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05 Dec 2018
Opinion Piece

Innovation evident on all fronts

  • Austin Health
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
  • Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
  • Clinical Oncology Society of Australia

December 2018

Clinical Trials Internship text next to an illustration of a microscope leading to a hospital and two clinicians

I’m very pleased to wrap up the year with the news that the first cancer clinical trial implemented through the VCCC Teletrials Program has opened in Albury, Wodonga and Bendigo. The VCCC’s Teletrials Program is based on the principles of the Australasian Teletrials Model, developed by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA), combining digital health technologies with a framework specifically designed for the Victorian healthcare system. The first trial patient will begin imminently. The program will increase regional patient access to critical clinical trials, as well as expanding capability and capacity for the regional workforce.

Innovative approaches are key to increasing patient access to clinical trials. Our Registry Trials Program changes the way cancer treatment strategies can be evaluated; bridging the gap between conventional trials and purely observational studies. The approach provides data sets for multiple treatment strategies, capturing information from a large range of patients. Two trials are currently underway through members of the VCCC alliance, and several cooperative groups throughout Australia have expressed interest in contributing and using the approach. 

This month the Eliminate Cancer Initiative (ECI) also took a step forward. Work led by A/Prof Hui Gan, Director Clinical Trials Austin Health and Dr Richard Khor, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Olivia Newton John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre is contributing to a framework aimed at making clinical trials more accessible to patients.  The progressive, technology-based approach incorporates the artificial intelligence software Deep 6 – which has the capability to find patients who match clinical trial criteria more quickly and effectively. Using digital technology in this way is an exciting prospect, but its overall success in clinical trials recruitment depends on being able to access rich data – an opportunity made possible due to the vision of staff at the Austin who have been steadily building proficiency in this area over time.  The relationship between IT and oncology offers substantial opportunity for improved patient outcomes, and it is tremendous to see VCCC member organisations take a lead role in embracing innovation in health data.

Following the recent state election, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre welcomes the announcement that Jenny Mikakos will take up the role as Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services. I am very much looking forward to working with Jenny and congratulate her on her appointment. I daresay many of you from across the VCCC would also like to thank Jill Hennessy for her leadership of the health portfolio in the past few years; in particular her support and vision for the VCCC alliance. I wish her well as Minister for Workplace Safety and Attorney General. I also note the appointment of Gavin Jennings as Minister for Priority Precincts and Gayle Tierney as Minister for Higher Education. Each of these portfolios will make important contributions to our efforts to save lives through the integration of cancer research, education and patient care.

This month I attended our first-ever leadership summit which celebrated our model of distributed leadership which is critical to the success of the alliance. Almost a year on from releasing our Strategic Research Plan, there was much to reflect on. It is evident that the cancer workforce is responding to the matrix of leadership which is being established across 11 specialist areas through our Research & Education Lead program. This is cross-sectioned with purposeful leadership in research in health services, immunotherapy, primary care, nurse-led research and palliative care, providing multiple touchpoints for staff in our member organisations and beyond to actively engage in our shared vision. These collaborations are generating strong networks and - as we become a more mature organisation - sharing at all levels, across organisations and disciplines, will ultimately become the norm. 

Next year the VCCC will once again host a major research conference and planning is underway for the event in September 2019. I am delighted that two highly regarded and influential leaders will be joint convenors of the conference. Associate Professor Kate Burbury from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Professor John Mariadason from the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute will lend their insight and knowledge to developing a world-class forum for furthering science, education and clinical care in the oncology sector.

As we close out the year and reflect on our achievements, I would like to thank the many people actively involved in our alliance including cancer clinicians, researchers, educators and staff across the seven hospitals; two research institutes and from the University of Melbourne. I’d also like to thank the many people in organisations beyond the VCCC as well as patients and carers who have supported our work. Many initiatives were highlighted in the VCCC 2017-18 Annual Report - and included major symposia, an extensive and ever-expanding educational program and the rollout of 19 programs.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable festive season. Looking forward to working together with you towards better outcomes for Victorian cancer patients in 2019.

Professor Grant McArthur
Executive Director