Press Conference - Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Melbourne
Sunday, 29 October 2017
Topics: $100 million brain cancer fund launch; High Court decision
Welcome, everybody, to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Today is a very special day. Just over a year ago, the former Vice President Joe Biden stood in this very place to open this building, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
Vice President Biden shared with us his grief and journey of losing his son Beau to brain cancer. So I think it’s very fitting that today we are launching a wonderful new initiative to really take brain cancer front-on and to emphasise Vice President Biden’s vision for collaboration to cure cancer.
So without further ado, I would like to introduce the honourable Greg Hunt, Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, to make this extremely important announcement.
Thanks very much, Grant.
The Australian Brain Cancer Mission is about saving lives and protecting lives. It’s a $100 million fund involving matching funds from the Australian Government and the philanthropic community, and it is about everything that this building, these researchers, the Australian community has imagined, and that is the potential in our lives to eliminate brain cancer as a fatal disease.
I want to start by acknowledging some of the extraordinary people here today, in particular our patients, people such as young Tim, whom we’ve met, who’s been through surgery and has just completed a ten kilometre run, he wanted to take me on, to Tim Elliott’s family, and Julie, the kids who are here.
I was with Tim only two days before he passed, and one of his final actions was to push for this Australian Brain Cancer Mission. To our parents, to Dustin, who’s played such an incredible role here. Dustin, father of Chloe, who’s a real fighter, what a beautiful girl, and together they have been one of the motivators for the Australian Brain Cancer Mission.
I know the Prime Minister called Dustin yesterday. He rang me and he said, you know, would it be okay if I called Dustin? And I said, I think he’d be honoured.
The PM said he was going home to hug his grandchildren yesterday. So to Zoey’s family, and then of course to Samantha and Michael. Michael very generously shared with us the 50 silver staples in his head which were the result of his surgery. But they’re all making incredible progress.
To our medical community, to Chris Kilpatrick from Royal Melbourne Hospital, to Grant and team here at the VCCC and the ten partners, including Peter Mac, to our incredible medical researchers, such as Kate and Ricky and Mark and so many others.
And then to our philanthropists, to Andrew Forrest and to Michelle, representing the Mindaroo Foundation, and Cure for Brain Cancer Foundation, to Michelle and to Barry who have been part of that. It’s a real privilege, an honour to be with everybody.
Brain cancer is a terrible scourge. We know that 1800 Australians face a diagnosis of brain cancer every year. We know that 1400 and more lose that battle. It has been one of the great Rubik’s cubes of medical research and medical treatment.
We’ve been able to make massive progress in melanoma, in breast cancer, in leukaemia over the last three decades, but around the world very little progress in brain cancer. Now is the moment when that can change.
Now is the moment when we have a real shot at better care and better survival and, ultimately, defeating brain cancer.
That brings me to the Medical Research Future Fund. This is a $20 billion permanent endowment that the Turnbull Government is creating.
It’s about ensuring that we can save lives and protect lives. It’s focusing on patients, on researchers, on translation, and on national missions.
The Australian Brain Cancer Mission will be the first of those missions, and that mission has two very simple goals, to double the rate of survival of brain cancer in the coming years, and, ultimately, to contribute to brain cancer as a fatal condition.
There couldn’t be a more noble national moonshot. There couldn’t be a higher national purpose, because we’ve met the patients today, we know how important this is.
Now, as part of that, the Australian Government will immediately commit $50 million, and this will be matched by $50 million of philanthropic funding.
The first two grants, which will take it to $80 million, are with us, I’ll let Andrew and Michelle outline their respective contributions, but I want to acknowledge and thank you.
You have not just driven your own funding, but I know, from just having spoken with somebody overnight, that we’ll be in a position to announce the remaining $20 million in the very near future.
But I suspect that we will actually raise a lot more than the 100 that is being pledged today, and that this mission will provide a model for curing and addressing brain cancer around the world.
We want other countries with magnificent leaders, such as Ron Depinho, who’s here today, to step up and to take the Australian challenge on. And I know with Andrew here no country is safe, they will all be under pressure to match and join Australia.
Finally, what is the mission about? It’s really about four big things, firstly, better care for patients, secondly, giving every Australian brain cancer sufferer the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial, thirdly, new technologies and new drugs and new treatments that will provide the pathway to a cure, and fourthly, attracting and retaining the best researchers here in the Australia and around the world to the Australian Brian Cancer Mission.
