ONJCRI - LTU School of Cancer Medicine Research Scholarships

Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (LTU School of Cancer Medicine) Research Scholarships

General Projects and Scholarships

You can join our institute and study with renowned scientists with excellent publication records who are committed to helping you build a successful career in translational cancer research. Our translational research approach means that every day you’ll be able to work alongside clinicians, collaborating in the laboratory and at the bedside, to develop breakthrough therapies to help people feel better, sooner.

We have seven research programs and are currently on the search for more brilliant student scientists to join our team.
To review our research programs please go to the link below and email your area of interest to our student co-ordinator.

Our Research Programs


Breast Cancer Dormancy – Mechanisms and Development of Rational New Therapies

Breast Cancer Dormancy – Mechanisms and Development of Rational New Therapies

Supervisor: A/Prof Sarah Ellis and Prof Robin Anderson

Laboratory: Receptor Biology Laboratory

In Australia, over 3000 women die from breast cancer each year, and worldwide, over 520,000 women will die. Their cause of death is nearly always uncontrollable secondary tumours, or metastases. Distant metastatic disease is detected in up to 20% of those diagnosed with breast cancer, ultimately resulting in their death. Cancer relapse can occur years or decades after the initial diagnosis and treatment, causing ongoing fear and anxiety for patients.

It is evident that disseminated tumour cells (DTC) can remain in a clinically undetectable dormant state for years before causing a relapse. Since many types of chemotherapy rely on disrupting cell division, tumour cells in a dormant state are resistant to such therapies. To prevent recurrences and reduce breast cancer deaths, we need therapies that can either minimise release from dormancy or completely eradicate dormant cells. Indirect evidence for the existence of residual disease in patients comes from detection of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) or cell-free tumour DNA in blood samples. The difficulty of directly detecting and analysing residual disease in patients, in combination with the challenges of modelling dormancy in the laboratory has resulted in only fragmented knowledge of the establishment of DTCs in distant organs and their outgrowth into metastases.

The aim of this project is to use our preclinical models of breast cancer dormancy to image and isolate cells in the dormant cell niche in bone and lung and to generate transcriptomic profiles of both tumour cells and the surrounding host cells. With this knowledge, we will assess the efficacy of therapies designed to maintain tumour dormancy or target a dormancy-specific vulnerability to eradicate these cells. We will use mouse-based breast cancer models that naturally display dormancy to image and investigate the tumour cell niche in mice using confocal and multiphoton microscopy. Tumour cells will be recovered for transcriptomic profiling as a basis for testing different therapies designed to either maintain dormancy of disseminated tumour cells or to specifically target dormant cells.

Techniques involved:

  • High power microscopy
  • Mammalian cell tissue culture
  • Growth of tumours in mice
  • Transcriptomic profiling by RNA sequencing


Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar has been awarded the highly prestigious NHMRC Investigator grant

Targeting Tregs for cancer treatment

After recently joining the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) as Head of the Tissue and Tumour Immunity Laboratory, Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar has been awarded the highly prestigious NHMRC Investigator grant for his cutting-edge research exploring Regulatory T cells (Tregs) which aims to transform the future of cancer treatment.

Ajith was just in high school when Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from a single cell, was born in Scotland. It was a world away from his high school in southern India, but it sparked a curiosity of genetic engineering and a love of science that eventually brought him to the other side of the world.

“I’ve always loved science; my father was a teacher and so I was always learning. I never really expected to work in cancer research to be honest, my initial work was in biotechnology, but as my career progressed my research started to focus on immunology, and so I have found myself in this exciting area.”

Scientific interest to fast-paced career

After finishing his PhD in Biotechnology, Ajith took up an opportunity to start his postdoc at the Burnet Institute where he began working on immune cells. After a brief stint, he joined the Molecular Immunology division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, before becoming a Research Fellow at the Peter Doherty Institute.

“It was at WEHI where I initiated studies on understanding how Tregs adapt to different tissues. I made the landmark discovery that Tregs in the adipose tissue require a growth factor called IL-33. This forms the basis of my current research of investigating tissue specific homeostatic mechanisms of Tregs.”

Cutting edge cancer research

In February this year Ajith was recruited to the ONJCRI to study the mechanisms of Treg mediated immune suppression in cancer and discover methods to tackle this urgent clinical need which has ultimately earned him the highly regarded NHMRC Investigator grant.

