WA News Guest Opinion / Editorial Research Dollars Where Needed Most
Research Dollars Where Needed Most
Written by Terry Slevin
Monday, 02 October 2017


It’s no surprise that cancer research is always in the news but the first-half of this year has seen something of a watershed.

A recent Senate inquiry, chaired by brain cancer survivor Senator Catryna Bilyk, focused on poor outcomes linked with this particular disease and the need for improved research. Cancer Council Australia CEO Prof Sanchia Aranda reinforced this message by asserting it was timely to focus on prioritising biomedical research and to make better use of existing technologies.

She said: “Much of the inquiry will focus, as it should, on laboratory research and discovery but we must not lose sight of lost opportunities within our current health system to reduce stark survival inequities between cancer types.”

This reality was highlighted by a recent WA Cancer Registry report on local cancer survival data, which reveals steady progress with a five-year relative survival for all cancers increasing from 52% in 1985-89 to 70% in 2010-2014. Survival (five-years) for people with melanoma, breast and prostate cancer exceeds 90%. But clearly, there are clear winners and losers.

The most common low-survival cancer is lung cancer with cancers of the pancreas, liver and brain not far behind. This is the sort of data that should be driving future research investment.

Research is underway in WA in some of these areas but the local research engagement – while critically important – is only a relatively modest component of the national and international research effort. Attracting sufficient funding for research has long been a major barrier but perhaps this tide might be turning.

The WA Future Health Research Innovation Fund was an election promise of the new State government. Budget woes notwithstanding, we’re looking at a fund that should generate $35m a year to invest in medical research. A focus on cancer should utilise a sizable proportion of that investment.

There is also the generosity of philanthropist Andrew Forrest and his significant, one-off boost of $75m to cancer research.

The Cancer Research Trust, announced in early July, will see $13.5m committed to two cancer research programs in WA. And that’s timely because the amount of national research funding flowing to WA from the NHMRC has been steadily dwindling.

The new Medical Research Future Fund and Cancer Council WA continue to invest in research. The latter currently commits about $4m a year.

There’s no doubt that a boost in funding is a good thing. But it’s equally crucial that we give serious thought to the most effective and efficient way to use these funds. The real priority is to ensure that investment in cancer research generates real and tangible benefits to the people who need it most.

References available on request. 

ED : Terry Slevin is a spokesperson for the Cancer Council WA