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Ride funds new cancer therapy

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research has announced a major boost to its world-leading work into personalised cancer immunotherapy treatments.

The $2.7 million Flagship funding, most of which was raised by last year’s Rio Tinto Ride to Conquer Cancer, will advance QIMR’s groundbreaking work harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

QIMR director Professor Frank Gannon said researchers had already had early successes in using immunotherapy to treat particular cancers, and would now be able to build on their work and global reputation.

“This is the new frontier for cancer treatments, and helps establish Queensland as a global centre for cancer immunotherapy,” Professor Gannon said.

“Established cancer treatments currently include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and drugs. QIMR is leading the world in developing a fifth area – immunotherapy.

“It’s another weapon in our armoury against cancer, and this flagship funding will propel our research forward.”

Immunotherapy involves modifying a person’s cells in the laboratory, effectively “training” the cells to fight the cancer, and returning them to the patient’s body. Early breakthroughs have shown its potential in cancers associated with a virus.

Professor Rajiv Khanna has used immunotherapy to treat the aggressive throat cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). He’s also running a clinical trial of its use in the brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that manipulating a person’s own immune system is crucial to beating cancer,” Dr Khanna said.

“We’ll use this Flagship funding to try to broaden the range of cancers that can be treated by harnessing the power of the immune system, with minimal side-effects.”

Professor Geoff Hill, leader of the QIMR one Marrow Transplantation Laboratory, said the funding would allow his team to engineer white cells in the laboratory, then return them to patients to turn immune responses on or off.

“These new therapies will make transplantation a safer treatment for blood cancers,” Professor Hill said.”

Professor Nick Hayward, head of QIMR’s Oncogenomics Laboratory, is using the Flagship funding for research into cancer vaccines tailored to each individual patient, based on research into the unique abnormal proteins found on the surface of their tumour cells.

“Until recently there were no therapies that worked if melanoma had spread,” Professor Hayward said.

“In the past year there have been some new drugs that are showing great promise in extending people’s lives. Sadly, though, the patients are often relapsing.

“ We want to work at stimulating a person’s own immunity, as well as giving them the drugs, to provide a cure. “

More than 1300 riders took part in the 2011 Rio Tinto Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising $4.7 million for cancer research at QIMR.

The 200 kilometre 2012 ride on August 18-19 raised a record $5.2 million dollars for cancer research at QIMR.