More Victorians newly diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) can now access fully-subsidised sophisticated genomics testing which can divert them into more effective treatments. The cost of testing 240 CLL patients - newly diagnosed from now until May 2019 - has been covered thanks to a generous philanthropic contribution to Peter Mac’s Molecular Haematology Laboratory.

The funding was provided by the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics, which is based in the Molecular Haematology Laboratory at Peter Mac, with support from the Snowdome Foundation.

CLL is the most common form of leukaemia diagnosed in Australia, and the tests determine whether a CLL patient has either of two clinically important gene mutations (TP53 or IGHV).

“Checking if a patient has these gene mutations upfront can tell us whether to expect a good outcome from standard chemo-immunotherapy or whether we need to consider other treatments,” says Dr Piers Blombery, who is a clinical and laboratory haematologist and medical lead of Peter Mac’s Molecular Haematology Laboratory.

“For the patient, this is no more difficult than a standard blood test and it ensures we embark on personalised treatment that is most likely to work for them.”

CLL patients with TP53 inactivation – either by deletion or mutation of this gene – are known to have significantly inferior outcomes from standard chemo-immunotherapy.

These patients do better on novel agents such as BTK inhibitors or BH3-mimetic agents which are currently accessible through clinical trials or compassionate access programs.

Patients with a mutated IGHV gene and no TP53 mutation are known to do better, and can achieve long-term remissions, from standard chemo-immunotherapy.

A paper published this year in the journal Blood recommended testing of TP53/IGVH mutation status as part of standard-of-care in patients with CLL. Despite its importance, not enough patients receive this testing due, in part, to out-of-pocket costs.

The philanthropic support means Peter Mac can provide this testing to more CLL patients both at Peter Mac and across Victoria. Doctors can provide blood samples from eligible patients for fully–subsidised processing at Peter Mac, meaning no cost to the patient.

“By providing fully-subsidised TP53 and IGHV mutation testing we hope to support more patients with CLL to attain the most appropriate personalised upfront treatment,” Dr Blombery says.

Bruce Wilson says his family’s philanthropic motivation was to ensure more lymphoma patients benefit from genomic testing.

“We were inspired by how much genetic testing could save lives and improve the quality of life for lymphoma patients, which is exactly what this pilot program sets out to achieve,” Mr Wilson says.   

Rob Tandy, co-founder and Director of the Snowdome Foundation says: “it is Snowdome’s mission to accelerate access to next generation treatments. The introduction of genomic testing allows patients to be fast tracked to personalised treatment, so we are very pleased to be partnering in this initiative”.

To be eligible patients must live in Victoria and be aged less than 70 years.  See more information in the request form for haematologists.

About Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics

Christine and Bruce Wilson were inspired by how much genetic testing can save lives and improve the quality of life for lymphoma patients. This led to their inspiring donation of $5.5 million dollars towards the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics. The donation will allow over 1,000 lymphoma patients every year to receive the benefits of genomic testing.

About CLL

Each year in Australia around 1000 people are diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), a slow-growing blood cancer which affects developing B-lymphocytes (also known as white blood cells or B-cells). These cells play an important role in how our bodies fight off infection and disease. In people with CLL, lymphocytes can undergo a malignant change and can multiply in an uncontrolled way and accumulate in the bone marrow, bloodstream, lymph nodes and other parts of the body. While CLL is a relatively uncommon cancer, it is the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in Australia. More: