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02 Sep 2019
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Executive Director's Message September 2019

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

I was a young post-doctoral scientist when I first encountered the work of Doug Hanahan, internationally-renowned cancer biologist and co-author of The Hallmarks of Cancer.  Our lab was collaborating with Doug’s lab at a time when cancer biologists were defining the genetic drivers of cancer. Many of us around the globe were energised by the potential of these discoveries which ultimately laid the foundation for a whole range of new cancer treatments to benefit patients. Doug is the director of the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research in Lausanne.

As we approach the VCCC Research Conference 2019 – The Next Wave in Cancer Research, with a chance to reconnect with Doug as our keynote speaker, I find myself reflecting on where we were back then and where we are now. What’s clear is that systemising collaboration and sharing data is one of the most powerful accelerants we have to unlock the mysteries we seek to solve.

One of the unique differences then to now is we have a more diverse arsenal. As well as research and clinical breakthroughs, we are also exploring options for treatments based on new biological discoveries and bringing together all aspects of care in cancer prevention, immunotherapy, next wave technologies such as the exciting discoveries in single cell analysis, and supportive care and survivorship. Here in Victoria we are as well placed to achieve great outcomes based on this new wholistic approach, as anywhere else in the world.

On that front, scientists and clinician researchers from across the VCCC alliance have attracted a third of the nation’s funding in the inaugural round of NHMRC investigator grants for cancer.  Impressively, almost 50 per cent of funds across the whole spectrum of research have gone to Victoria. This is an outstanding achievement and opportunity for our state.

Research Conference 2019 – The Next Wave in Cancer Research 

It has been great to be involved and to witness first-hand the efforts of our diverse organising committee representing all our members, consumers and a range of disciplines. They have created a fantastic comprehensive program for the research conference and we anticipate a really memorable event. Congratulations to them and thanks go to our major sponsors Bristol-Myers Squibb and Illumina for their support.

This month we will come together in large numbers; to communicate across institutions to strengthen relationships and explore collaborations side-by-side with common purpose. Thank you convenors Professor John Mariadason, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and Associate Professor Kate Burbury, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital and to the senior leaders from across the alliance who are lending expertise from the podium or have empowered your workforce to participate. I’m very much looking forward to interviewing Olivia Newton-John in the opening plenary in light of her significant contribution to the Victorian community. I have no doubt we will all gain significant new insights and inspiration.

VCCC consultation forums

It was an enriching experience to meet with over 200 staff during August in three weeks of member consultation for our 2020-25 strategic plan, and to have the opportunity to listen to their thoughts and suggestions. We also welcomed consumers, representatives from beyond the alliance and received contributions online. Our next steps will be to identify our key areas of focus based on our experience, publically available data and the wide-ranging input we have received. As we formulate our focus for 2020-25, we need to envision a future that cares equally for all, providing greater parity for Indigenous Victorians, access for patients in rural and regional areas and overcoming economic and cultural disparities.  

These big challenges, alongside progressing discovery to tackle the rare and incurable cancers that continue to resist our efforts; and helping patients to live well with cancer, is the stuff that keeps many of us awake at night.

Excellent outcomes for patients in Victoria

An entertaining element of our Research Conference program will be the debate: Are Victoria’s excellent outcomes for cancer patients a result of good luck or good management? And without doubt, Victoria does have excellent outcomes. Whichever way the debate goes, it will be fascinating to listen to the arguments made and perhaps harness the lessons learned for even better outcomes for more people.

What do you think? I look forward to hearing everyone’s opinions on 16-17 September at the VCCC Research Conference.

Professor Grant McArthur
Executive Director