The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
20 March 2022
Topics: Genomics Australia to guide the future of genomic health and medicine over the coming decade
…Australia is one of the world’s leading paediatric genomics researchers. Genomics is about using our DNA, using our bodies unique signature, to diagnose problems and to treat problems. And this is about what’s called precision medicine, or the ability to understand the specific needs of an individual with their health, and tailored medical treatment.
That’s where the future of medicine is going. This budget will focus in particular on long term plans and trends for medical research, as well as primary care over a 10-year period in Australia. One of our signature investments will be $28 million in the formation of Genomics Australia. Genomics Australia will oversee the $500 million 10-year genomics mission.
It will also help guide the future of personalised genomic medicine in Australia. What does that mean? It means something as simple as being able to examine and diagnose the particular genomic fingerprint of a tumour. The case of little Ellie, who at 11 months had a significant life-threatening sarcoma in the chest, a particular type of cancer.
She was part of the Zero Childhood Cancer Programme which used genomic sequencing to analyse that tumour, and as a result of that she was able to be given tailored, specific medicine that saved her life. And now she’s four years old and the face of the Zero Childhood. Cancer Programme.
Mackenzie’s mission – which Kathryn has led – and Mackenzie’s mission is about ensuring that thousands and thousands of couples in Australia are given the ability to have screening to see whether they carry the genes for cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy or fragile X syndrome. And if so, go to IVF and pre-conception testing to ensure the beautiful children are born without these conditions.
And so our goal is very clear; to make Australia a global leader in the use of genomics in medicine, to make us a country where genomics saves lives and create jobs. We are already arguably the world’s leader, but over the course of the next decade, under Professor Kathryn North’s leadership, we can be even stronger.
So I’m delighted also to announce that Kathryn will be the inaugural chair of Genomics Australia.
It will start as a non-statutory body and become a statutory body, so it will start within the Department of Health, under Kathleen’s leadership with an advisory board which she will chair, and then be a legislative body. It will oversee the development of the laws, the protections, but also the pathway to make genomic medicine standard of care. That means it’s available to everybody, whenever a doctor or a relevant clinician believes that it’s the necessary diagnostic tool or treatment tool.
And that’s a very exciting future. So the budget is about the next 10 years. Deep, long term plans for health in Australia, and the 10-year medical research Future Fund plan has as one of its signatures the creation of Genomics Australia to oversee the transition.
In addition to that, I’m also very pleased to be able to announce $343 million to extend and expand our National Ice Action Strategy. $270 million of that is for treatment. The remainder is for education and research and ensuring that we have all of the protections to reduce the number of people in Australia suffering from the impact of methamphetamines.
And indeed, we have more than halved over the course of the last two decades the proportion of methamphetamine users in Australia. And the National Ice Action Strategy is also about saving lives and protecting lives. But as we look to the long term, we look to the future. I’m delighted to introduce the new chair of Genomics Australia at one of the world’s leading paediatric genomic experts, Kathryn North.
Good morning. Thanks so much, Minister. I’m absolutely thrilled with this announcement and so honoured to be the inaugural chair of Genomics Australia. I think this is such an important milestone for the country as Genomics Australia will play a key role in shaping our healthcare system.
We’re already saying through our research that genomic medicine is transforming the way we deliver healthcare. Rather than being reactive to wait until problems occur, the focus of genomics is on rapid and early diagnosis, on prediction and on prevention. And it really is the basis of personalised medicine.
Genomics Australia is going to build on some really significant investments that have been made over the last 6 to 8 years in Australia that have already led to our leadership across many areas of genomic medicine.
Through the NHMRC, there was initially (Inaudible) 2016, an investment entitled Preparing Australia for Genomics Medicine. And it’s certainly ensured that we’re ready for this next challenge of how we’re driving genomics into healthcare. So the establishment of Genomics Australia is going to build on some major investments by both federal and state governments over the last six years.
Through the NHMRC, the Federal Government funded a targeted pool, preparing Australia for genomics medicine and we’ve been working on that since 2016, really creating a national framework so that we have a cohesive approach to genomics around the country. There’s also been investments by the states in genomics initiatives and strategy and also coming together to create a national framework so that we have a cohesive approach working together around Australia.
What we’ve established over that time is national, collaborative, clinical and research networks. So all of the Australian clinicians, diagnosticians and researchers are working together so that we’re a single voice internationally of 26 million people, which really makes a mark on the world stage.
We’ve also developed, in partnership with the government, the prototype for a national approach to managing genomic information in a very safe and responsible way so that data can then be shared to solve clinical problems and also for further research and further discoveries.
We’ve developed strong partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to help develop Indigenous led genomics programmes. And we also partner with industry, consumer and patient groups so that we’re meeting the needs of the people who will eventually benefit from the increase in genomic medicine.
Importantly, we’ve also always partnered internationally, and we have many of our lead researchers involved in the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health that brings together over 100 countries who are all working together to make sure that we ensure the benefits of genomic medicine for all.
Minister Hunt mentioned some of the great investments and work that’s been done so far, and really over the last couple of years we’ve shown that for kids with rare genetic disorders, we can increase the diagnostic rate fivefold. It was originally 10 per cent, now over 50 to 60 per cent. And it’s much cheaper than the standard long diagnostic odyssey. So it’s a quarter of the cost. And in May 2020 it was a proof that every child who has an issue with intellectual disability or severe genetic disorder can access this rapid diagnosis through genomics and be funded through Medicare, which is a great step forward.
Minister Hunt also mentioned Zero Childhood Cancer, which has been a major initiative for children and adults alike to focus on early diagnosis of cancer, of prevention through surveillance and targeted therapies, through looking at the genetic basis of the cancer is really increasing (Inaudible) would be the future of really our battle against cancer and the decrease in severe morbidity and death.
Mackenzie’s mission is a world first, where instead of swinging for just two or three disorders for young couples when they’re pregnant, we’ve now developed a programme where we screen for over a thousand severe genetic conditions to allow couples to make informed choices as they’re going forward with pregnancy.
And one thing I’m most proud of is that we have a national acute care genomics programme where every intense paediatric and neonatal intensive care around the country is working together. And we’ve also worked to get the time of diagnosis down from- while it was a couple of months a few years ago, we can provide a three-day turnaround for a genetic diagnosis for our sickest infants, and we were the first country in the world to take that as a national programme.
So Genomics Australia has a great foundation, it’s really now time that we’re looking at developing this and growing this into a national genomics health care initiative so that every Australian can benefit from this great and ground-breaking technology. So we’ll be partnering across all the states and territories, with industry, with patient groups, with consumers.
We’re really be leveraging and value adding to this great investment by the Australian Government.
We’ll continue to be partnering globally, so that all the latest discoveries and the world’s best practise will be available here in Australia. As I said, in my view, genomics is transforming and will continue to transform health care. And I think my dream is that we’ll have a future world in which we prevent disease before it develops. We remove the trial and error from treatments, and we ensure that all the information that’s needed to care for every person as a unique individual is readily available for those who need it.
So thank you Minister. It’s an honour and a privilege to take on this role, and I’m very excited by the future of Genomics Australia.