Regulatory T Cells, or Tregs, are suppressor immune cells that reside in almost every organ of the body. They play a key role in suppressing an immune response and preventing autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory conditions. However, in the context of cancer, they dampen beneficial cancer killing immune responses and consequently promote cancer.

“Targeting or blocking suppressor immune cells is a good strategy for the treatment of cancer. Tregs are known to promote cancer by suppressing cancer killing immune cells. My group aims to identify a mechanism that could be harnessed to target Tregs for cancer treatment.”

While Tregs are harmful in the context of cancer, they are essential to prevent autoimmune diseases. Blocking or targeting all Tregs in the body would for many people lead to autoimmune complications.

“Our research aims to discover molecules and pathways that could be used to target Tregs within the tumour or tumour bearing tissue. This precision approach will therefore circumvent any adverse effects of systemic Treg targeting for cancer treatment.”

“We hope to do this by identifying molecules utilised by Tregs to migrate and sustain in tumours or tumour bearing organs and block these mechanisms to disable Tregs.  This approach will specifically block Tregs within tumours or tumour bearing organs to avoid autoimmune complications.”

With immune suppression a major driver of cancer and bottle neck in cancer immunotherapy, Ajith’s research is hugely important and is critical for the treatment of cancer.

“Several of the current immunotherapy approaches are unsuccessful in diverse cancer types (breast and colon for example) and Treg targeting would potentially improve the efficacy of existing immunotherapy modalities. Metastasis is a grave concern in the cancer field and targeting Tregs could also serve as a treatment option for metastatic cancer.”

Transforming cancer treatment

Ajith’s work is exciting to say the least, he talks enthusiastically about the potential of his pioneering research and what cancer treatment might look like in the not-so-distant future.

“While several existing methods are aimed at boosting cancer killing immune cells, treatment approaches to revert immune suppression is lacking. Precision targeting of Tregs will emerge as the next generation immunotherapy strategy to combat cancer.”

“The future of cancer research is exciting. We’ve come a long way over the past 50 years, from initially cutting out tumours, to targeted radiation and chemotherapy and now Immunotherapy, which is revolutionizing cancer treatment. It’s exciting to think where we could be in another 50 years.”


Research paints new picture of breast cancer spread and potential treatment

A new study has shed coloured light on how an aggressive breast cancer spreads to vital organs, and on potential genetic targets and drug treatments.

The study, published in Science Advances, used optical barcode technology to ‘paint a picture’ of which Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) cells spread to lungs and liver in pre-clinical models, and how the cells adapted to and colonised their new homes.

The research found these new homes had a strong impact on different behaviour: the gene expression of the cells had changed from the primary tumour to lung and liver metastases, and this was influenced by neighbouring cells in these tissues.

“Our study revealed that cancer cells have the ability to interact with each other, especially in lung metastases where many different TNBC cells clustered together as multi-coloured groups,” said Dr Jean Berthelet, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Tumour Progression and Heterogeneity (TPH) Laboratory at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and La Trobe University’s School of Cancer Medicine.

Dr Berthelet and TPH Laboratory Head Dr Delphine Merino led the study in collaboration with Dr Verena Wimmer and Dr Kelly Rogers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Professor Frederic Hollande from the University of Melbourne.

The researchers successfully killed lung and liver metastatic cells with a drug that induces cell death. They also found that a drug used for the treatment of auto-immune diseases could break up the cancer-cell groups in the lungs. Reducing the diversity and communication within groups of cancer cells may enable future treatment strategies, including combined drug treatments.

Breast cancer tumours are composed of cells that are genetically different from each other. Some cells have the ability to spread and grow in other vital organs, often many years after the primary tumours appear. Darwinian theory may also have a say in which cells are successful. Genetic diversity ensures the survival of the sneakiest, including those cancer cells that can traverse the circulatory system, and evade the immune system and standard treatment.

TNBC patients have a higher risk of cancer relapses, including metastases in the liver, lungs, bones and brain. Treatment is often limited to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“One of the biggest challenge in breast cancer research is identifying the different cancer cells in a tumour so we can better predict which patient is likely to experience cancer recurrence and find new treatments,” said Dr Merino. “In this study, we were looking for genes that could be targeted by certain drugs to kill aggressive TNBC cells.”

To identify these genes, researchers used fluorescent proteins derived from jellyfish and sea anemones to tag individual TNBC cells with one of 31 different colours. This strategy, called LeGO, enabled them to track the fate of each cell: its movement, the number of ‘offspring’ it produced and its ability to cluster with one of the other 30 coloured cells in the metastases.