So that’s what we’re doing, but at the end of the day, I am delighted to officially launch the Australian Brain Cancer Mission and to remember that above all else it’s about beautiful young girls, such as Chloe and Zoey, and giving them and all of those to come a real shot at life.
As I stand here before you, I want to thank Minister Hunt for your leadership, for this great campaign. It started on the show for me, The Project, I was very moved by personal stories on that.
I’ve been even more moved by the wonderful personal stories which I’ve witnessed with Tim and Chloe and Zoey this morning and many others, Connor no longer with us, and my own friend, also called Tim, who absolutely drew the marrow out of life.
And it was Tim who described to the whole Fortescue family, several thousand of us, the incredibly poor statistics which relate to brain cancer and the lack of hope, often, which brain cancer sufferers have.
And I explored that, and in the Eliminate Cancer Initiative, one which is purely based on collaboration of countries, of institutions, of philanthropists, and of course governments to take on these huge challenges.
Sadly, with an epidemic like cancer, the malady of which can hit almost all of us, when I see a model which is not supporting research, you don’t have to look further often than the market, and the market here was failing.
Big business, the pharmaceutical industry, saw no attraction in funding brain cancer research because the statistics are so terrible, and that would guarantee that the statistics would stay terrible.
And we needed government leadership and we needed industry and philanthropic leadership to get in behind this, to break that mould, and that’s what we’re seeing here today.
As Minister Hunt has said, we are going to break that model which has caused the lack of funding in brain cancer.
We’re now going to establish a new model today which will kick off brain cancer research, I believe, all around the world. As Minister Hunt has said, Australia can find $100 million where there wasn’t funding at all.
We are going to lead the way as a nation and I’m sure that other nations will follow this great example, and we will reduce brain cancer from the often death sentence that it is, to a disease which we can challenge and ultimately defeat, and that all brain cancer sufferers can live in hope, once they are diagnosed, that we as a country, we as philanthropists, Minister Hunt and his government, will not rest until they have hope shining in their lives.
Thanks. I’d like to start by thanking every single member of the brain cancer community who have tirelessly campaigned long and hard to have their voices heard.
Thank you to those who have graciously delivered the best possible care to patients and those who have dedicated their lives to research.
Every single one of these people have contributed to this announcement today. A huge thanks and recognition should go to Minister Hunt and the Federal Government, and Andrew Forrest and the Minderoo’s Eliminate Cancer Initiative.
I want to recognise Dustin Perry, the father who stood up for his family, the father who stood up for other peoples’ families and said this is not okay. We’re proud to call Dustin an ambassador for Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
Today is a proud day for the brain cancer community. Our collective voice has finally been heard and we can see that brain cancer now receives the focus and funding that it has so desperately required.
We know that change hasn’t come quickly enough for some, and for that we are truly sorry, but today we hope that the long road to a cure has just become a bit shorter.
Cure Brain Cancer Foundation is going to commit $20 million to this mission. We’ve been after a national plan for research, and that is what has been delivered today, so we’re truly thankful. We’re also proud to work with such amazing partners.
No one can do this alone and it is going to be the collaboration that is going to be the difference between success and not moving the dial.
Over 30 children a year to die from brain cancer is unacceptable. The lack of effective treatments is unacceptable. Brain cancer is unacceptable.
Today we’re seeing a collective group of people coming together to say brain cancer is unacceptable, and the door is open for more parties to join us.
The more people that can come together, the more chance we have of rapidly improving survival. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity where we see the spotlight on brain cancer, and we need to make sure that everybody stands up and makes the most of this opportunity.
The Turnbull Government have listened to us, recognised the situation is unacceptable and taken action. So, thank you Malcolm Turnbull and thank you Greg Hunt.
The way Greg’s handled this and the way he’s worked with me personally has been first class. Thank you to all the philanthropists that were involved in this, particularly Andrew Forrest.
A few weeks ago Greg hosted a meeting to develop a strategy that would become the Australian Brain Cancer Mission. I won’t name them all, but I want to thank all that were involved, particularly Tim Elliot.
After the last few months while working toward today’s announcement, I’ve relied a lot of Jordan Hansford, most importantly he’s Chloe’s oncologist, but on top of that his advice has been a massive help in us bringing brain cancer to government attention, so thank you Jordan.
Along with government, I’ve worked closely on this Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and I’m proud to be an ambassador for them.
