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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

‘As a researcher in genomics and precision oncology, I can’t accept that we choose to fail those most in need,’ says Professor David Thomas

Health Industry Hub | June 26, 2024 |

Pharma News: With one Australian dying from cancer every ten minutes, and up to a third of these deaths due to rare cancers, Professor David Thomas is addressing the National Press Club on Rare Cancers Awareness Day today

Australians with rare cancers have 40% fewer standard treatment options than those with common cancers.

Professor Thomas, Chief Science and Strategy Officer at Omico and Director of the Centre of Molecular Oncology at UNSW, said “Cancer is the modern plague, with 51,000 Australians dying every year. It is a genetic disease caused by mutations in the DNA. Genomic technologies can ‘read’ DNA and map these unique cancer mutations, enabling matching to precision medicines which are incredibly powerful and only target the mutations in the cancer. The results are extraordinary. The science is unquestionable – precision oncology can extend and save lives.”

He stressed the urgency of his message.

“It is a great honour to address the National Press Club on Rare Cancers Awareness Day – but my message must be for immediate action. Australia’s health technology assessment (HTA) is out of date. On average, almost 18 months pass after a drug is shown to be effective and safe before it becomes publicly reimbursed – if it does get reimbursed. We have a system designed for incremental advances, one drug at a time, rather than for transformative healthcare like precision oncology.”

He underscored the need for action to accelerate access and equity, especially for patients with rare cancers who suffer long-term disadvantages under the current model.

“I’d like to leave a permanent dent in a big problem,” Professor Thomas told Health Industry Hub in a recent interview which also included Associate Professor Craig Underhill, Medical Oncologist, Albury-Wodonga.

Genomics has proven effective, with an analysis from Omico’s Molecular Screening and Therapeutics Study (MoST) finding that more than one in three participants (37.5%) had biomarkers in their cancer with good clinical evidence for therapeutic benefit. Those who accessed matched therapies based on their biomarkers had a median survival time double that of those receiving unmatched therapy.

The Omico cancer genomics initiative, PrOSPeCT (Precision Oncology Screening Platform Enabling Clinical Trials), is the largest of its kind in Australia. Funded by public/private partnerships, PrOSPeCT is providing 23,000 Australians with advanced, incurable, or poor prognosis cancers free comprehensive genomic profiling and potential matching to precision medicines.

Over 6,000 Australians with hard-to-treat cancers and very limited treatment options have been referred to PrOSPeCT. Three out of four (75%) had an actionable genetic biomarker identified within their cancer, providing potential for matching to precision medicines that would otherwise remain unexplored.

“As a nation, we are in a position today to provide those battling cancer with the tools to fight using rapidly advancing technologies – so they can have a little more time with their families. We cannot turn our backs,” Professor Thomas urged. “As a researcher on the frontline of genomics and precision oncology, I can’t accept that we choose to fail those most in need.”

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