ZERO funding boost: $67m to expand personalised medicine program

The world-leading Zero Childhood Cancer program (ZERO) has this week received $67 million from both the Federal government and Minderoo Foundation, to help give all children and young people with cancer the greatest chance of survival.

Led by the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, together with the Children’s Cancer Institute, Zero has changed the way we diagnose and treat children with the most aggressive or relapsed cancers. New funding committed by the Commonwealth Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt of $54.8million together with $12.2million from Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation will ensure Zero is expanded, and offered to all children diagnosed with cancer by 2023.

Each year, almost 1000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer around Australia, and is unfortunately still the most common cause of death from disease.  ZERO provides treatment options for kids like Kaylee, who was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma in 2018. For 18 months she was given every treatment possible - none of which proved effective. In mid- 2019 her oncologist discovered that Kaylee’s tumours had begun to grow rapidly and she was enrolled in ZERO, where the genetic footprint of her tumours were tested and a specific mutation was discovered in her tumour’s DNA. Lorlatinib, a drug typically used to treat lung cancers, was identified in the laboratories to possibly help target Kaylee’s specific cancer cells.

Every child deserves something like this, it's so needed and it makes everything so much easier, it works like a miracle. - Kaylee

The funding boost will also support the development of a comprehensive genomic databank of each patient’s healthy and cancer cells which will allow researchers to better understand the causes of childhood cancer, identify genetic markers that may help predict those at risk of the disease, and increase the ability to make better informed treatment recommendations. By enabling all children access early in their cancer journey, the program aims to reduce the chance of relapse.

Few can appreciate the importance of this program the way that Prof Tracey O’Brien, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre does, specialists like her must deliver the devastating news to families that treatment has failed and there are no other options for their precious child. Prof O’Brien says that this investment will allow doctors to embed the latest, cutting-edge cancer research into the best hospital care;

Soon, every child with cancer in this country will get tomorrow’s care today, and their best possible chance at cure. No child should die of cancer and that’s the ultimate aim of the Zero Childhood Cancer precision medicine program. - Prof Tracey O'Brien.

Built on a collaborative network of all eight children’s hospitals in Australia and 22 international research partners, the first ZERO national clinical trial for children with aggressive cancer was launched in September 2017. The results have been remarkable with over 300 children enrolled, and potential personalised treatment recommendations made for more than 70% of the children, which are now being reported to the children’s treating doctors within eight weeks on average. For the first group of children with clinical follow up who have received the recommended treatment plans, 50% have had a complete or partial response, or their disease has been stabilised. In addition, the findings from ZERO have led directly or indirectly to the opening of 23 new clinical trials for children with cancer in Australia.