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14 Jul 2021
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2021 Picchi Award winners announced

  • VCCC Alliance
  • University of Melbourne
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
  • Royal Children's Hospital
  • Picchi Brothers Foundation

Scientists join celebrated cohort for excellence in cancer research

The VCCC alliance and Picchi Brothers Foundation are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2021 Picchi Award for Excellence in Cancer Research.

Each year three talented researchers from VCCC member institutes are recognised with a $10,000 award designed to assist in international study and collaboration and grow their expertise and reputation on the world stage, thanks to the Picchi Brothers Foundation. 

Congratulations to the 2021 winners:

Basic Science
Kenji Mark Fujihara, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

The determinants of sensitivity and mechanisms of action of APR-246 (Eprenetapopt)
Kenji square

Population Health
Martin Vu, University of Melbourne

Using real-world evidence to assess the clinical utility of high-throughput sequencing technologies: the pursuit of precision medicine for haematological malignancies
MV profile picture 003

Clinical Science
Stacie Shiqi Wang, WEHI, Children’s Cancer Centre, Royal Children’s Hospital

Chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy in paediatric high-grade glioma 
Stacie square     

Stacie Wang is a paediatric oncologist at the Children's Cancer Centre, The Royal Children's Hospital, and a third year PhD student at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Stacie’s PhD focuses on Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, a branch of immunotherapy that engineers a patient’s T cells to be able to specifically recognise and kill the cancer cells in their body. She has a key interest in Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a specific type of paediatric brain tumour that currently has no cure. She is also working on a discovery program to identify new targets for high-grade paediatric brain tumours with poor outcomes.

Stacie is hoping to use the Picchi Award to visit internationally recognised CAR-T cell centres and gain expertise both clinically and in the laboratory in Australia.

“Only with direct links between the clinic and the laboratory can we make significant process in understanding diseases better and coming up with potentially curative treatments. My goal is to become a clinician-scientist that is a key figure to bridging the gap between pre-clinical research and translational projects, to improve outcomes for our patients. 

“The Picchi Award will enable me to build international and national collaborations, increase my expertise in immunotherapy, and build projects and clinical trials that enhance opportunities for children with poor outcome cancers.” 

Martin Vu is a second-year PhD student with the Cancer Health Services Research unit at the University of Melbourne. Martin’s research focuses on evaluating the health economic impact of next-generation sequencing technologies used to inform clinical management for patients living with blood cancer from the perspective of the healthcare system. His research will demonstrate the economic value of precision medicine-based approaches to blood cancer in supporting regulatory and policy decisions for these technologies. 

“Next-generation sequencing technologies are well-positioned to make transformative changes to how healthcare systems provide and deliver health services in blood cancers. 

“I am extremely grateful to be awarded with the Picchi prize. This award will allow me to further accelerate research opportunities to connect with consumers and collaborators in developing and leading a clear vision for genomic medicine in blood cancers within the Australian healthcare system.” 

Kenji Fujihara is a final year PhD student at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. His work focuses on Eprenetapopt (APR-246), a drug marketed as a reactivator of the most common mutated tumour suppressor in human cancers, mutant-p53. Kenji discovered that depleting dietary non-essential amino acids, serine and glycine, increased the efficacy of Eprenetapopt and standard-of-care chemotherapy in pre-clinical models of oesophageal cancer. These findings will aid in the continued clinical development of Eprenetapopt by providing a new roadmap for its clinical utility beyond mutant-p53 cancers.

“I am incredibly grateful to receive the Picchi Award. My primary goal for this award is to launch a start-up to develop a complete nutrition formulation lacking serine and glycine in order to establish a pipeline for clinical deployment. I will also attend and present my research at the Mechanisms of Metabolism Signaling Meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which will provide pivotal experience as I transition into post-doctoral research at New York University – working on the iron metabolism dysregulation in cancer.”

A virtual presentation featuring Picchi Award winners’ research is scheduled for 1.00pm on Monday 16 August. All welcome, please register.