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Zero Childhood Cancer, one of the world’s most comprehensive child cancer personalised medicine studies, has been launched by Children's Cancer Institute and the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick.

In an Australian first, scientists from 13 leading Australian and international research institutes and doctors from all eight of Australia’s kids’ cancer centres will work together to identify and recommend new treatment options.

These will be specifically tailored to suit the individual cancers of children with the highest risk of treatment failure or relapse and give their families hope.

The Zero Childhood Cancer program recognises that each child’s cancer is unique, so they respond differently to anti-cancer treatment.

Detailed laboratory analysis of tumour samples will help identify the drugs most likely to kill each child’s specific cancer.

The national clinical trial builds on a successful NSW pilot study of nearly 60 children begun in late 2015 for children with the most aggressive cancers whose chance of survival on standard treatments was less than 30%.

The pilot study proved the program’s feasibility, successfully putting in place the complex logistics and laboratory testing needed to analyse patient tumours and get meaningful results back to doctors in real-time.

The clinical trial expands the program to give hope to families across the country and will enrol more than 400 Australian children over the next three years, bringing the most advanced diagnostic technologies close to home.

The clinical trial is open in Sydney with other cities set to open in a staged roll-out over coming months.

The challenge in curing every child is that each child’s cancer is unique.

Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute and Research Lead for Zero Childhood Cancer, said the pilot study showed the urgent need for personalised medicine.

“Originally this pilot study was planned for 12 young patients. However nearly 60 children have been enrolled in the program due to the high demand by clinicians and parents," she said.

“We're thrilled to broaden the Zero Childhood Cancer program nationally, in partnership with each of Australia’s eight child cancer treatment centres and leading national and international research centres, in order to deliver child cancer personalised medicine to every child at highest risk of treatment failure, wherever in the country they may live."

Associate Professor Tracey O'Brien, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick said cancer was the biggest killer of children by disease in Australia.

“Despite the dramatic increase in childhood cancer survival rates over the last sixty years from virtually 0 to 80%, three children and adolescents die every week in Australia from cancer," she said.

“The challenge in curing every child is that each child’s cancer is unique. Every day on our wards we face the challenge of trying to find the best possible treatment for each child with cancer, especially those with the most aggressive cancers. It is a balance finding specific treatments that will kill the cancer cells but minimise harm to the child.

“I truly believe the Zero Childhood Cancer program is a potential game-changer in how we treat high-risk cancer.

As the Zero Childhood Cancer program is implemented, and as we gather more information, we will improve our capacity to identify the most effective treatment for each child’s cancer."

The details

  • Of the over 950 Australian children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year, 150 are diagnosed with cancer types with less than a 30% survival rate, and a further 60 relapse and then have less than a 30% chance of cure
  • It’s these children – including those suffering from aggressive brain tumours, sarcomas, infant leukaemias and neuroblastomas – who will benefit from the program
  • The trial will be open to every Australian child with high-risk childhood cancer regardless of the underlying type/diagnosis
  • The Zero Childhood Cancer national clinical trial will run until at least 2019
  • The data gathered will enable evidence-based treatment options in the present, and build a powerful research repository for the future
  • Data from the program will be shared with all clinical and research partners around Australia, in Europe and USA
  • The program is free to children who meet the clinical trial enrolment criteria, and enrolment is through their treating oncologist
  • The trial is sponsored by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology/Oncology Group (ANZCHOG)