Peter Mac News

Daring to hope for a pancreatic cancer advance

01 April 2024

Peter Mac’s Dr Michael Lee wants to re-write the game plan on pancreatic cancer.

A completely new approach is needed for this hard-to-treat cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of just 13%.

“Pancreatic cancer hides in the shadows,” says Dr Lee, a clinician scientist who is working on new RNA-based therapies for this cancer.

“It has so far remained difficult to treat even in the era of immunotherapy, but RNA research is providing us a new glimpse into how this evasive cancer operates.

“My hope is that we can have a new type of weapon against cancer. I’m hoping to achieve a seismic shift in outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients.”

Dr Lee was today announced - at the Hawks versus Cats “Dare to Hope” AFL match at the MCG - as inaugural recipient of the Paul Dear Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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The provides $360,000 over three years, a timeline in which Dr Lee hopes a novel pancreatic cancer treatment could be advanced to a clinical trial.

This AFL match, which raises research funds and awareness, is part of the legacy of the late Hawthorn great Paul Dear who sadly died from pancreatic cancer in 2022.

His wife Cherie Dear is determined to “change the status quo” on pancreatic cancer.

“Michael’s research is extremely exciting as it gives us a real chance to make that breakthrough and bring hope to the thousands of people who are diagnosed with this disease each year,” she says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Prof Grant McArthur, who heads the Peter Mac lab that Dr Lee is part of.

“We need to understand pancreatic cancer in a way that will open up totally new ways of treating it to overcome treatment barriers, because current drugs and a history of using chemotherapy has not produced the goods,” Prof McArthur says.

“Michael’s work is exciting because not only will he undertake discovery research around RNA molecules and how they’re changed in pancreatic cancer, but as a clinician scientist he can lead new clinical trials at the same time.

“That’s the most exciting thing for me – I don’t want to wait 20 years for the next breakthrough. I want to move things forward fast, which is why we are now building drug treatments and assessing them as discovery research is underway.”

Around 4,500 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, and around 3,700 Australians die of this disease. It is Australia’s fourth most common cause of cancer death – only behind lung, colorectal and prostate cancer.