Peter Mac has received more than $6.3 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council's Investigator Grant scheme to support our highest-performing researchers.

Congratulations to ovarian cancer researcher Professor David Bowtell, and prostate cancer researchers Professor Michael Hofman and Associate Professor Shahneen Sandhu who have all received funding, administered through the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology at the University of Melbourne, in this latest round.

Executive Director of Cancer Research, Professor Ricky Johnstone, says all at Peter Mac are delighted with their success.

"Results like these show the depth of talent we have here at Peter Mac, both in laboratory and clinical research," he says.

"We know this will lead to fantastic fundamental discoveries about cancer onset and progression leading to real improvements for the patients we treat, and all Australians affected by cancer."

Below are summaries of what our researchers will be using the funding for:

  • Professor David Bowtell – Driving improvements in ovarian cancer survival through molecular and clinical studies

This grant will support Professor Bowtell, one of the world’s leading ovarian cancer researchers. His work focuses on clinical problems of chemotherapy resistance, investigations of rare, exceptional survival patient cohorts, and the development of new therapeutic approaches. His studies are underpinned by the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study (AOCS), one of the world’s most sophisticated clinical cohort studies of ovarian cancer.

  • Professor Michael Hofman – Personalised medicine to improve outcomes for men with prostate cancer through seamless integration of novel imaging and targeted therapy (theranostics)

This grant will enable Professor Hofman as a clinician-scientist to improve outcomes for men with prostate cancer, a disease resulting in more than 3,000 deaths in Australia annually, by using a technology called theranostics. Theranostics uses radioactive tumour-seeking molecules to integrate whole body imaging and a targeted treatment. He will develop clinical trials with global impact and use artificial intelligence image interpretation to better define patient prognosis and select optimal therapy.

  • Associate Professor Shahneen Sandhu – Improving outcomes for men with advanced prostate cancer through innovative clinical trials and biomarker development

Prostate cancer is a common disease and the median survival advantage from novel androgen receptor targeted agents for men with castration resistant disease is measured in months, and is not cumulative due to underlying cross-resistance. Associate Professor Sandhu's research program aims to understand the biology of aggressive forms of prostate cancer, define new immune and molecular targets and undertake novel biomarker driven clinical trials that will co-develop new combinations and biomarkers for optimal patient selection.

In other grants news, Dr Dane Vassiliadis and Dr Lev Kats have recently both been awarded funding from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in the US. Dr Kats's research project was also supported by Snowdome Foundation and the Leukaemia Foundation.

Below are summaries of their research projects:

  • Dr Dane Vassiliadis – Targeting non-genetic mechanisms of therapeutic resistance in acute myeloid leukaemia

Acute myeloid leukaemia is an aggressive form of blood cancer caused by mutations to DNA that prevent blood stem cells from developing into the functional cell types that comprise human blood. Drug resistance remains the most significant obstacle to managing and ultimately curing acute myeloid leukaemia and cancer more broadly. Current methods to identify drug resistant cells look for new mutations in the DNA of malignant cells that suggest the tumour is evolving to evade treatment. However, we and others have shown that acute myeloid leukaemia cells can develop resistance without new DNA mutations, allowing these resistant cells to go undetected by current techniques until full blown relapse has occurred. This research proposal has the potential to significantly increase acute myeloid leukaemia patients’ chances of survival by accelerating our understanding of the role of these non-genetic mechanisms on drug resistance in acute myeloid leukaemia and potentially other cancers.

  • Dr Lev Kats – Targeting DCAF1 as a novel treatment strategy for therapy resistant multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a common blood cancer with an increasing incidence in Australia and the US. Treatment outcomes in multiple myeloma have significantly improved with the introduction of novel non-chemo treatments, in particular those targeting the way the cancerous plasma cells process proteins internally. Unfortunately, despite initial clinical responses, the majority of patients relapse with treatment-resistant disease and multiple myeloma is considered incurable. New therapeutic approaches that are active in treatment-resistant disease are urgently required. Using CRISPR gene-editing technology, we looked for essential components of multiple myeloma cell protein processing machinery and identified that a protein called ‘DCAF1’ is required to keep multiple myeloma cells alive. The medicinal chemists in our team then devised a series of drug prototypes that could inhibit DCAF1. Our lead DCAF1 inhibitor is very potent and kills both MM cell lines and MM cells from patients. Our group is now positioned to translate these findings to early phase clinical studies, but more work is required to make this critical step forward.