A look back at what we’ve achieved so far.
24 September 2022 is World Cancer Research Day – a day to create and consolidate momentum to raise awareness and commitment for research on cancer. At the Daffodil Centre, we’re reflecting on the research momentum and impact we’ve generated so far.
Established in March 2021, the Daffodil Centre brings together the research strengths of Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney to work towards a shared vision of a cancer-free future.
Our research spans variations in individual outcomes through to large-scale population studies, and geographically, our research ranges from the localised, such as our analysis of prostate cancer outcomes in 89 regional divisions within Australia; to the global, including the work facilitated by our international partnerships to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on cancer outcomes worldwide.
In our first 18 months we’ve established 12 research streams, some of which are conducting tumour-specific programs in lung, gastrointestinal, prostate, breast, melanoma, ovarian and cervical cancer – and some of which are focused on areas that strengthen the impact of cancer research across all areas, including supportive care and outcomes, research methods, mathematical modelling, and most recently genomics and precision health.
The Daffodil Centre’s Director, Professor Karen Canfell, said that one of the Centre’s key priorities is to address inequities in cancer outcomes. “Through all our research – in Australia and internationally – we prioritise equitable outcomes in all dimensions. Across countries, across peoples, culturally, and within Australia. However, we know we still need to do much more work in this space.”
New research enabled through grants and funding
Speaking on the performance highlights of the Daffodil Centre in its first phase, University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine and Health Executive Dean Robyn Ward said: “We’re incredibly proud of what the Daffodil Centre has achieved. The impact of the Daffodil Centre is unparalleled, with its capacity to translate research into evidence-driven policy, as well as creating policy that drives equity and access to care. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds,” Ward added.
Researchers from the Daffodil Centre have been involved in many successful grant applications, which will fund new and major projects within our areas of expertise. These include a major new appointment for Professor Nehmat Houssami, who is leading our Breast Cancer Clinical and Population Health Stream. The appointment complements the National Breast Cancer Foundation and University of Sydney’s $5m co-investment partnership,1 establishing an inaugural 10-Year Chair in Breast Cancer Prevention.
Meanwhile, in the last year, we were successful in obtaining a second major Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant in an initiative led by our Deputy Director Professor Anne Cust and Dr Julia Steinberg, which will use large scale epidemiological and genomic data to evaluate genomic risk prediction, risk-tailored screening and early detection for common cancers. This $3M investment was funded under the MRFF 2020 Genomics Health Futures Mission. Professor Anne Cust was also awarded over $2M though an NHMRC Leadership grant on tailored approaches to improve the prevention and early detection of melanoma and other skin cancers.
We are also very proud of our success in the 2021 NHMRC Targeted Call for Research into Participation in Cancer Screening Programs, where we are leading, or supporting, three major grants. Dr Eleonora Feletto and collaborators were awarded $1.75M for a project to build the evidence base in increase bowel screening participation through combining individual, health service, and population-level interventions. With Dr Claire Nightingale at the University of Melbourne, Associate Professor Megan Smith at the Daffodil Centre and collaborators were awarded $1.4M for their work on using HPV self-collection to improve equity and participation in Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program.
Expanding our international impact
In 2021, through the Daffodil Centre-led NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control – or C4 – we, with our collaborators at the Kirby Institute, The Australian Centre for Prevention of Cervical Cancer and Family Planning NSW were awarded an $8.6M grant from the Minderoo Foundation to kick start a major implementation program, Elimination of Cervical Cancer in the Western Pacific. This is building on our research into cervical cancer elimination to implement new cervical cancer control programs in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, and is establishing a core set of activities that will enable scale-up of cervical cancer elimination activities throughout the Western Pacific region and beyond. In 2022 we were also awarded a second round of funding for C4, with a new $2.5M Centre of Research Excellence award from the NHMRC to support C4’s activities for another five years. Our activities involve a large range of multi-sectorial stakeholder partnerships in the region and globally which will underpin enormous opportunities for Daffodil Centre research across cancer control into the future.
This year, Daffodil Centre researchers commenced a major, future-focused project to support the global development of a therapeutic HPV vaccine. In the wake of the immense boost to vaccine technology and manufacturing capacity resulting from the Covid-19 experience, a global effort to ignite investment into therapeutic vaccines has commenced. As the first step, we have received a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With the support of global vaccine experts, we are working with the WHO to understand the product performance characteristics (PPCs) and potential public health value of therapeutic HPV vaccines, particularly for low- and middle-income countries, while vaccine candidates are still in early stages of development. PPCs are intended to provide guidance to all those involved in vaccine development, to promote development of vaccines that are most relevant to the global unmet public health need.
As part of the work of the international Covid and Cancer Global Modelling Consortium, Daffodil Centre researchers, with collaborators at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, have been commissioned by WHO to conduct systematic reviews on the risk of COVID-19-related death for people with cancer, the magnitude of cancer care delays and disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of strategies for mitigating delays and disruptions in cancer care due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, we are currently running an International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership-funded project to understand how COVID-19 has impacted policy and practice across various ICBP jurisdictions.
We have also been funded by Cancer Research UK to establish the first iteration of a Global Observatory resource which will provide timely, up-to-date, and high-quality information to researchers and policymakers as evidence on COVID-19 and cancer risk continues to evolve and expand – and we will be demonstrating this resource at the World Cancer Conference next month.
Predicting the future burden of cancer in Australia
Two key pieces of research released this year predict the burden of cancer in Australia over the 25 year period from 2020 to 2044. The first study, published in The Lancet Public Health, found the number of new cancer cases diagnosed over the period is projected to total more than 4.56 million. Although 1.45 million Australians are expected to die, the overall rate of deaths between now and 2044 is projected to fall by around 20%– a smaller drop than recorded over the previous 25-year period (30%).
Further research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at Australian mortality rates for cancer types which have an established association with cigarette smoking. The study predicts cigarette smoking will cause over 250,000 cancer deaths in Australia from 2020 to 2044.
These comprehensive studies provide a blueprint for how cancer should be controlled and treated in Australia into the future. They also allow for future cancer control policy and research to be prioritised according to where the highest burden is expected.
Our research steams are growing
As our work expands and diversifies, so too does our team. Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome three new academic leaders to the Daffodil Centre team; Professor Alexandra Martiniuk, Professor Deborah Bateson, and Dr Alison Pearce.
Our talent pool of early and mid-career researchers and PhD candidates has also expanded significantly. We have welcomed six new Daffodil Centre fellows: Dr Christina Watts; Dr David Mizrahi; Dr Andrea Smith; Dr Melissa Merritt; Dr Rachael Dodd; and Dr Mijanur Rahman.
Our new research fellows and PhD students are researching crucial areas in cancer control, which will yield important findings to inform an accelerated journey to a cancer-free future.
Since our establishment in March 2021, we have demonstrated the value of policy, and practice-ready research across the board. We face major challenges in cancer control going forward, but we are energised by the potential of research to address these challenges.