I want to thank Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, particularly Barrie Littlefield, who personally relates to those impacted by brain cancer, who’s extremely passionate about this mission, I’m sure he’s a very happy man today as everybody at Cure Brain Cancer would be after the many years of work they’ve put into it. And to my family, to Chloe, you started this so thank you.
We’re very happy to take any questions. I do just also want to acknowledge, in terms of the Australian brain cancer roadmap, the work of Professor Bob Thomas and Cancer Australia, and Professor Doug Hilton from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
They have helped guide the direction and specifically there are two other people who have been critical, from the Department of Health the head of medical research, Erica Kneipp, who does an extraordinary job and we are blessed to have her, and my own principle advisor, Alex Caroly who’s made this a personal mission.
So, any questions, if we could start with the Brain Cancer Mission and if there are other, more insidious topics I’ll deal with them at the end.
Can you talk us through a bit of the detail in terms of where the money will actually go?
Sure. So the first thing that we’ll be focusing on is a program called GBM AGILE. That’s a clinical trial where it’s about access to medicines earlier, and it’s about access to hope for families earlier.
GBM AGILE is an international partnership and so funds will immediately go to allowing people to participate in that.
As Grant would know better than anybody, the model of some people being on the drugs and some being on placebos or pretend drugs, which has often been the case in clinical trials, is not acceptable in the case of something like brain cancer.
No parent could accept that their child might not be on the real thing. So this is about rapid movement, early clinical trials. It’s also about supporting the Zero Childhood Cancer initiative, they are two of the immediate things.
So the glioblastoma is one of the 100 different types of brain cancers, and there’s a series of different subsets within that, but it is one of the most insidious and we’re going after the most we could early.
Why didn’t this happen sooner? Why is the Government acting now but not earlier?
I can’t speak for the past. I can say we’re under new management and our dictum is hope and action. Hope and action.
And this is only my first few months in the role and look I, frankly, the brother of my godson, very, very close friends of mine, he has had brain cancer, still has it.
It’s fortunate in that it’s not aggressive and it’s being managed and he’s been managed out of Philadelphia and some of the best people in the world.
And then that was a base for a personal motivation. The Prime Minister has a similar motivation. And then we met Dustin, and the need to do something became the imperative and the commitment. And so it’s a combination of time, personal commitments and then the unstoppable force of Dustin and Andrew and others.
I do say Andrew uncharacteristically made one mistake today. He didn’t mention that Minderoo will be donating $10 million so this is his and Nicola’s own personal contribution so can I just acknowledge that.
So, everybody’s personal experience has come together, but you meet the patients, you meet the doctors, you meet the researchers and you meet Dustin and now is the moment.
How far off the boil was Australia in terms of the global approach to this?
Australia is a world leader. Our five year survival rates have been 22 per cent for brain cancer which is equal to or slightly in advance of the world’s leading nations. So we’re right at the forefront.
Around the world, nobody’s been able to conquer brain cancer to date, but three decades ago melanoma, breast cancer and leukaemia were all in the same boat.
Nobody wants to get a diagnosis of those today, but there is so much more hope and so much more real opportunity for survival.
Brain cancer is where those three conditions were three decades ago, but with immunotherapy, targeted therapy, new surgical techniques and new processes such as proton beam therapy, all of these come together, so there is a real moment where because we are amongst the best in the world, but it’s been a problem that has previously defeated everybody, we are best placed to be a world leader right now.
Andrew mentioned that the market was perhaps lagging or failing. Did you agree with in terms of the industry?
Absolutely. There was a gap, it wasn’t being addressed by the commercial market and this is where government and philanthropy step in together.
We would also invite the big pharmaceutical companies to join us to provide some of their funds. It may not necessarily be a commercial return, but it’s a human return and it’s a human investment.
Dustin, can we ask, without wanting to put you on the spot, how are you feeling today?
Obviously I’m feeling really good today. It’s been a few months for me since I first sort of got involved in this, wrote to Malcolm, met Greg, all that sort of thing, and yeah, I’ll be honest at times it’s been frustrating, but I’ve learned a lot myself about how the process works and way we’ve ended up with such a great result is this.
It’s beyond anything I expected so it’s really great and thoroughly appreciated by not only me and my family, Jordan, or other oncologists or a lot families around the country, it’s just such a massive thing for Australia.
In all the campaigning you’ve done, did you ever think that people like Greg Hunt and Andrew Forrest would turn around and go, righto, here’s $100 million?
No, I didn’t really even think that we’d get $100 million invested into brain cancer, but I also didn’t really have much in the way of expectations either.