They then used genetic sequencing to examine the genetic difference between the same-coloured cancer cells in the primary tumour, the lung metastases and liver metastases.

“We are very grateful to the patients who donated precious samples to cancer research, and we are hoping that some of these results could be used to find better therapeutic strategies for patients with aggressive breast tumours and metastases,” said Dr Merino.

The Susan G. Komen foundation, Cancer Australia, the Australian National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Love your sister Foundation and Cancer Council Victoria supported this study.

Read the full study here


New collaboration focuses on cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy

A new collaborative research program developed by the Research Centre for Molecular Cancer Prevention at La Trobe, in partnership with the Cancer Biology Research Center (CBRC) at Tel Aviv University and ONJCRI, as the La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine; has seen the development of three new cancer research projects, funded through a new international collaboration. The projects focus on cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy.

The collaboration between the three institutions developed from a workshop in which scientists from the institutions identified areas where complementary research could drive significant breakthroughs in cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy.

The innovative research projects address issues that impact the lives of cancer patients in Australia, Israel and the rest of the world. The projects are:

Investigating the role of p53 in metastatic organotropism of breast cancer using optical barcoding

This project will investigate new molecular markers for breast cancer to help predict the risk of brain metastasis and provide new avenues for breast cancer therapy

  • Dr Delphine Merino, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute Adjunct, School of Cancer Medicine at La Trobe University
  • Dr Uri Ben-David, Sackler Faculty of Medicine Tel-Aviv University. 

A new strategy of targeting c-MYC for treating familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

This project will test a combination of two clinically-approved drugs as a new cancer prevention strategy for families with higher genetic risk of colon cancer.

Reprogramming the tumour microenvironment of glioblastoma to improve response to chemotherapy

This project will develop a new combination therapy for glioblastoma that uses a novel drug that alters immune function in the tissue surrounding the tumour to make it more responsive to chemotherapy.

 

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Prof Susan Dodds said the research will resonate with the health sector as well as those who are facing cancer.

“La Trobe researchers are focused on improving lives and health outcomes of people around the world. This collaboration enables our experts to work with other researchers to advance their understanding and develop treatments and therapies for cancer. The three projects which have been chosen will have a positive impact on the many individuals and families who are affected by cancer.”

Prof Dan Peer, Vice President for Research and Development at Tel Aviv University is pleased at the new partnership.

“Tel Aviv University has a long-standing commitment for identifying novel biomarkers, improve cancer diagnostics and generate novel therapeutic modalities to treat cancer. It is a pleasure to strengthen our relationship with La Trobe University and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in Melbourne.”

Prof Matthias Ernst, ONJCRI Director agreed.

“Funding initiatives like this one provide a fantastic opportunities for our brightest scientists across two continents to bring together their talents to address issues which ultimately impact on how we can treat cancer patients better.”

Ron Gerstenfeld, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel, Canberra, said, “The Embassy is delighted to take part in this significant initiative, bringing together exceptional scientists from both Australia and Israel and promoting new avenues for cancer research. Collaborations like this are only one example of the great potential of cooperation between our countries and the important contributions they have not only on a local, but also a global scale.”


MRFF funding awarded to researchers

La Trobe University and ONJCRI researchers (as the La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine) will advance knowledge of transplant cure rates for Hodgkin Lymphoma, therapy for thyroid cancer, and other fields, thanks to $5.97 million awarded to La Trobe in the latest round of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF funding scheme aims to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

La Trobe University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Prof Susan Dodds is thrilled with La Trobe’s success.

“La Trobe researchers are focused on improving lives and health outcomes of people around the world. This funding enables our researchers together with clinical partners to advance their understanding and develop treatments and therapies for diseases like cancer, which affect so many individuals and families,” Prof Dodds said.

“I am particularly pleased that three of the successful projects are from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute which is La Trobe University's School of Cancer Medicine. This School is located in the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre, a comprehensive cancer centre at Austin Health. This important partnership between institutions is focused on discovering and developing breakthrough cancer therapies to provide the best health outcomes for patients. It is great that their important work has been recognised with this funding.”

Prof Matthias Ernst, Head of the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine, agreed.

“The three ONJCRI MRFF funded projects will enable us to perform the cutting edge translational research that will make a real difference to treatment outcomes for cancer patients and allow our laboratory scientist to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms on which we can build our next discoveries,” Prof Ernst said.

