I would like to take a few minutes in tonight’s adjournment debate to share some exciting news about brain cancer research. As many listening would know, brain cancers and brain tumours are a topic that I have a deep interest in, and this began when I was diagnosed with two brain tumours just after my election to this place. Luckily for me, they were benign. But, while I was one of the lucky ones, too often the prognosis for people with brain tumours and brain cancers is extremely tragic. It is a big issue of concern for Australia, with around 1,600 brain cancers diagnosed in Australia every year. The really sad fact is that brain cancer has a low survival rate. Only 22 per cent of people diagnosed survive for more than five years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, unlike other cancers, this survival rate has barely improved over the last 30 years. Brain cancer now kills more people under the age of 40 in Australia than any other cancer and more children in Australia than any other disease.
However, there has recently been some really exciting, positive news regarding brain cancer research. On Friday, 13 November, a major announcement was made that will significantly improve outcomes for brain cancer patients in Australia and indeed worldwide. A 130-strong network of the world’s brightest minds has united in what has become the biggest global collaboration in the history of brain cancer research, against one of the most severe forms of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme or GBM. GBM is the deadliest and most aggressive form of brain tumour. Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and Australian experts have played a pivotal role in developing a revolutionary new research system called GBM AGILE. This stands for Glioblastoma Multiforme Adaptive Global Innovative Learning Environment and utilises the concept of the ‘adaptive’ clinical trial. Cure Brain Cancer has been working on the development of GBM AGILE with the National Biomarker Development Alliance, or NBDA, a non-profit organisation created as part of the Research Collaboratory at Arizona State University, or ASU. Cure Brain Cancer contributed about A$1.2 million of funding towards the pre-planning phase to enable the working groups to identify biomarkers and treatments and develop protocols and processes to bring clinical trial sites to Australia. A global funding consortium to fund the next three years is in development and will be announced in 2016.
GBM AGILE is a revolutionary advance on standard clinical trials, which usually take three to seven years to produce results and which cannot be modified once they begin. Under the standard trial model, patients get only one opportunity and receive only one treatment, and by the time results are produced the treatment protocol is already many years old. By contrast, adaptive trials test multiple treatments and combinations of treatments in parallel, at the same time. Adaptive trials are also designed to be continuously updated to incorporate the latest information, using a technique called Bayesian statistics. This feature provides an innovative learning environment in which ineffective treatments can be shut down early and new treatments can be initiated quickly. This new research model will cut red tape and potentially deliver faster results and give patients faster access to new, effective treatments than traditional clinical trials can.
Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies test one drug at a time, and patients can be on trials for up to two years before they know whether the treatment is working or not. Success or failure is only measured at the end, and it can take up to 12 years and more than $1.2 billion to get new treatments to patients. And, tragically, if the drug being trialled is ineffective, the result for the patient is not positive.
As well as testing experimental new therapies, this approach will look at repurposing, for use on brain cancer, treatments that are already being tested in other diseases, saving years of development time. Hundreds of Australians will eventually go through the GBM AGILE system, joining thousands in the USA, China and Europe. Enrolment of the first patients is expected to begin in mid-2016.
Leading researchers and surgeons are excited about the possibility of GBM AGILE. Professor Charlie Teo, founder of Cure Brain Cancer, said:
We have had a worldwide brain bank of extraordinary minds working to cure cancer for years. Now we can put all those brains together in a coalition to save time, cut red tape and save lives …
Dr Anna Barker, GBM AGILE project director and executive committee chair, Director of the National Biomarker Development Alliance and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, commented on the need for better research techniques like GBM AGILE, saying:
None of us are willing to continue to tolerate the tragic and costly loss of life inflicted on patients who are stricken with GBM. GBM AGILE is truly a global coalition of the willing, and it’s always humbling to see the power of a group this committed to changing the world.
Professor Webster Cavenee, GBM AGILE co-investigator, executive committee member and director, from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the University of California, San Diego, said:
This new generation of clinical trials will be adaptive based on learning from the patients; global as it is to be performed across the U.S., China, Australia and Europe; and innovative in that it is driven by Bayesian statistics and molecular markers.
Michelle Stewart, Head of Research Strategy at Cure Brain Cancer, recently outlined the importance of the new research platform. She said:
This is the best opportunity we’ve had to dramatically improve outcomes for people with brain cancer. One of the big problems is that traditional trials leave patients and researchers in the dark for long periods of time … GBM AGILE will change the game completely, with a systematic approach to reveal potential treatments far quicker …
Catherine Stace, Chief Executive Officer of Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, added:
Funding research, a platform, and a learning system allows us to be precise, efficient and fast, creating a ‘flow’ between funders, researchers and patient, it’s the triple whammy patients have been waiting for that will release the burden of this disease.
Patients will finally be given choice not just hope …
GBM AGILE seems to be a truly innovative and exciting development.
As I mentioned earlier, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation was pivotal in the development of this new system. I have spoken previously in this place about the fantastic work Cure Brain Cancer Foundation does to raise money and awareness and fund research into brain cancers. The foundation was established by neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo in 2001 and is the largest fundraiser for brain cancer research in Australia. One of its leading fundraising activities is the Walk4BrainCancer, which is held nationally, generally through October and November.
Recently, I organised the second Hobart Walk4Brain Cancer, held at Dru Point, in Margate, 20 minutes south of the city centre. In fact, it was last Sunday. This year’s event was the second walk to be held in Hobart, with many more to come. It had grown significantly since last year’s inaugural walk. Over 200 people attended this year’s walk, and luckily we had a beautiful sunny day. Everyone who walked had their own reason to walk, whether it was a way to mark their own survival or to commemorate a friend or a family member, child or adult, or just because they want to see the disease eradicated. Each had their own special reason.
I am really pleased to be able to tell the Senate tonight and people listening at home that the event raised over $27½ thousand for Cure Brain Cancer. The money raised will contribute to research into how to prevent, treat and—we hope—ultimately cure brain cancer, because by doing so we can save lives.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who worked hard to make this day a success. Thank you to Julie Hendy-Cartwright, Eliza Nolan and Louise Patterson for their invaluable assistance. Thanks too to Cure Brain Cancer Ambassador Marcella Zemanek, who came down from Sydney and is an enthusiastic, tireless and vibrant champion of the good work the foundation does. And I would like to acknowledge the support given by the Kingborough Council and the Rotary Club of D’Entrecasteaux Channel, of which I am a very proud member. I would also like to thank my wonderful staff and my family for all their hard work putting this event together. Finally, I would like to thank all the people who turned up, who registered or who made donations online and helped raise funds for this very important cause. Without them, we would not have been able to raise so much awareness and money for this very worthwhile cause.