More patients with cancer who respond poorly to frontline treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy will have improved access to personalised medicine testing, thanks to an innovative program developed by Snowdome Foundation, Vision Super and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Vision Super has generously provided $300,000 over three years to increase access to blood cancer genetic testing, which is used to identify what could be life-saving treatments based on the unique genetic make-up of a person’s cancer.

The additional funding was collaboratively arranged in partnership with Snowdome, a charitable organisation which works to accelerate cutting-edge treatments for Australian blood cancer patients and provides recurrent funding for this genetic testing at Peter Mac.

The results of this genetic testing helps to guide next treatment steps for most patients and, for a proportion of patients, can identify mutations in their cancer for which a targeted drug is available or in clinical trials.

Peter Mac now performs these genetic tests for around 50 patients each week from around Victoria and Australia, and this capacity will increase thanks to the injection of funds.

“This testing is at the core of the emerging field of ‘personalised medicine’ for blood cancers,” says Peter Mac’s Clinical and Laboratory Haematologist Dr Piers Blombery, who performs the testing and leads the program.

“It is particularly important for patients with blood cancers who have a poor response, or who relapse much sooner than would be expected, after conventional treatment.”

“For those patients, this service can save lives or dramatically improve treatment outcomes, and so we are very grateful to Vision Super and the Snowdome Foundation for their support.”

The extra funding will allow Dr Blombery to bring on support staff to help him perform the tests, speed up the turn-around of results back to patients and conduct research into improved testing techniques.

Vision Super, an industry super fund which has around 100,000 members across Australia, felt moved to act by the high percentage of its members’ insurance claims which involve cancer.

“Just as in the general population, cancer affects many of our members. About quarter of our total and permanent disability claims are cancer-related and in almost half of paid life insurance claims where a member has passed away, the death was caused by cancer,” Vision Super CEO Stephen Rowe says.

“A huge part of what we do is assisting our members and their families who are impacted by cancer today. But there is also an important role we can and should play supporting the work of Australia’s world-leading cancer researchers and clinicians who are focused on reducing the personal, social and economic impact cancer in our communities now and into the future.”

Paul Omond, 35, is one patient to have benefited from genetic testing. After he was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer in 2012 he experienced severe side-effects from conventional therapy. His cancer returned within two years.

Genetic testing found his leukaemia cells contained a BRAF mutation, and he was then granted compassionate access to a drug specifically targeted to this gene mutation.

“From a personal perspective, not having to go through chemotherapy again was a massive relief,” says Paul.

“Prior to being granted access to the targeted treatment I was reluctant to do things like progress my career or take holidays as I was anticipating that I would be hospitalised after the chemotherapy.

“I’m now able to live life on my terms and not be controlled by a disease and words cannot describe how lucky I am that this type of treatment is available.”

The Snowdome Foundation was formed in 2010 with the aim of fast-tracking next-generation treatments for Australian blood cancer patients. This includes supporting genetic testing by Dr Blombery which will help to identify patients that will respond well to targeted drugs that are currently available or accessible in clinical trials.

“Our Foundation’s mission is to fund the acceleration of innovative cutting-edge treatments to give patients hope where they can’t normally find it. That’s our difference,” said Professor Richard Boyd, Director of the Snowdome Foundation.

“So we thank Vision Super enormously for partnering with us to allow Dr Blombery to pursue his ground-breaking research and ‘make hope real’ for Australians suffering from hard-to-treat blood cancers.”

Patient case study: Paul Omond, 35 of Scoresby

Paul was diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer called Hairy Cell Leukaemia in 2012. The severe side-effects he experienced from conventional therapy included internal bleeding that required part of his bowel to be removed and a three-month hospital stay. His leukaemia also relapsed within two years, much earlier than should be expected. Gene testing of Paul’s leukaemia cells found they contained a BRAF mutation which allowed him to go onto a novel targeted therapy specific to that mutation. Paul has had an excellent response to the drug Dabrefenib (Tafinlar) - which has been provided by the drug’s maker under compassionate access - and his cancer is now controlled with minimal side-effects. “Prior to being granted access to the targeted treatment I was reluctant to change employers and take holidays as I was anticipating that I would be hospitalised after the chemotherapy,” Paul says. “Tailoring cancer therapy based on genes has a massive impact on the lives of people diagnosed with cancer, and will have positive effects on our healthcare system.”

About Vision Super

Vision Super was established in 1947.  It is an industry fund, run only to benefit its members and not to make a profit for shareholders. It has around 100,000 members from across the municipal services industry and $8.3 billion in assets.

About Snowdome Foundation

Snowdome was formed in 2010 with a mission is to accelerate new therapies for Australian blood cancer (myeloma, lymphoma and leukaemia) patients to help them live longer, better lives. It aims to ‘unlock new treatments’ by channelling government and private philanthropic investment into early phase human clinical trials of next-generation drugs and therapies. Snowdome this year received the inaugural National Charity award in the 2016 Telstra Australian Business Awards in recognition of their outstanding work.