Hunter Researcher Wins NSW’s Top Cancer Award

Aug 11 2015

Minister Jilian Skinner & Professor John Forbes

Professor John Forbes AM, a surgical oncologist at the University of Newcastle and Calvary Mater Newcastle, has won the prestigious NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Cancer Research 2015 in recognition of his leadership in the study of breast cancer.

As a member of HMRI’s Cancer Program and the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA), Professor Forbes has been at the forefront of translational cancer research over the past 20 years with his work focused on clinical trials. These have yielded positive health outcomes in prevention, early detection and treatment.

In the late 1970s Professor Forbes spearheaded the development of the ANZ Breast Cancer Trials Group and has been a driving force in its growth from a fledgling group to one of the most prestigious organisations of its type in the world.

Collaborations have been forged with other similar international breast cancer study groups to ensure sufficient patient numbers for high-level significance in increasingly niche sub-types of breast cancer.

HMRI Cancer Program leader and HCRA Director Professor Stephen Ackland said Professor Forbes was a worthy recipient of the Premier’s Award, having made an exceptional contribution to education and training through his position on the HCRA executive.

“Having generated more than 270 peer-reviewed publications, many in high-impact journals, John has been recognised as one of the world’s most influential scientific minds [Thomson Reuters, 2014],” Professor Ackland said.

“He has made a life-time commitment to research and to improving the lives of women – and men – at risk of dying from breast cancer. His achievements have contributed substantially to improved health outcomes and been lauded by many other academic and community organisations.”

An example of Professor Forbes’ work in translational research is the IBIS-1 study, which demonstrated that tamoxifen can significantly prevent breast cancer in women at high risk. This study has been pivotal in changing National Institute of Clinical Excellence (UK) guidelines for genetic testing and MRI screening – it has potential impact for over 500,000 Australian women at risk of breast cancer and will in time be incorporated into Australasian guidelines.

Professor Forbes also spearheaded the development of Hunter Breast Screen, a component of Breast Screen NSW. He established the first consumer advisory group in cancer in 1993 as the Consumer Advisory Panel of ANZ BCTG.

In announcing the award on Friday night, Premier Mike said: “Tonight the State honours some of its most brilliant minds, those who work away from the public gaze, for years and decades, to unlock the secrets of cancer. We thank them for their skill and tenacity as they work to bring relief and hope to those living with this insidious disease.”

Health Minister Jillian Skinner echoed praise for Professor Forbes, saying the discoveries he had made – including pioneering the use of anti-oestrogen therapy for early breast cancer –  had “improved the quality of many lives in Australia and the world over”.

* John Forbes is Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Newcastle and Director of Surgical Oncology at the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital. He researches in collaboration with HMRI’S Cancer Research Program and the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance.