Topics: Clinical trials to combat reproductive cancers; Jill Emberson; Drug testing for welfare recipients.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest woman’s cancer; 1500 Australians are diagnosed with it every year and nearly half of them will be dead from it within five years of diagnosis.
There is no early detection test and treatments for it haven’t really advanced greatly in 50 years. The Federal Government today is announcing it’s putting $15 million aside for new clinical trials, involving gynaelogical cancers, including ovarian cancers.
It follows lobbying from ABC broadcaster Jill Emberson who was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2016. The cancer returned within a year, spreading to her brain.
She’s been campaigning for better treatment since, making an award winning podcast about it and she’ll feature on tonight’s Australian Story on ABC TV.
The Health Minister Greg Hunt joined me earlier.
What we know is that particularly in the case of ovarian cancer, the survival rate is 46 per cent. That’s a figure commensurate with the US and the UK, but we want to drive it forward.
We believe there’s a moment where we can improve the number of lives saved, improve the survival rate and continue to push forward.
And by having clinical trials which means we test new medicines, bring them to patients earlier then they would otherwise have been, we can help lift the survival rate and give patients real hope.
ABC broadcaster Jill Emberson who has ovarian cancer has been campaigning for this money; she knocked on your door. Why did you settle on $15 million and not more?
Well this comes on top of $20 million allocated for general ovarian cancer research in March. So all up it’s a $35 million packet.
But this is the funding which will go through the rare cancers, rare diseases clinical trials program, so it’s a very significant part of that and it’s what we believe will meet the requirements of researchers at this stage to test new medicines.
Recently, for example, we’ve listed a new medicine in Australia called Lynparza or Olaparib, on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme and that’s helping women with high grade ovarian and fallopian and peritoneal cancers.
And we know in any one year, 1500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 1000 will lose that battle. So it’s such an important issue for Australian families right across the country and if we can help increase hope, increase real treatment and improve outcomes, then that will be a profoundly important legacy.
And Jill and other campaigners have been very, very powerful spokespeople for ovarian cancer, reproductive cancers in general.
The five-year survival rate, as you point out, for ovarian cancer is 46 per cent. The treatments for this cancer haven’t really changed much in 50 years. Why do you think that is?
We’ve seen dramatic improvement in survival rates for cervical cancer. What we’re now looking for is those same sorts of improvements for ovarian cancer. We know from the scientists that they say that the science is ready to advance in this space.
And so this is the moment to invest, to give the scientists the opportunity to give the doctors and the medical researchers the opportunity to help patients, not just in Australia, but around the world.
As I say, we have close to the highest survival rates for ovarian cancer around the world, but our task now is to help crack not just the Australian, but the global problem.
Whether it’s the new immunotherapies, whether it’s repurposing medicines such as Lynparza, whether it’s new trials in areas where we haven’t previously seen possibilities.
This is the moment where the combination of medicines, science and targeted immunotherapies means we have a real possibility to give women a better quality of life, a longer life and the potential to ultimately defeat this insidious cancer.
Minister, with the Parliament back, the Government is pushing ahead with plans for drug testing of welfare recipients. You’ll need the senate crossbench to pass it. Jacqui Lambie says she’ll support drug testing for the unemployed if Government MPs subject themselves to the same test. Are you up for being tested?
I don’t have a problem with that, no. The real issue here and the reason why we are pushing through with this, is this is about giving people who are on welfare, but who are suffering from health issues a chance to beat their challenge and to not only get over addiction, but to have the dignity and the certainty and the support which comes with work.
And so this is what’s behind it – the chance to give people a real opportunity to work and one of the things that may not be understood is that after a second positive test, a job seeker will be referred to a medical professional, who’ll work with their circumstances and identify treatment options.
So there’s a deep powerful compassion behind a strong resolve which is why we’re pushing through with this legislation.
Alright. Just to be clear though, you would be tested yourself for drugs if this is what it meant to get the package up and through the senate?
I don’t have a problem with that and like everybody, as a road user for example, whether it’s testing for drugs, testing for alcohol by the side of the road, that’s part of what we do. So it’s not an issue for me.
Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
Thanks very much.
That’s the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.