Yates Bishop


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