News

Urgent funding needed to save home-grown next-generation cancer research

13 June 2024

A lack of funding threatens to deny Australians access to a promising new cancer immunotherapy which is already achieving success in the clinic.

QIMR Berghofer is appealing for the community to support Dr Siok Tey’s cutting-edge CAR T cell therapy research which has achieved remission for some lymphoma patients and holds great promise against the aggressive blood cancer, myeloma, and some solid cancers including those affecting children.

CAR T cell therapy is a beacon of hope for blood cancer patients who have run out of treatment options, but funding is urgently needed to progress the research and make the treatment accessible for Australians who need it.

The public is urged to donate to the annual QIMR Berghofer tax appeal and make a real difference to local cancer patients and their families.

One of the appeal’s biggest supporters is Brisbane mother-of-two Jane Campbell, who is now in remission for a rare form of lymphoma after participating in a phase I clinical trial led by Dr Tey.

After going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Jane had run out of options when she entered the trial at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH).

“I went from having no options to being given the best option in my own hometown. It was like I’d drawn the golden ticket. I am so grateful to have been offered a treatment that so few people in the world with my condition have been able to access,” Jane said.

While the trial treatment was not without risk and cannot be called a cure without the test of time, Jane now has hope where before there was none.

Dr Tey hopes to improve treatment access for more Australian cancer patients like Jane, by developing locally designed CAR T cell therapies.

The clinician-researcher is head of QIMR Berghofer’s Translational Cancer Immunotherapy group and a haematologist specialising in blood cancer at the RBWH.

Her research harnesses the power of genetic engineering to make CAR T cells, which are smart cells designed to find and destroy cancer cells.

Access to CAR T cell therapy is currently limited in Australia and patients seeking treatments overseas face prohibitive personal and financial costs.

“We have the expertise here to not only make CAR T cells locally at a lower cost, but also to make potentially better CAR T cells,” she said.

Dr Tey hopes to not only improve access but make CAR T cells for lymphoma even more effective, and expand the technology to other types of cancer including myeloma and solid cancers such as the childhood cancer, neuroblastoma.

“The success rate of CAR T cell therapy is around 50 per cent for certain types of blood cancer. In the patients who respond, the recovery can seem miraculous because these patients have failed all other treatment,” Dr Tey said.

“The other 50 per cent of patients do not respond, and there are many patients with other types of blood cancers where CAR T cell therapies are not yet available or do not work well. We believe we can change that.

“We have already achieved so much, but without funding we’ll be forced to choose which area of research to let go. We urgently need public donations to ensure we are leaders in this rapidly moving field.”

Queensland father of three Andy Scott has been living with myeloma since 2017 and hopes to one day benefit from Dr Tey’s research. While conventional treatments including maintenance chemotherapy have kept his cancer at bay, he knows they will stop working at some point. 

“Living with cancer is like having a gun held to your head and not knowing if or when it will go off. I want to be here for my family and see my children grow up,” he said.

“It’s nice to know that the technology exists but obviously if it’s out of reach then it’s not really good for myself and other people in my situation.”

To learn more about Dr Tey’s research and to donate to the QIMR Berghofer tax appeal, please visit www.qimrberghofer.edu.au/outsmart-cancer-appeal/

As a registered charity, donations to QIMR Berghofer of $2 or more are tax deductible.

FOR ALL MEDIA ENQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT

Bridie Barry
T +61 (0)7 3362 0233
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