Funding breakthrough in fight against cancer

The Li Ka Shing Foundation will donate US$3 million (A$3.75 million) to a team of University of Melbourne researchers, based at the the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research (UMCCR) and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, who are working to turn cancer into a manageable chronic disease.

Grimmond BoussioutasProfessors Sean Grimmond and Alex Boussioutas with a genome sequencer
at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research at the
Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Picture: Paul Burston

The donation to the UMCCR will help accelerate the pace of discovery and increase the existing global body of knowledge used to diagnose and treat cancer.

The gift will be put towards the UMCCR’s precision oncology research program focussing on upper gastrointestinal cancers.

These cancers - which include pancreatic, stomach and oesophageal cancers - have an exceptionally high mortality rate, and over the past 50 years there has been minimal improvement in treatments and survival rates.

Researchers and clinicians are now at a crossroads in understanding some of these challenging cancers and identifying effective treatment plans.

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The Foundation’s founder, Mr Li Ka-shing, said: "The UMCCR attracts top-flight cancer researchers and scientists to tackle one of humanity’s most perplexing and complex health problems. I am excited to see the UMCCR bring together world-class research to identify novel approaches likely to benefit humankind in significant new ways."

Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said the gift would support research that showed enormous potential to change our approach to cancer.

"This generous donation from the Li Ka Shing Foundation will help advance cutting-edge cancer research already underway at the University of Melbourne," he said.

"Such a philanthropic gift enables the University to extend our research knowledge and expertise to help improve global health issues."

Professor Sean Grimmond, UMCCR Founding Director, said: "Precision medicine is about analysing the patient and coming up with the optimal treatment of that patient at the very outset. This funding will help us move a step closer to using this technology to manage upper gastrointestinal cancer, which is notoriously difficult to treat."

The donation will be spread over three years and marks the first time the Li Ka Shing Foundation has given money to an Australian university.

At the end of the three-year program, the UMCCR will have increased its ability to capture and mine the genomic data needed to identify new drug targets and new treatments. It will also have created organoid 'banks' to readily test new drugs before they are given to patients, and will have pioneered new ways of sharing knowledge between cancer centres throughout the world.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation is a philanthropic charitable organisation started in 1980 by Hong Kong businessman Mr Li Ka-shing. The Foundation has donated many millions of dollars to universities and researchers around the world and has a particular interest in health and medical advancement.

The donation was made through Believe - the Campaign for the University of Melbourne, which helps fund life-changing research, gives bright students the chance to excel and funds projects that improve our communities.

The UMCCR is based at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) and seeks to improve patient outcomes through improved molecular detection and diagnosis of cancer, improved therapeutic clinical decision-making for patients through computational oncology, and the enabling of innovative programs in personalised cancer care. The UMCCR facilitates the sharing of infrastructure and supports collaboration within the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct and the wider VCCC alliance.