About the research projects

I-124 PET Directed Redifferentiation Therapy for Radioiodine Refractory Thyroid Cancer - the I-FIRST Study

Led by: Prof Andrew Scott AM

For patients with advanced thyroid cancer, tumours that no longer trap radioiodine have an extremely poor prognosis and more effective treatments are urgently required. This study will examine whether redifferentiation therapy is able to resensitize tumours to radioiodine treatment and improve patient survival and quality of life.

 

Employing rational novel agent combination therapy to improve transplant cure rates for relapsed/refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma

Led by: A/Prof Eliza Hawkes

Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) is a rare malignancy, with 500 new cases annually in young Australians. While 70 per cent of patients are cured with front line treatment, 30 per cent of patients require second line therapy which often fails resulting in death. Immunotherapy and targeted therapies have dramatically improved survival in haematological malignancies. This study will combine two agents currently approved in recurrent HL to maximise survival of these young Australians.

 

Repurposing valproate for the treatment of colorectal cancer

Led by: Prof Niall Tebbutt

Colorectal cancer is a major cause of cancer related deaths for which there is an urgent need to develop new treatments. The drug valproate has been used to treat epilepsy and mood disorders for over 50 years. We have found that valproate can profoundly increase the anti-tumour activity of a class of drugs known as EGFR inhibitors in laboratory models of colon cancer. We will now test the activity of this drug combination in a phase II clinical trial in patients with advanced colon cancer.

 

Congratulations also to Prof Della Forster, from the La Trobe University School of Nursing and Midwiferywhose project will focus on the ‘Impact of midwife-led group antenatal care and education on caesarean section’.


Bioinformatics in cancer research and therapy symposium - 10 June 2021

Registrations and abstract submissions are now open for our one day symposium focusing on the development and application of bioinformatics methods in cancer research.

About this event

The Bioinformatics in Cancer Research and Therapy Symposium is a virtual, one day research event that will be hosted by our Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics Laboratory on 10 June 2021. The main focus of the symposium is on the development and application of bioinformatics methods in various areas of cancer research.

Invited speakers

Call for abstracts now open 

Presenters are invited to submit abstracts for their oral and e-poster presentations in any of the following themes:

Symposium themes

  1. Bioinformatics and cancer genomics - Bioinformatics methodology development for analysing cancer genomics data or biological discoveries made from the analysis of such data.
  2. Bioinformatics in cancer therapy - Successful application of bioinformatics, such as genome-wide expression and mutation profiling, in the development of novel cancer therapies such as immunotherapy.
  3. Single-cell genomics - Bioinformatics methodology development for analysing single-cell genomics data and the application of single-cell genomics in cancer studies.
  4. Machine learning and AI in cancer - The use of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Submission guidelines

  • All abstracts should be submitted via email to bioinf@onjcri.org.au
  • A word limit of 250 words applies for all abstracts
  • Abstracts/interest to present should be submitted by 10 April 2021
  • Authors should indicate if their abstract should be considered for either oral presentation, e-poster presentation or both
  • Indicate if the presenting author is a student

Key dates

  • Abstract submissions: 10 March 2021
  • Abstract submissions close: 10 April 2021
  • Notification of abstract acceptance: TBA
  • Symposium attendance registrations open: 10 March 2021 - book now
  • Symposium attendance registrations close: 9 June 2021
  • Symposium: 10 June 2021

Launch of The Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine

ONJCRI's Prof Andrew Scott, AM, Head of our Tumour Targeting Program and Director of the Austin Health Department of Molecular Imaging and Therapy, is part of a global team working to better understand the inequitable access to imaging and nuclear medicine resources across the world. The following article highlights the announcement of this work.

Vienna, Austria: The Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine, launched on 4 March 2021 during the European Congress of Radiology 2021, presents results from the first-ever comprehensive effort to quantify imaging and nuclear medicine resources worldwide, highlighting dramatic inequalities in access to these resources. It also shows for the first time that scaling up access to imaging and nuclear medicine for cancer patients in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) would yield substantial health and economic benefits, and it calls for an overarching global strategy to address this need.

By 2030, worldwide, annual numbers of new cancer cases and cancer deaths are expected to reach roughly 22 million and 13 million, respectively. Even more concerning, approximately 80% of the disability-adjusted life years lost to cancer are in LMICs, where only about 5% of the global funding for cancer control and care is applied. Imaging is essential to provide timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment selection and planning, and optimal outcomes for patients with cancer.

