Improving Access to Critical Cancer Information

Global data sharing is helping Australian kids battle cancer.
A child on a hospital bed, recieving saline intravenous

The Problem: Insufficient information to treat Australian children with cancer effectively

Every year around 200 young Australians are diagnosed with a rare, high risk type of cancer with low survival rates. It’s 200 too many, but too small a number to accurately analyse data and identify effective treatment methods.

However, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes somewhere around the world. Finding other patients with a similar mutation means a better chance of finding a successful treatment for each Australian case.

The Approach: Creating a seamless, secure way of accessing and sharing global data about rare cancers

The ARDC, the Australian BioCommons and other groups are providing funds, facilities and expertise to harmonise different computational systems, software and data which enable timely genomic information processing.

One result is a cloud-based platform, CAVATICA, which provides a coordinated analysis of Australian cancer information with data from other countries. It allows scientists worldwide to rapidly access large amounts of genomic childhood cancer data and workflows where they can share, process, integrate and analyse data.

The platform also harmonises information without physically moving any data, alleviating issues related to the security of genetic data.

The Outcome: Improving the lives of children with rare cancer

Sydney Children’s Hospital recently implemented a new clinical trial program called the Zero Childhood Cancer Program. It uses rapid data access and sharing through the CAVATICA platform, allowing medical staff to quickly access global data related to new cancer cases.

As soon as a child is diagnosed and enrolled in the trial, researchers analyse the genetic and molecular make-up of their cancer cells and test hundreds of options to identify which drugs are most likely to be effective. Once a promising drug is identified, it is tested in living laboratory models to see how it performs. The results are used to develop a personalised treatment plan.

The trial is showing promising results. During the first 12 months, nearly 70 per cent of participating children were able to benefit from these rapidly produced treatment plans.

For some, the trial has been life saving.

Eleven-month-old Ellie was admitted to the hospital with a tumour in her chest and was enrolled in the program. A team rapidly identified the likely cause of her cancer and compared her genetic information with global data. They identified a new US anti-cancer drug that specifically targeted her case. After several weeks, Ellie was able to leave intensive care.

“The innovative technology of CAVATICA enables researchers from Australia and the United States to seamlessly share data and novel analysis methods with ease, driving improved outcomes and novel research,” said A/Prof Mark Cowley, Computational Biology Group Leader at Children’s Cancer Institute.

Support for the program continues to build. The Australian Government and the Minderoo Foundation recently announced an additional $67 million to expand the Zero program. This enables all Australian children and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer to access targeted treatment through the collaborative research and clinical program.