Boosted funding brings more hope for kids battling hard to treat cancer

The Precision Paediatric Cancer Project has received new funding from Cure Kids, Child Cancer Foundation and the Lindsay Foundation to improve outcomes and quality of life for New Zealand children with difficult-to-treat and relapsed forms of cancer

3.10.2020

Cure Kids is delighted to announce a major boost in funding to extend the Precision Paediatric Cancer Project (PPCP).

The Precision Paediatric Cancer Project (PPCP) is a $2.75m five-year trial co-funded by Cure Kids, Child Cancer Foundation and the Lindsay Foundation. It aims to advance the standard of care in New Zealand by finding highly targeted treatment options for children with cancer – for whom standard treatments have failed.

Led by Paediatric haematologist-oncologist Dr Andy Wood from the University of Auckland, the project uses state-of-the-art diagnostic testing to identify the genetic mutations causing cancer in children, and treat it in the most targeted way possible.

This second wave of investment marks a massive leap forward in the number of genes researchers can look at. The initial project, which commenced in 2018, enabled Dr Wood and his team to investigate a couple of hundred genes and two million DNA. Now, the PPCP will offer two main types of test.

The first test will sequence around 500 genes or about two million DNA ‘letters’. Selected cases will also be eligible for “whole genome sequencing” that examines all six billion DNA letters including 23,000 genes — “the entire human genome”, says Wood.

“We kind of describe the standard methods as looking under a lamp–post at night; you only look at the areas that are lit, whereas the whole genome testing allows us to look at a much wider expanse,” he says.

“That gives us the ability, for any given case, to give them the best test we can. It means we can help kids get the best diagnoses and the best opportunities for treatment that might otherwise have been lost or, if there is no treatment available, at least the parents know that we left no stone unturned.”

Lucca Holecliffe is a Kiwi kid who has received targeted therapy that has dramatically transformed her health. At the time of her diagnosis of a rare and aggressive cancer in March 2016, only nine other cases had been documented worldwide. Eight of those nine people died within 9 months, while 4 years on, Lucca is healthy.

Cure Kids chief executive Frances Benge says: “Precision medicine is an important part of the future of child health and will help doctors personalise the right treatments for the right patients at the right time.

“We are thrilled that both our partnership with the Lindsay Foundation and an increased level of funding from Child Cancer Foundation will enable a significant expansion of Dr Wood’s work, unlocking a much more ambitious programme through a second round of funding.

“Together, we are making a real difference for children with difficult–to–treat and relapsed cancers. We expect these advanced tests will be offered to 20–25 Kiwi children per year, giving them the potential for more accurate diagnoses, prognoses, and better-targeted treatments.”

The new tests will be offered nationally at both of New Zealand’s specialist paediatric cancer centres to selected cases — Starship Blood and Cancer Centre in Auckland and the Children’s Haematology and Oncology Centre in Christchurch.

Hear more about the project and how it has helped Lucca by listening to the podcast.