As an alliance of major public hospitals, medical research institutes and academia, the 10 members of the VCCC share commonality of purpose and a commitment - cemented in a joint venture agreement - to work together towards better outcomes for Victorian cancer patients. At the same time, the nature of medical research, hospital funding and individuals and groups striving for the edge, means that there is also an inevitable element of competition. The challenge of working beyond organisational silos and incentivising collaboration, while still encouraging and rewarding the best minds and ideas is significant – as are the potential rewards.
Progress over the past year shows a new and exciting embrace of the opportunity this presents as we work to balance the forces of competition and cooperation. This provides great hope for innovation on a grand scale.
Ray Noorda, founder of software company Novell, was first to coin the term coopetition almost 50 years ago, but the concept of leveraged success didn’t immediately take off. A culture of competitive advantage continued in business, as in the science arena, and particularly in research institutes. Competition has long been a driver in scientific discovery, and historical funding models have made even the most extroverted reticent to share. We explored the concept at a leadership summit which brought our distributed leadership group together in April this year.
What does coopetition look like within the VCCC and with our other key partners and collaborators? Are we building frameworks and processes that enable us to shine light into silos? I can answer in the affirmative. Co-creation and trust are leadership competencies frequently on show in the alliance. I’d like to share some examples with you.
New Frontiers in Cancer Research
The 3rd VCCC Postdoctoral Symposium will highlight research of early-and mid-career scientists from across Victoria, next Friday 14 June. I’d like to acknowledge the excellent stewardship from Dale Garsed and Laura Forrest, conference co-conveners from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, along with the 21 members of the organising committee from Peter Mac, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, the University of Melbourne and LaTrobe Institute for Molecular Science. Look out for some of the exciting work of the next generation of research leaders on display on Level 7 next Friday.
VCCC Research and Education Lead program
The VCCC alliance’s flagship collaborative initiative is the Research and Education Lead program. Leaders with expertise in 10 tumour streams, cancer nursing and primary care, are progressing the aim of adopting new research evidence into routine practice. Aside from the scientific and clinical implications of this work, the program is a large-scale change-management project requiring trust, sharing, prioritisation and negotiation.
A positive example of success in a competitive environment was highlighted in the outcome of grant applications made to the Movember Prostate Cancer Research Alliance recently.
One proposal, led by the R&E Lead for Genitourinary Cancers, Associate Professor Niall Corcoran of the Royal Melbourne Hospital brought together a new combination of investigators from five VCCC member organisations and six cancer research disciplines. The research proposal, (PRECEPT - PRostatE CancEr Prognosis and Treatment) leveraged other VCCC programs, including connection to the Regional Oncology Lead, resulting in extension of one of the proposed clinical trials to regional Victoria. It also harnessed the VCCC’s strong relationships with its consumer advisory groups.
Niall says, “The VCCC has strengthened our relationships, not only within the alliance but with Melbourne-based bioinformatics groups and by opening up access to funding. It meant we didn’t have to invent collaborations. Existing processes provide access to consumers, there is media and communications, professional staff and frameworks. The mechanisms are in place.”
"You need time. These opportunities are built over a year or more.
Ultimately collaboration comes out of mutual need.”
A/Professor Niall Corcoran
A further Movember PCRA grant was awarded to Associate Professor Arun Azad and Professor Michael Hoffman, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to run two trials into Lu-PSMA, a radioactive molecule that is purpose-made to kill prostate cancer cells.
Arun endorses the positive tensions of competition, “What’s really exciting I think is that two out of three alliances to be funded were out of Melbourne. And whilst it might be considered that we are in competition with each other, it clearly demonstrates the excellence of the work coming out of this precinct. There is so much activity that we actually needed to have two bids to encompass the scale of the multidisciplinary work going on. It is a reflection of how strong we are, and how we are regarded by an international review panel."
New technology to initiate collaborative projects
Next year Victoria will welcome a new technology available in only a few cancer centres worldwide. MRI and linear accelerator technologies have long been used in cancer treatment. The new technology goes beyond these treatments and combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and a radiotherapy linear accelerator (Linac) into one integrated system, allowing doctors to see a tumour clearly and treat it more precisely. In anticipation of the technology, and in a further first for Victoria, Dr Sarah Elliott has been appointed VCCC Research Radiation Oncology Medical Physicist. Sarah is situated at Austin Health, and will be working with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She will facilitate and develop the role of radiation oncology physicists within the clinical trials setting, creating collaborative networks and structures to harmonise clinical trial research and reporting, enable knowledge sharing and improve trial patient recruitment.
VCCC Research Conference 2019
I am really looking forward to the second VCCC Research Conference in September. Over two days at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, the conference will showcase the breadth of research expertise of our members and the significant role it plays in an international context. Thanks to the vision of the conference co-conveners Associate Professor Kate Burbury, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Professor John Mariadason, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and a committee of experts from across the alliance, we can look forward to exploring ways of using innovation and multidisciplinary collaboration to transform research and care delivery.
Professor Grant McArthur