I was delighted to see the $125 million investment from the Australian Government budget for the Rural, Regional and Remote Clinical Trial Enabling Infrastructure Program to improve access to clinical trials that are vital to reduce disparity in outcomes for rural and regional patients with cancer.
Within this, VCCC Regional Oncology Lead, Dr Craig Underhill will head an $18.6 million grant to Border Medical Oncology Research Unit and Regional Trials Network Victoria for the ReViTALISE Project to bridge the metro-regional trials gap by 2025.
This investment builds on a great team effort in the VCCC Strategic Research Plan to innovate in the design and delivery of clinical trials in regional Victoria. Special thanks to Craig Underhill, Kate Burbury, Mei Krishnasamy, Jenny Philip, Peter Gibbs, Mark Rosenthal, Hannah Cross, Anne Woollett, and the whole VCCC team and community for their groundbreaking work.
Reshaping Victorian cancer efforts to fit the future
The anticipated Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-24 was released last month, outlining priority areas and key themes to focus our efforts in the short, medium, and long term in cancer control and across the whole care pathway, and state-wide.
Not surprisingly the plan acknowledges the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the shortfalls and opportunities the pandemic has laid bare. It makes urgent the requirement to focus on early detection and effective therapeutic options for cancers with lower survival rates. These include lung, pancreatic, oesophageal, and brain cancers. Preventing cancer remains a priority, and support for screening programs is central in several cancers. Groups with poorer outcomes, be they geographic, economic, cultural, or lacking access to emerging therapies or technologies are highlighted in the plan.
Cancer Plan and VCCC strategic planning aligned
The recommendations are consistent with the strategic goals and objectives of the VCCC, tabled for consideration in the forthcoming Victorian State Budget.
There are some clear goals and numbers that make for exciting reading, such as, increase the overall number of new clinical trial enrolments in rural and regional areas in Victoria by 30 per cent. This figure is well in sight for us.
As acknowledged by the funding announced in the Federal Budget, we have introduced some key innovations such as cancer teletrials, clearly demonstrating great potential, and making it easier for regional and rural Victorians to participate in clinical trials. Ethics and governance guidelines have been established to overcome barriers to adolescent and young adult participation in trials. Trials are now also being conducted in palliative care and within clinical services previously with limited early-phase trial experience. Continuing momentum will help support health equity across the cancer system.
Innovations in the delivery of cancer services are also highlighted in the Victorian Cancer Plan. The response to COVID-19 has seen an increase in the use of Symptom and Urgent Review Clinics (SURCs), originally pioneered by Western Health. Preliminary data in the VCCC’s data-driven research program has identified high rates of emergency department presentations for cancer patients, indicating a pressing need for emerging models of care such as SURCs.
Elimination of devastating disease in the next decade
Solving cancer is a complex and difficult problem so it is worth celebrating the big, audacious goals such as eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in Victoria in the next decade. Thanks to the positive impacts of vaccination and screening for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), cervical cancer will soon become a rare cancer, a milestone that keeps us on track to be the first jurisdiction in the world to eliminate this devastating disease.
With our current phase of strategic program planning progressing well, I am confident that we have a partnership ecosystem that is enabling us to build on the capability we have already established in some key areas and will continue the rapid translation of cancer discovery into better outcomes for patients.
The VCCC alliance is characterised by dedicated professionals all over Victoria who identify opportunities in translational research and the systems and processes to turn them into groundbreaking clinical care. It represents a cancer workforce that is continuously upskilling via our education programs and is in the tens of thousands as we journey towards 2021. Congratulations on the many successes you have achieved during this phase of our development and I look forward to us working together to enact the steps that will ensure Victorians have the best possible experience of the cancer treatment and care system.
Prof Grant McArthur