Groundbreaking research projects led by Peter Mac scientists and clinician researchers have attracted more than $19 million in the latest round of NHMRC grants. The funded projects include a major study of the role of vasculature in cancer progression, research into improved infection control in cancer patients, and improving the effectiveness of immunotherapies and personalised cancer treatments.

The NHMRC’s “Investigator Grants” round has allocated $19.62 million for 12 Peter Mac projects. This is from 27 applications, representing an institutional success rate of 44%.

“This is an excellent result for Peter Mac research at a time when there was some uncertainty about how applications would be viewed and assessed under the NHMRC’s new funding model,” says Professor Ricky Johnstone, who is Peter Mac’s Executive Director of Cancer Research.

“Peter Mac is proud to have internationally competitive and fully integrated research programs covering fundamental, translational, clinical and health services research.

“We look forward to the NHMRC continuing to support all aspects of health and medical research with high level funding for discovery-based research being an essential component of the translational pipeline.”

NHMRC Investigator Grants provide a sole investigator, at any career stage, with five-year funding for their project.

Six of Peter Mac’s twelve successful grants were awarded to talented early career researchers, now providing them the best opportunity to progress as the next generation of emerging research leaders.

There are also four grants to support research with a clear clinical focus, and co-funded through the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

“Congratulations to all of our grant recipients who are now perfectly placed to prosecute their exciting programs of research” Prof Johnstone says.

“Our successes are the result of an integrated effort of many researchers and support staff who dedicated considerable time and energy offering feedback and help during the application process. Thank you to everyone who was involved in producing such compelling applications.”

This was the first round of grants allocated under the National Health and Medical Research Council’s new funding model. This round accounts for around 40% of NHMRC funding for the year.

2019 NHMRC Investigator Grants for Peter Mac research

* denotes grants co-funded by MRFF

Andrew Cox ($1,504,485) - “Transcriptional reprogramming of metabolism in liver cancer”. This research will integrate metabolomics, transcriptomic and advanced imaging approaches in zebrafish to understand how metabolic reprogramming fuels cancer growth, which may reveal vulnerabilities for exploitation in the development of future therapeutic strategies.

Shom Goel ($1,443,588*) - “Improving breast cancer outcomes by overcoming resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors”. The goal of this research is gather new insights into how metastatic breast cancers develop resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors, including immune-mediated and tumour cell-intrinsic mechanisms, and to use these insights to overcome CD4/6 inhibitor resistance in the clinic.

Simon Hogg ($639,750) - “Targeting the cancer epigenome to augment anti-tumour immunity”. This project will focus on developing diverse modalities to therapeutically exploit RNA splicing in cancer, including promoting anti-tumour immunity and augmenting the effectiveness of immunotherapies.

Grant McArthur ($1,600,000*) - “Achieving durable responses to targeted therapies in cancer”. This research aims to improve the durability of response to targeted therapies in BRAF mutant cancer, focusing on identifying mechanisms of early resistance and adaptation that may reveal new vulnerabilities that could be exploited to extend therapy response and survival.

Danny Rischin ($2,678,912) - “Defining the role of immunotherapy and immune biomarkers in head and neck and cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas”. This research will evaluate through clinical trials the diverse activities of immunotherapies and identify prognostic biomarkers in advanced head and neck cancers, with a focus on cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) and human papilloma virus associated oropharyngeal carcinoma (HPVOPC).

Clare Slaney ($632,934) - “CAR T cells and "A Good BEATing" for cancer therapy”. The aim of this project is to generate new and safe approaches that allow for the expansion of cancer-targeting CAR T cells without the need for a specific vaccine, overcoming the limitations of individualistic CAR T treatment approaches for solid cancers.

Monica Slavin ($1,692,950*) - “Changing management of infections in the immunocompromised”. This research aims to improve cancer patient outcomes by identifying and monitoring new and emerging infections, enhancing diagnostic capabilities and ultimately precision administration of antimicrobials with updated evidence driven guidelines.

Ben Solomon ($2,682,424*) - “Delivering Personalised Medicine for Lung Cancer”. This research will develop and evaluate new treatments for lung cancer patients through a suite of phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials testing novel targeted therapies and immunotherapy approaches, and to identify biomarkers of response to guide clinical decision making.

Steven Stacker ($2,853,030) - “Targeting the Vascular Microenvironment in Human Disease”. This project aims to understand the specific molecules that regulate the biological activity of blood and lymphatic vessels in cancers to develop new anti-cancer therapeutics, and to define mechanisms of resistance to therapies that target the tumour vasculature.

Joe Trapani ($1,701,595) - “Immunobiology of cancer and new cancer treatments”. This research will study the mechanisms of immune cell killing in cancer and non-cancer contexts through the combined actions of perforin and granzymes to devise new approaches to cancer immunotherapy and enhance the potency of existing anti-cancer therapies.

Stephin Vervoort ($639,750) - “Targeting the transcription cycle for cancer therapy”. The aim of this project is to improve the fundamental understanding of transcriptional (dys)regulation in cancer, with a focus on cyclin dependent kinases, and to identify new targets for the development of pharmacological inhibitors to improve current cancer therapies.

Adam Palmer ($1,554,485) - “Addressing cancer heterogeneity with biomarker-guided combination therapies”. This research will identify biological determinants of heterogeneity in response to cancer therapies, in order to yield biomarkers to inform patient selection for clinical trials of new combination therapies.