People with cancers that are rare or less common, as well as cancers of unknown origin, are especially affected. While these cancers are individually less common, together they account for around a third of cancer incidence and nearly half of cancer deaths in Australia’ said Prof David Thomas.
About the genomic cancer medicine program
About genomic medicine
Genomic medicine is the future for all cancer treatment, but will have its greatest impact for ‘rare’, high-mortality cancers.
Professor David Thomas is an oncologist and Head of Cancer Research at Garvan and Director of the Kinghorn Cancer Centre (a joint facility of Garvan and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney).
‘There is an unmet clinical need in the population with high-mortality and advanced cancers, for whom few therapeutic options exist and who have historically been neglected by the drug development process.
The Genomic Cancer Medicine Program is dedicated to using genomics to improve the understanding, early detection, prevention and management of cancer.
While the Kinghorn Cancer Centre conducts research into the more common cancers – breast, colorectal, lung and prostate, the Genomic Cancer Medicine Program focuses on less common, high-mortality cancers, including ovarian, and pancreatic cancer, sarcomas and cancer metastasis.
Garvan is at the leading edge of genomic medical research and was one of the first centres in the world to acquire cost-effective sequencing technologies that can sequence 18,000 whole human genomes a year. Genomic medicine has the potential to transform healthcare because most diseases have a genetic component – from rare inherited disorders to common and complex diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.
The Genomic Cancer Medicine Program uses Garvan’s whole genome sequencing facilities in the MoST Clinical Trials to identify more effective treatments for cancer patients, as well as to understand heritable cancer risk in the Genetic Cancer Risk Study (RisC) and risk management as part of the Surveillance in the Multi-Organ Cancer prone syndromes (SMOC+) Study.
More about rare cancers
Cancer is usually considered a disease of older people, with mortality rates increasing with age for most cancers. One of the key characteristics of rarer cancers, however, is that these cancers place a great burden on children and young families. In every age group (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and even children) ‘rare’, high-mortality cancers are the most common cause of disease-related death in Australia.
Reasons for the high mortality rates include:
- difficulty in diagnosis (as they are seen less often)
- standard treatments are often less effective
- there is limited access to new therapies.
While there's excellent evidence that participation in standard clinical trials is associated with better outcomes, these patients have little access them. These trials are often not financially feasible to run for the small numbers of patients with one rare cancer or another.
We have developed targeted approaches to inhibit tumour growth and immunotherapies to stimulate an immune response that delivers long-lived tumour destruction. These medicines, which work on differing cancer mechanisms, offer new opportunities for patients.
We're working to understand more about the heritable causes of cancer and risk management, and developing new diagnostic techniques and treatments to improve the lives of individual patients, and health outcomes for all Australians.