Research to develop vaccines that can prevent ovarian cancer from coming back has been boosted with new funding from the Government of Victoria.
The Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF) grant will help accelerate the clinical translation of a groundbreaking ovarian cancer trial co-led by WEHI and RMIT University.
The trial focuses on women who respond exceptionally well to ovarian cancer treatment, with the new grant allowing researchers to better understand these ‘super-responders’ and use this knowledge to advance design work vaccines capable of preventing recurrences.
The grant was announced by Victorian Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Hon. MP Jaala Pulford, as part of a new round of VMRAF funding.
In one look
- The WEHI-RMIT University research team has received over $498,000 from VMRAF for the translation of a groundbreaking clinical trial in ovarian cancer.
- The trial aims to understand the biology of ovarian cancer ‘super-responders’ and learn how to trick a patient’s immune response so that more women can benefit from treatment.
- The funding will help apply this knowledge to develop vaccines and diagnostic and prognostic tests to increase the number of ovarian cancer patients who achieve long-term remission.
Each year more than 1200 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Australia and nearly 1000 women die from the disease.
Professor Clare Scott AM, co-lead of the project, said ovarian cancer survival rates have not improved for more than three decades, with an Australian woman dying of ovarian cancer every eight hours .
“Women with ovarian cancer have waited more than 30 years for effective therapies to change the fear that inevitably follows their diagnosis,” said Professor Scott, co-director of the clinical translation center and director of the laboratory. by WEHI.
“This funding will allow us to determine what makes ‘super-responders’ so special and to launch the next step: towards the development of new vaccine strategies against ovarian cancer.
“Our ultimate goal is a vaccine that can prevent ovarian cancer from coming back and that may even be effective in preventing the recurrence of other cancers.
“We are grateful for this financial support to rapidly accelerate the pace of our research, so that more women can benefit sooner.”
Despite good responses to initial ovarian cancer surgery, more than 70% of women will experience a recurrence, usually within the first three years. Most of these women will eventually die of their cancer.
To enhance these results, Professor Clare Scott AM of WEHI, Associate Professor Chee Lee (NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, University of Sydney), Professor Michael Friedlander (Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney) and Professor Magdalena Plebanski of the University RMIT have co-designed SOLACE2, an ongoing phase 2 clinical trial in 15 hospitals across Australia.
The trial aims to identify women with ovarian cancer who are most likely to be cured by early treatment combining immunotherapy and PARP inhibitor treatment.
PARP inhibitors (PARPi) prevent cancer cells from repairing themselves, allowing them to die. Powerful treatments have had unprecedented success in achieving long-term remission for some women with ovarian cancer.
The SOLACE2 assay creates detailed immunological profiles of these super-responders as well as tracking the presence of antigens and neo-antigens, which help boost the body’s immune response against cancer cells, to predict whether a tumor is likely to come back or spread.
New VMRAF funding will support work to better predict who is likely to be a super responder and identify target antigens to enable the development of vaccine-based strategies, including for other women with a ovarian cancer.
Emeritus Professor Magdalena Plebanski of RMIT University, co-lead of the project and holder of the SOLACE2 Chair in Translational Research, said the multidisciplinary research team would work to develop two types of vaccines to fight cancer. These would be personalized vaccines capable of stimulating an individual’s immune response and vaccines that promote broad immunity.
“Vaccine innovation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic offers new avenues for deploying potential vaccines against non-traditional vaccine targets, such as cancer,” said Professor Plebanski, Head of the Cancer, Aging and Vaccines Laboratory. at the School of Health and Biomedicine. Science and Director of the Biomedical and Health Innovation Enabling Capacities Platform at RMIT.
“We are grateful to the Cancer, Aging and Vaccine Laboratory for this timely funding, which allows us to identify key targets for ovarian cancer vaccines.
“In addition to identifying targets to help treat and prevent the recurrence of existing cancers, our ultimate goal and motivation is to have vaccines that stop cancer from taking root and spreading in the first place, which which will help prevent enormous suffering.”
Researchers will also work on new diagnostic and prognostic tests, including cancer and immune biomarkers, to accurately predict how well a patient will respond to PARPi/immunotherapy treatments.
The new project builds on WEHI’s extensive expertise in bioinformatics and genomic data analysis, led by Principal Investigator Professor Tony Papenfuss.
The machine learning framework built for the project will also be relevant for other immunotherapy biomarker discovery projects, with the results to be used for the development of treatments for other types of cancer.
A powerful collaboration
WEHI Director Professor Doug Hilton AO said recent industry investment in new technologies for vaccine development, scale-up and production in Victoria held great potential for streamlining vaccines created from this research.
“We know that multidisciplinary collaborations like these are essential for translating impactful science into tangible results that will make real differences in people’s lives,” said Professor Hilton.
“But translating world-class Australian research into new therapies, such as vaccines, is often hampered by a lack of funding to advance the research.
“This grant will not only accelerate the translation of this much-needed ovarian cancer research, but will also increase capacity, knowledge and expertise in Victoria’s medical research sector.”
The SOLACE2 trial is being conducted by the Australia New Zealand Gynecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) in collaboration with the NHMRC Clinical Trials Center at the University of Sydney. The trial is sponsored by the University of Sydney and is conducted with the support of AstraZeneca and its group of companies (SLHD RPA HREC Approval Reference: 2019/ETH07640).