Change needed for cancer patients

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A Senate select committee has recommended a number of changes designed to improve outcomes for Australians diagnosed with low survival cancers.

The committee into 'funding for research into cancers with low survival rates', chaired by Labor's Catryna Bilyk, tabled its report earlier this week.

Amongst 25 recommendations, the report says research into low survival rate cancers should be prioritised and that clinical trials should be made more accessible, in Australia and overseas.

It says the Council of Australian Governments Health Council should lead a review to ensure a smoother transition to children and young people from paediatric into adult oncology services. It also recommends government-led communication activities designed to raise awareness and increase detection and diagnosis.

Tabling the report, committee chair Senator Bilyk said, "The committee also recommended the implementation of an Australia-wide strategy to increase five-year survival rates for low-survival-rate cancers to above 50 per cent by 2027. Such a strategy will require the participation and commitment of the federal, state and territory governments, but a targeted approach with specific goals is essential if significant improvements are to be made for patients with low-survival-rate cancers."

The report also calls for a re-examination of regulatory and reimbursement assessment processes for "innovative treatments for low survival rate (LSR) cancers, such as immunotherapies."

According to the report, the committee considers it "unacceptable" that Australia applies a "one size fits all" to the regulatory and reimbursement assessment of medicines like immunotherapies for LSR cancers when "it is clear that the existing approaches are illsuited to these treatments and no improvements in survival rates for these cancers have been made.”

It continued, "Put simply, if it is acceptable for European and American regulators to adopt more flexible and innovative approaches to assessing immunotherapies - including approval or acceptance of novel clinical trial protocols - the committee sees no reason why, pending a (re-)examination of TGA and PBAC assessment processes, more flexible and innovative approaches should not be adopted in Australia."

The report was welcomed by Rare Cancers Australia. According to founder and chairman, Richard Vines, the onus is now on government to respond to the recommendations in a timely fashion.