Pioneering national genomics initiative gives 23,000 Australians their best fighting chance against the toughest cancers

27 July 2023

The nation’s largest cancer genomics* initiative, known as PrOSPeCT (Precision Oncology Screening Platform Enabling Clinical Trials), formally launches today, bringing a new era of hope and the ability to save or extend the lives of thousands of Australians battling incurable or advanced cancers including ovarian, pancreatic and sarcomas.

Over the next two years, PrOSPeCT will give 23,000 Australians, facing the fight of their lives, free access to world-class genomic profiling, clinical assessment of their results by an expert team and matching to the best advanced precision (‘personalised’) treatments available locally, including early-stage clinical trials.

Led by not-for-profit cancer genomics pioneer Omico, PrOSPeCT harnesses the combined expertise and resources of cancer research centres and diagnostic and treatment services around the country forming a powerful collaboration and setting up new treatment pathways for the community.

PrOSPeCT is being powered by public and private funds totalling $185M, including grant funding of $61.2M from the Australian Federal Government (as part of the Modern Manufacturing Strategy), $25M from the NSW Government, and a commercial collaboration between Omico, the National Computational Infrastructure at Australian National University, Children’s Cancer Institute and Roche Australia.

It will be officially launched today at UNSW’s Michael Crouch Innovation Centre by the Hon Emma McBride MP, Assistant Federal Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and, Assistant Federal Minister for Rural and Regional Health and the Hon Ryan Park MP, NSW Minister for Health.

Omico, which is spear heading the PrOSPeCT initiative, will partner with UNSW Sydney’s newly created Centre for Molecular Oncology (CMO), which will be led by Professor David Thomas, oncologist and Founder and CEO of Omico.

“Based on science, ‘precision oncology’ harnesses genomics to apply highly specific and effective precision treatments to take on the most challenging cancers. It’s the front line of advanced treatments and through PrOSPeCT we can offer precision oncology nationally to all who may benefit,” says Professor David Thomas, CEO of Omico, Director, Centre of Molecular Oncology, UNSW Sydney and Head, Genomic Cancer Medicine, Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

“PrOSPeCT is set not only to transform access to advanced treatments, for those who desperately need them, it will also unify an extensive national cancer network while building our capabilities, infrastructure and skills in cancer research and care. It will place Australia firmly on the global stage, in this rapidly evolving area, setting benchmarks to bring genomics to large numbers of patients,” he added.

It is anticipated, the PrOSPeCT initiative will lead to an estimated 650 high-skilled local jobs, $525M investment in local clinical trials and $135M in savings to the health system through access to innovative therapies via clinical trials. In addition, the network will provide a platform for interstate collaboration and accelerate set-up and completion of clinical trials for adults and children with cancer – a major drawcard for new international investment in the Australian medical research sector.

​“Around one person every 10 minutes – or 150 every day – are diagnosed with a rare or less common cancer, which is the beginning of an incredibly challenging journey for them and their family,” says Christine Cockburn, General Manager, Rare Cancers Australia.

“PrOSPeCT brings a nationally coordinated approach at scale to the community that will deliver free genomic profiling of an eligible person’s tumour, no matter where they live, and quickly identify potential matches to new treatments and trials.  From genomic screening, more than a third (38%) of patients will receive guidance on new targeted treatments relevant to them, giving the potential to significantly extend lives.”

Over 10 years, PrOSPeCT will also build a real-world biodata platform of 70,000 profiles, yielding valuable long-term scientific evidence to shape future cancer treatment and research. This database will be accessible to researchers both locally and overseas, and is anticipated to attract interest and clinical trial investment from the international pharmaceutical and biotech sector.

“Healthcare is complex, and no-one can solve it alone,” adds Stuart Knight, General Manager, Roche Products Australia, a founding diagnostic and pharmaceutical partner that has invested $20M in PrOSPeCT.​ “To foster improved outcomes for cancer patients, it is vital for all stakeholders to embrace collaboration. Recognising the value of working together, companies like Roche prioritise collaborative efforts to drive advancements in cancer treatment. The coordinated approach of PrOSPeCT will set new benchmarks for a more connected, modernised system, and Roche is committed to doing our part.”

*Genomics is the complex science of mapping all or part of a person’s unique sequence of DNA (the human genome was only fully mapped 20 years ago in 2003). Cancer is caused by alterations in DNA that can be identified and targeted through personalised or ‘precision’ cancer medicine.