La Trobe University: Funding success for cancer research

Four researchers from the ONJCRI have been awarded a Development Grant to further their research in anti-tumour immune responses – advancing it to a stage where the team can engage with commercial partners to develop discoveries from the laboratory, to experimental drugs for testing in early-stage clinical trials.

ONJCRI Director, Head of the La Trobe School of Cancer Medicine and Chief Investigator on the project, Professor Matthias Ernst, welcomed the announcement, noting the significance of the grant in bridging the gap between lab-based findings and effective patient treatments.

“Translating exciting research discoveries into comprehensive data collection from which we can collaborate with commercial partners to develop real drugs that can be given to patients is one of the most important steps in developing new cancer treatments,” Professor Ernst said.

“The funding from the Development Grant will help us to overcome this hurdle, which otherwise is otherwise also referred to as the ‘Valley of Death’ where many of Australia’s discoveries get stuck.”

Professor Ernst said the research has the potential to radically transform immunotherapy treatment in the future.

“Macrophages, a type of white blood cell, can suppress the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy. Our team has identified a molecule called HCK, which prevents macrophages to inhibit anti-tumour immune responses,” Professor Ernst said.

“We have already identified molecules that can inhibit HCK in preclinical models. Our challenge now is to develop these models into drug-like molecules which then can be tested in clinical trials in cancer patients.”

The ONJCRI is well placed to translate scientific research into cutting edge patient treatments. Being uniquely located within the Olivia Newton John Cancer Centre at Austin Health, the institute operates a number of clinical trials, linking outcomes directly with clinical teams and suitable patients to achieve the best possible treatment results.

La Trobe’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds congratulated the team, saying that the funding is recognition of the School’s reputation for translating basic research into real patient outcomes.

“La Trobe researchers are dedicated to improving health outcomes for those affected by disease. This funding will enable the research team to make significant advances in cancer medicine – benefiting the many individuals and families around the world currently impacted by cancer.”

Professor Ernst commended the team, including ONJCRI colleagues Professor Andrew Scott, Drs Gangadhara Gangadhara and Julian Clark as well as Associate Professor Paul Stupple and Professor Andrew Wilks from Monash University, alongside colleagues from Canthera Discovery, a Melbourne-based small molecule drug discovery and development organization.

“This announcement is a great acknowledgement of the research being led by ONJCRI, La Trobe’s School of Cancer Medicine and our partners. Grant funding such as this is crucial for us to continue to translate basic research into treatments that will make a positive impact on individuals affected by cancer,” said Professor Ernst.

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