I didn’t really have much of an idea as far as what’s reasonable to ask for and what’s not so you just ask for the world and if you get part of it then great. So, I’m really happy.
You got a phone call from Malcolm Turnbull, what was that like?
Malcolm called yesterday and it was just good to hear how much he’s across the whole thing. He seemed to know quite a lot of details about it and it’s reassuring to know that the Prime Minister personally has been involved in it and he understands it and just asking how Chloe is and how we’re coping and all that sort of thing, it’s just good to hear from him.
Can you tell us just a little bit about your journey and why you feel so passionate about this.
My daughter Chloe’s been she was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2013, so since then we’ve been back and forth, in and out of hospital, well in a lot, and she’s had a lot of different treatments, chemotherapies, targeted chain therapies, radiation, surgeries, all sorts of things that.
Yeah, some have worked for a little and all have eventually failed. So, obviously that’s not anything that any parent can just accept so that’s what’s led to me to want such drastic action on. So it’s really great to see it finally happen.
It gives you more hope now?
Yeah it does. It gives more hope to us, for people like us that are in this situation now, but just as much people that are going to be diagnosed tomorrow or next week or next year, it’s just good to see that it’s not just a forgotten disease anymore. It’s been acknowledged, been made a priority and the Government’s paying attention to it.
And the Cure for Brain Cancer Foundation? It seems shocking that there’s been no funding available for brain cancer research. Is that the case?
I think we have just traditionally missed the focus and funding that brain cancer needed. I think that we’ve seen the advances in other diseases and we were hoping that that would be replicated in brain cancer, and I think today’s the start of that replication. We feel much more positive on behalf of the community.
Considering there wasn’t the funding available previously, are there the researchers available to do this kind of work now that there’s the cash?
I think there are a lot of researchers who are available to do this research. There’s been a lot of people working really hard for a number of years on this problem.
They didn’t have the resources that they required, so hopefully this’ll put a boost under them and it’ll make it a lot easier for everybody to achieve results.
When you heard the figure $100 million, what went through your head?
To be honest, there’s been a lot of tears from everybody involved. It’s a massive number. It’s something that we’ve hoped for for so long.
We heard a little bit about how some of the money would be spent, but what’s your understanding of the kind of projects that will benefit from this?
Well, I’m really excited because the projects that have been prioritised are those that are going to change the system.
They’re things like GBM AGILE that are going to accelerate treatments for patients, encourage additional pharmaceutical investment and actually improve things. Zero Childhood Cancer, another amazing platform that will be a basis for which discovery can build.
How long do you think it will be before there’s either better outcomes or potentially a cure?
We never know when the outcomes will come or the cure will come, but it’s a numbers game. So, the more resources and activity we can put in, the more likely it’s going to be faster.
Can I just say one more thing?
Dustin is proof that one dad can make a difference.
Okay, anything else? I don’t want to tempt you.
What about the advice that you received from the Solicitor General? What did that say and will you be releasing it?
Look, I understand the Attorney General is speaking today, so I won’t traverse his ground. Our approach is very clear, everybody is a member of Parliament until the High Court finds otherwise.
Our advice was that that was the right way to proceed and there were mixed results, of course. Somebody such as Senator Canavan was found to have been validly elected, so it was the right thing to wait, it was the right thing to allow the High Court to make its judgement.
At the earliest time, some thought that Senator Canavan would be knocked out, and those that thought that were incorrect. So our duty is to govern the country and to continue to govern the country, and today is an example of doing real things that actually matter to people in the most extreme of circumstances.
Was it wrong for the Prime Minister to try and predict the outcome?
I don’t think that’s a fair characterisation. His position was always to reflect the advice that he’d received whilst not to pre-empt the outcome, and as you see, there were differing outcomes in the case of Senator Nash and Barnaby Joyce and Senator Canavan.
So we can only do our best to follow the advice, but of course, always, everybody remains a member of the Parliament and subject to all of the duties to carry on your job which come with that until such time as the High Court finds otherwise.
One of the mottos was for a stable government. Are you embarrassed by the look of this?
No. This is an event in the course of the life of a government. There’ll be a by-election. We will fight for one of the true great representatives of rural and regional Australia to be given the opportunity to continue to do that.
There are events that occur all of the time, what matters is the course and the direction, and the fact that in an area such as medical research and patient treatment we are continuing on with our great and important tasks I think is an indication that we just get on with the job.
Okay, thank you very much.