“The aim of the Commission was to provide data and guidance to catalyze sustainable improvement of medical imaging and nuclear medicine services for cancer management, particularly in LMICs,” explains lead Commissioner Dr. Hedvig Hricak from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York/USA.

Under the Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) led a global effort to collect and collate data on equipment and workforce, with a focus on LMICs through the IAEA Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine Global Resources Database (IMAGINE). The effort revealed substantial differences in the numbers of imaging units per million population between high-income and low- and middle-income countries, as well as variations within income groups. It also revealed that availability of a well-trained workforce for imaging and nuclear medicine is a major issue affecting access to and quality of these services. “To date, comprehensive information on appropriate levels of imaging and nuclear medicine facilities and workforce required for cancer care have been limited. The data obtained allows estimates of projected equipment and workforce scale-up requirements for diagnostic imaging in cancer care,” says Dr. May Abdel-Wahab, co-first author of the Commission and Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health.

A microsimulation model developed by researchers at Harvard University estimated that the scale-up of imaging would avert 3.2% (2.47 million) of all 76 million deaths caused by cancer worldwide between 2020 and 2030, saving 54.92 million life-years. Model estimates indicate that a comprehensive scale-up of imaging, treatment, and care quality would avert 9.55 million (12·5%) of all cancer deaths worldwide, saving 232.30 million life-years. Combining the scale-up of imaging, treatment, and quality of care would provide a net benefit of $2.66 trillion and a net return of $12.43 per $1 invested.

“For the first time, we have evidence demonstrating the substantial health and economic benefits of scaling up imaging and nuclear medicine access for health outcomes of cancer patients globally and we have a compelling economic case for further investment in global scale-up of imaging and nuclear medicine,” says Dr. Rifat Atun, co-first author of the Commission and Professor of Global health Systems at Harvard University.

“Now we need to get governments and funding bodies on board to work together on scaling up imaging infrastructure in LMICs,” adds Dr. Hricak.

The Commission proposes an ambitious call to action to realize the health and economic benefits of scaling up imaging to reduce cancer burden globally. This goal is aligned with the aims of the 2017 WHO Cancer Resolution and with UN health targets in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, particularly for reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases and implementing universal health coverage.

“The IAEA can support countries in upscaling their diagnostic imaging capabilities through fact-finding missions, technology transfer, capacity building, clinical research, education and training initiatives, quality management programs, and guidelines,” says Dr. May Abdel-Wahab.

"The Commission provides a clear path forward, and we look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders on implementing the call to action with the aim of improving cancer care for patients globally," says senior author of the Commission Prof Andrew Scott from Austin Health and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

The Commission concludes that science and technology are not the barriers to a worldwide equitable scale-up of effective cancer imaging diagnostics; rather, achieving equitable scale-up is a matter of vision and political will. Successful scale-up will result from effective political leadership, active participation from all major stakeholders, and the alignment of country-level and global efforts to expand access to medical imaging and nuclear medicine for cancer care. Efforts must take into account local and regional conditions (e.g., the prevalence of particular cancers and the availability of specific kinds of treatments, among other factors), and must be coordinated with the scale-up of other cancer care resources and universal health coverage. Prof David Collingridge, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet Oncology: “Cancer imaging is vital for accurate diagnosis and treatment, but huge global inequities exist and many of the world’s poorest countries suffer from a shortage or complete lack of the necessary technology and resources. We need to move the debate so that cancer imaging is placed alongside curative interventions as an essential component of comprehensive cancer care, and in turn, universal health coverage.”

 

The Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine was established in 2018, with the charge of examining global access to imaging and nuclear medicine for cancer care. The Commission brings together 17 leading global experts and the final report is peer reviewed and published in The Lancet Oncology. The report follows two previous Lancet Oncology Commissions in 2015 that assessed the gaps in access to cancer surgery and radiotherapy, and proposed actions to address the growing burden of cancer in LMICs. Find out more here: https://www.thelancet.com/lanonc/commissions 

The Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine is supported by the following 27 organizations: the African Association of Nuclear Medicine, the American College of Radiology, the Association of Latin American Societies of Biology and Nuclear Medicine, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nuclear Medicine, the Asia Oceania Federation of Nuclear Medicine and Biology, the African Organisation for Research & Training in Cancer, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Arab Society of Nuclear Medicine, the African Society of Radiology, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the European Association of Nuclear Medicine, the European Society for Medical Oncology, the European Society of Radiology, the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology, the Hong Kong College of Radiologists, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Society for Strategic Studies in Radiology, the International Society of Radiology, the National Cancer Institute, the Pan-Arab Association of Radiological Societies, the Radiological Society of North America, the South African Society of Nuclear Medicine, the Society of Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging, the Union for International Cancer Control, the World Federation of Nuclear Medicine and Biology, and the World Molecular Imaging Society.

