Announcing the 2019 AGITG Award Winners

The 2019 AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting was held from 21-23 August. At the meeting, seven awards were presented to outstanding researchers. AGITG Chair Professor Tim Price presented the awards, which recognise innovative research into gastro-intestinal cancer treatment.

AGITG Innovation Fund

Professor Peter Gibbs was awarded the 2019 Innovation Fund grant. He received $200,000 to conduct the pilot study, ‘An organoid sensitivity testing driven umbrella study for patients with refractory metastatic colorectal cancer.’

Professor Gibbs’ study will enrol 30 patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who have exhausted all other treatment options. Fresh biopsies of their cancers will be obtained and cultured in the laboratory to establish patient derived tumour organoids (PDTOs). A variety of well-established and new therapies will be tested on the organoids, in order to find any effective treatments that can be offered. The best treatment for each patient will then be individually allocated according to the results of these analyses.

“I am thrilled that we have received the Innovation Fund grant to conduct such an important study,” says Professor Gibbs. “This grant will enable us to test a new development in personalised bowel cancer treatment that could give hope to people who have no other options.”

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John Zalcberg OAM Award for Excellence in AGITG Research

Each year, the John Zalcberg OAM Award is given to an AGITG member who has made a significant and outstanding leadership contribution to AGITG research over a sustained period.

The 2019 award was presented to Professor Val Gebski for contributions in the role of senior statistician since the AGITG’s formation in 1991. In this role he has provided input in every clinical trial that has been conducted in collaboration with the Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Sydney, as well as trials conducted externally to the CTC.

“It is an honour to receive the John Zalcberg OAM Award,” says Professor Gebski. “I am proud to have contributed to research which has resulted in improvements in gastro-intestinal cancer treatment, and to have contributed to to the design of high quality clinical trials resulting in international recognition of the excellence of AGITG.”

Merck-AGITG Kristian Anderson Award

Dr Ryan Cohen, pictured above with Merck Managing Director ANZ Leah Goodman and Merck Country Medical Director ANZ Dr Arthur Alston, was awarded the Merck-AGITG Kristian Anderson Award, receiving the first year’s funding for his PhD, titled ‘Predicting colorectal cancer metastatic risk: the tumour immune microenvironment, circulating exosomes and tumour DNA as biomarkers of disease progression’.

Dr Cohen was awarded one year’s funding for his PhD, equivalent to $36,700. The award is presented each year in honour of Kristian Anderson, who was  diagnosed with cancer in his bowel and liver in October 2009, at age 34. He successfully lobbied the federal government to subsidise cetuximab. He passed away in 2012, leaving behind a legacy as a man who secured federal funding for a drug that has improved the treatment of many colon cancer patients. “It is an honour to receive this award and I am thrilled to have this support for my research,” says Dr Cohen. “I hope that it can bring us one step closer to finding better treatments for people with bowel cancer.”

“It is important that Merck continues to support the scholarship and research into gastro-intestinal cancer through the Merck-AGITG Kristian Anderson Award. Our aim is to encourage and support a clinician through higher study and to perpetuate the legacy of the late Kristian Anderson, who did much to gain international attention for advancing bowel cancer treatment and personalised medicine.” Leah Goodman, Managing Director of Merck ANZ  

Many thanks to Merck for their generous support for the Merck-Kristian Andersen Award.

Best New Concept

The Best New Concept Award was presented to Dr Mark McGregor for his study concept: ‘A phase II study of oncolytic immunotherapy of metastatic neuroendocrine tumours using intralesional rose Bengal diodium in combination with pembolizumab’.

At the New Concepts Symposium sponsored by Specialised Therapeutics, four new research concepts were presented by Dr Grace Gard, Dr Ivan Ho Shon, Dr Mark McGregor and Dr Yoko Tomita. All four concepts can be submitted for review by the the Upper and Lower GI Working Parties.

Specialised Therapeutics Australia Chief Executive Officer Mr Carlo Montagner said he looked forward to seeing this research evolve in the clinic.

“All great breakthroughs begin with a single idea,” he said. “We are proud to again support the New Concepts Symposium and will watch with interest as this concept is progressed through relevant clinical studies before hopefully, changing outcomes.”

Pictured above L to R: Liz Daly, Stef Jordan, Susanne Olsen, Mark McGregor, Tim Price, Nikoletta McLeod, and Kathy Harniman.

Many thanks to Specialised Therapeutics for their sponsorship of the Best New Concept Award.

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Best Poster & Best Fast Forward Presentation

The Best Poster Award was presented to Dr Swetha Sridharan, for ‘Palliative Oesophageal Chemoradiotherapy: A Phase I Clinical Trial’.

Dr Simon Wilkins was awarded the Best Fast Forward Presentation award for ‘The effect of oversewing double stapled anastomoses in oncological colorectal surgery’.

The Best of Posters and Best of Fast Forward Awards are supported by GenesisCare. Pictured with Dr Sridharan and Dr Simon Wilkins is Duy Tran, General Manager, SA, GenesisCare.

“GenesisCare are proud to sponsor the Best Poster and Fast Forward presentation and congratulate both Dr Swetha Sridharan and Dr Simon Wilkins for their commitment to improving the health & quality of life of gastro intestinal cancer patients through clinical research,” Associate Professor John Leung, GenesisCare

Many thanks to GenesisCare for their sponsorship of the Best Poster and Fast Forward presentation.

AGITG Member Fundraiser of the Year

Associate Professor Niall Tebbutt was presented with the inaugural award for AGITG Member Fundraiser of the Year, recognising his commitment to fundraising for AGITG research, including climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Aconcagua and committing to lead an ascent of Mt Himlung Himal in 2020.

Outstanding Site Award

Naomi Knoblauch received the AGITG Outstanding Site Award on behalf of Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital. Calvary Mater currently has five AGITG trials open, as well as substudies for ASCOLT and DYNAMIC-Rectal. Notably, staff at this site have recruited double the number of patients expected for the ASCOLT study.

Calvary Mater is responsible for the management of the ClinTrial Refer Oncology NSW smartphone app, which lists actively recruiting studies at 38 sites across the state. This has led to more patients from private centres being referred to the site.