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October 12, 2023

MPCCC hosts 200 cancer experts

The event, coordinated by the VCCC Alliance and Monash Comprehensive Cancer Consortium (MPCCC), featured a range of speakers from both Victoria and abroad, including Professor Olivier Michielin, Head of the Centre for Precision Oncology at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, Professor David Thomas, CEO of Omico: the Australian Genomic Cancer Medicine Centre, Dr Kortnye Smith, a medical oncologist and researcher at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Eastern Health, and consumer Victoria Sharp.

The focus of the summit was the need for equitable access to precision oncology, which involves testing the molecular profile of tumours to identify treatments tailored to the patient’s individual cancer. This approach has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes, by giving patients more personalised treatment options and increased access to therapies including clinical trials.

The speakers and attendees workshopped ways to overcome barriers to equitable access to precision oncology in Victoria, with centralisation and standardisation of processes and outputs, upskilling of clinical practitioners and engagement of consumers emerging as common themes. The event also emphasised the importance of translating new biological discoveries into clinical practice to improve patient outcomes.

Dr Kortnye Smith, is well aware of the benefits of precision oncology – the “large number of patients” still in her clinics are testament to that. But she said workforce limitations, inadequate funding models, inconsistent testing turnaround times and a lack of genomic literacy were all contributing to a “very complex web of factors” impeding the uptake of genomic testing across Victoria. She told the audience, “The things we’re really missing out on and what we’re talking about in terms of non-standard of care is we’re really not looking at multi-gene panel-based testing for anything where there’s more than one biomarker, we’re not looking at NTRK fusions and in terms of tumour-agnostic therapy, we’re really not hitting that target as well.”

Keynote speaker Professor Olivier Michielin presented a very different picture of precision oncology in Switzerland, where the legal and health systems worked together, along with industry, to ensure all patients had equitable access.

He said patient data could be captured and analysed across the country, with all cases discussed at a joint molecular tumour board at national or regional level.

The analytics and resulting matched therapies also came at no cost to patients.

Professor Michielin, said insurance companies paid for the analytics – which involved 400 genes next-generation sequencing panels – and off-label drugs.

“It’s advantageous for those companies to invest in the analytics, the analytics allows you to have a more rational use of the drugs.”

Sydney-based oncologist and researcher Professor David Thomas said only 8% of cancer patients took part in clinical trials, which “might have been reasonable in the 1990s when there wasn’t rational drug development” but was no longer justifiable.

“Paediatrics shows the way,” said Professor Thomas.

“Paediatrics has 40-70% of clinical trial participation, and you can see the improvements in survival as a consequence of research-led clinical care.”

Among the attendees was Tim Richardson, the Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Health Infrastructure, who emphasised the government’s commitment to improving cancer treatment outcomes for Victorians. He said, “We’ve had a number of successes, particularly in the last couple of years in relation to improving outcomes in cancer care. But we are always striving to do better, and that’s why we’re here today.”

The summit was an opportunity for professionals working in cancer genomics from multiple disciplines and perspectives to identify potential opportunities to synchronise activities for the benefit of Victorian cancer patients.

The inaugural Victorian Precision Oncology Summit left attendees with a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by precision oncology.

The event provided a valuable platform for experts and consumers to share their knowledge and collaborate to improve patient outcomes in Victoria and beyond.

Below is the link to the Health Technology Assessment Policy and Methods Review that was referred to at the summit as being important to incite change.

Health Technology Assessment Policy and Methods Review | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Health technology assessments inform Government decisions to fund and subsidise health technologies through subsidy schemes and funding programs.

This includes:

  • the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
  • the Medicare Benefits Schedule
  • the National Immunisation Program
  • the Life Saving Drugs Program.

The public consultation focusing on the key objectives of the Review set out in the Terms of Reference is open for submission from 11 April 2023 and will close on 6 June 2023. For further information on how to participate head to the Consultation Hub. If you need assistance to be able to participate in consultation, please email the secretariat on