Genomics gets a $500 million boost

By Tom Burton

May 8, 2018

The Federal government is investing $500 million over the next ten years to promote the use of genomics and new immuno therapies, using a patient’s unique genetic makeup to better target therapies.

The program is to be known as the Australian Genomics Health Futures Mission and seeks to build off Australia’s strong research and genomics capabilities.

The genomics mission is part of a broader $1.3 billion Medical Industry Growth Plan that sees $240 million to be spent on so-called frontier medical research, and $248 million on clinical trials for rare diseases and unmet needs. The plan also commits $125 million over nine years to accelerate the translation of research into diabetes and heart research into commercial viable drugs.

Using patients’ biomarkers and genomic data to precisely target molecular level diseases is predicted to save or transform the lives of more than 200,000 Australians through better diagnosis and treatment.

These treatments have brought hope to many patients suffering from mid-life disease, especially rare cancers.

The Mission is being financed from the Medical Research Future Fund.

Using precise genomic data is predicted to revolutionise healthcare, enabling highly precise diagnosis and therapies, based on a patient’s molecular structure, rather than on traditional symptoms.

Early use of immuno drugs has already seen exciting remissions in cancer, but with researchers still trying to determine why some drugs work well on certain patients, and others don’t.

Australia has strong medical research capabilities and an international regarded genomic community.

So-called immuno wonder drugs —some costing more than $500,000 a round— have excited the international medical community and led to high levels of investor interest in drug firms specialising in their development.

The Ferris Innovation report earlier this year called for a national plan to make Australia the healthiest country on the planet, outlining an ambitious ten year mission to use precision genomic medicine to improve health outcomes.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has strongly promoted the use of precision medicine, fast-tracking drug approvals and supporting various initiatives to improve prevention and prediction.

The Australian Genomics Mission includes:

  • Clinical flagship studies to tackle rare diseases and cancers;
  • Expanded clinical trials to give Australian patients early access to test drugs;
  • Co-investing with philanthropic and business interests; and
  • A community dialogue to better understand the privacy, legal, social and familial impacts of genomic medicine.

The first project is to be known as MacKenzie’s Mission, a $20 million trial in pre-conception screening for rare diseases.

New molecular level drugs are very expensive, placing pressure on the government to list them on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so patients can afford them.

The budget sees the government investing $2.4 billion in new medicines, including an additional $1 billion provision for listing further medicines.

Since October 2013, there has been an average of 31 new and amended PBS items listed per month — or one per day — at an overall cost of approximately $9 billion.

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