Research that aims to understand and improve the immune system’s ability to fight cancer has been given a boost with funding support of $628,152 awarded to scientists at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI).

The funding, awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia and announced today, will support the work of Dr Miles Andrews and Dr Eliza Hawkes for the next four years.

Dr Andrews, a researcher and clinical oncologist, has been awarded the NHMRC CJ Martin Overseas Biomedical Fellowship to better understand which cancer patients will respond best to immunotherapy.

He will spend the first two years of his fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, before returning to ONJCRI, where he completed his PhD in September 2016.

Dr Andrews will use his fellowship funding to better identify those cancer patients who will benefit from therapies that boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

“The past 5-10 years have seen significant advances in the use of immunotherapy in cancer treatment,” Dr Andrews said. “However immunotherapy is not used in treating the majority of cancers so many patients have not had the opportunity to benefit from it.”

Dr Andrews aims to identify biomarkers that will give doctors better insights into which patients will respond well to immunotherapy.

Dr Hawkes, an honorary clinician researcher at ONJCRI, has been awarded an NHMRC health professional research fellowship to further her research into immunotherapy as a treatment for patients with lymphoma.

Lymphoma is the fifth most common cancer in Australia. Dr Hawkes will use her fellowship to evaluate immunotherapy as a treatment for three different types of lymphoma: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma.

“Early stage clinical trials suggest that immunotherapy is effective in treating patients who have had a lymphoma relapse, however it is not used routinely in these patients,” Dr Hawkes said. “My research will evaluate the effectiveness of new immunotherapies in treating patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma.”