Hunter cancer group takes centre stage with funding boost

Jun 3 2014

Professor Stephen Ackland

The Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA) has become the first regionally based organisation to receive full Translational Cancer Research Centre status and an accompanying $6.5-million funding injection from the Cancer Institute NSW.

Following a successful application to be upgraded from a cancer research ‘unit’ the HCRA now enjoys equal footing with major Sydney-based centres.

HCRA Director Professor Stephen Ackland is confident the five-year funding initiative, officially announced today by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, will foster a stronger culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration among HMRI researchers from the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and Calvary Mater Newcastle.

“This essentially means we are recognised by the Cancer Institute NSW as being a highly credible partnership with significant capacity to develop new strategies in cancer research,” Professor Ackland said.

“Our region has relatively high mortality rates for various cancers and a strong demand for clinical services, so this funding will allow clinicians, scientists, general practitioners and patients to work together more efficiently, ensuring the right patient gets the right treatment at the right time.”

The Alliance was established in 2012 to integrate the HMRI Cancer Research Program, the University of Newcastle Priority Research Centre for Cancer and the Clinical Cancer Research Network. Its membership has grown from 110 in July 2011 to over 200.

Professor Ackland said the HCRA’s governance structures would now be further refined to accelerate the translational cycle.

“Translation is about escalating ideas and information from the laboratory end of the spectrum via high-quality pre-clinical and clinical studies through to the population. It also works in the reverse direction so that clinicians and patients can contribute to research ideas that can be addressed in the lab,” he said.

“We will be reviewing our priorities with the overarching aim of providing more targeted treatments and better ways of preventing and managing cancer in those who are susceptible.

“Our vision is to firmly establish Hunter New England as a competitive global hub of excellence in conducting collaborative translational cancer research to improve patient outcomes. We aim to build a second HMRI building on the Calvary Mater Newcastle campus as a state-of-the-art medical research facility to expand our world-class cancer research.”

The University of Newcastle will bolster the new grant with six additional PhD scholarships over three years, totalling over $500,000.

“We are delighted that the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance has been awarded this funding and thrilled to have played some part in its success,” Professor Kevin Hall, the University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), said.

“The University is committed to collaborative models with key partners such as HMRI and the Health Services that allow the cutting-edge work of our researchers to be translated for the practical benefit of local patients.

“I wish to congratulate our researchers on the award of this very prestigious grant, it is recognition of their exemplary standing within the field and promises great outcomes into the future for the community.”

HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson said the funding announcement was further recognition that Hunter-based researchers were forging ahead with world-class findings that were closely aligned to health needs.

“This announcement elevates the HCRA to the top echelon of cancer research centres in Australia and I am very pleased to see that the focus will be on translational research and interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said. “This is very much in keeping with HMRI’s own strategic thinking.”

Greg Flint CEO Calvary Mater Newcastle also welcomed the news saying “Being the region’s major cancer hospital we welcome this funding which will enable the maximisation of further collaborative work addressing cancer not just at the bedside but in the many programs and clinical research initiatives being carried out here.

“This prestigious funding award further proves this region’s clinicians and scientists are equivalent to the best in Australia if not the world. Patients, staff and community members will be the beneficiaries.”