Read the Commission at www.thelancet.com/commissions/medical-imaging-nuclear-medicine

 


Incredible efforts of Tour de Cure on their inaugural VIC Discovery Tour

On the weekend of 26-28 February 2021, 110 riders and support crew overcame COVID-19 restrictions to raise vital money for cancer research as part of the 2021 Tour de Cure Victorian Discovery Tour from Daylesford to Melbourne, via Ballarat and Ocean Grove.  They travelled through and supported rural Victorian towns, covering over 400km and 2000m elevation, and visited school children on the ride to present a strong message of ‘Be Fit, Be Healthy, Be Happy’.

Each cyclist has a personal connection to cancer, whether they be survivors, supporting loved ones with cancer, or paying tribute to loved ones that have succumbed to it, or as researchers or staff from ONJCRI. This tour raised over $480,000 (with a goal to hit
$500k by the end of March!) to support five research projects.

Geoff Coombes, Tour de Cure co-founder, says that they were proud to be partner with ONJCRI.

“Our inaugural Victorian Discovery Tour will bring four world class research projects to life at the ONJCRI, tackling stomach, colorectal, ovarian and rare cancers”, said Geoff.

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across the entire cancer research community, with a dramatic reduction and slowing of available funds. Thanks to the tireless fundraising efforts of every rider and support crew member, and the generous support of corporate partners, we were able to exceed the original target to fund four projects. The money raised will allow our team to further expand their cancer knowledge and work to find new cancer treatments.


Monepantel preclinical investigations to continue with PharmAust

PharmAust (ASX:PAA), a clinical-stage oncology company, has announced an extension of work for ONJCRI researchers to continue to investigate the mechanism of action of monepantel (MPL) upon cancer cells.

Researchers in our Cell Death and Survival Laboratory led by A/Prof Doug Fairlie and Dr Erinna Lee conducted a comprehensive RNA-Seq (RNA sequencing) screen investigating how the entire genome of cancer cells responds when treated with MPL. A select subset of genes was found to be either switched on or off by MPL in cancer cells, but not in non-cancer cells. The tested non-cancer cells’ mRNA profiles were relatively unaffected by MPL treatment.

Using state-of-the-art techniques, the team will now examine these genes in greater detail and match changes in their activity with changes in associated protein signalling pathways. These experiments are aimed at determining what happens within the cancer cell once MPL interacts with its primary molecular targets, and then exerts its downstream and definitive anti-cancer activity. Establishing MPL’s mechanism of action in this detail will enable differentiation of MPL’s effects upon cancer cells compared to other anti-cancer drugs, thus assisting with regulatory submissions and marketing moving through Phase III and IV trials.

Doug says “This is an exciting opportunity for us to move this study into its next phase and help us better understand the anticancer activity of MPL".

"This is important for the progression of the drug through the approval process so that it may eventually have real benefit for cancer patients.”

The work will be funded by PharmAust. PharmAust’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr Richard Mollard stated, “PharmAust is pleased to continue this productive relationship with ONJCRI. PharmAust is looking forward to seeing at the molecular level how MPL works in cells to combat disease, especially in terms of how MPL’s mechanism of action differs to other mTOR inhibitors presently in the clinic.”

 

About PharmAust (PAA):
PAA is a clinical-stage company developing therapeutics for both humans and animals. The company specialises in repurposing marketed drugs lowering the risks and costs of development. These efforts are supported by PAA’s subsidiary, Epichem, a highly successful contract medicinal chemistry company which generated $3.5 million in revenue in FY 2020.

PAA’s lead drug candidate is monepantel (MPL), a novel, potent and safe inhibitor of the mTOR pathway – a pathway having key influences in cancer growth and neurodegenerative diseases. MPL has been evaluated in Phase 1 clinical trials in humans and Phase 2 clinical trials in dogs. MPL treatment was well-tolerated in humans, demonstrating preliminary evidence of anticancer activity. MPL demonstrated objective anticancer activity in dogs. PAA is uniquely positioned to commercialise MPL for treatment of human and veterinary cancers as well as neurodegenerative disease as it advances a reformulated version of this drug through Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials.