The Innovation Fund: Where your donations go

The GI Cancer Institute funds clinical trials for gastro-intestinal cancers. GI cancer affects the digestive tract and include oesophageal, stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder and biliary tract, and colorectal cancers, as well as some rare cancer types including GIST and NETs.

Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new treatment improves outcomes for patients and is safe. Clinical trials can also look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.

“The AGITG Innovation Fund provides researchers with the opportunity to conduct ground-breaking research in areas that have not been studied before. It is an important early step in the process to develop new clinical trials,” commented Professor Tim Price, Chair of the GI Cancer Institute. “The Fund awards initiatives that will build on our research programs and enable our members to accumulate the data and evidence required to then approach funding bodies to progress to larger scale clinical trials.”

The Innovation Fund is supported largely through the GI Cancer Institute’s Gutsy Challenge Program, along with the Spencer Gibson Foundation and His Hon. Alan Bishop Fund.

Our Innovation Fund grant has been awarded annually since 2015, and has grown from initially funding 2 projects, which each received $50,000, to a $200,000 grant awarded in both 2017 & 2018. With community support, our hope is to continue to build this fund so we can award 2 x $200,000 grants annually, within the next few years.

agitg innovation fund
Dr Christina Teng accepts the 2018 Innovation Fund grant from AGITG Chair Tim Price on behalf of Prof Janette Vardy.

Previous Grant Recipients and Results

2018: OXTOX

Professor Janette Vardy received the 2018 AGITG Innovation Fund grant for $200,000 to conduct research that could reduce the side effects of chemotherapy – which could help advanced colorectal cancer patients to live longer.

Patients with advanced colorectal cancer often receive a kind of chemotherapy called Oxaliplatin. This is an effective therapy which improves survival, but it causes acute neuropathy. Neuropathy is nerve damage that causes pins and needles and pain on touching or swallowing cold objects or fluids, and numbness, discomfort and pain in patients’ hands and feet.

Researchers believe that the tablet ibudilast could prevent and treat neurotoxicity, meaning that patients will not suffer from as much neuropathy. As well as improving their quality of life, it could enable them to have more chemotherapy and improve their survival.

“Preliminary data in our small phase one study look promising. We hope to be able to reduce the incidence and severity of peripheral neuropathy associated with oxaliplatin,” says Prof. Vardy. “We are very grateful to AGITG and the donors who have supported our study investigating an intervention for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.”


2017: RENO

The 2017 Innovation Fund grant was awarded to the RENO (REctal cancer No Operation) study, which is currently in development. RENO was developed by A/Professor Chris Karapetis after he saw a patient with metastatic colorectal cancer. The patient asked to watch and wait to see if their cancer continued to progress before undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Professor Karapetis realised that no research had been done on the feasibility of this approach, and was inspired to develop the RENO study as a result.

“Awarding the AGITG Innovation Fund to RENO supports a trial that has the opportunity to translate into real changes in practice for patients with rectal cancer,” commented Professor Tim Price Chair, GI Cancer Institute. “RENO is multidisciplinary study that addresses a clinical dilemma that comes up in our multi-disciplinary team meetings on a weekly basis and we are thrilled to provide funding that will hopefully determine the answers to these questions.”

A/Prof Karapetis commented that there are retrospective studies showing the safety of a watch and wait strategy instead of surgery in patients who do not have any signs of disease after completing chemoradiation. This approach may save the patient from surgical risks and long‐term morbidity.

“It is a great honour for me to lead this study with the recognition and support that the AGITG Innovation Fund Grant provides,” said A/Prof Karapetis.  “I anticipate that our study will guide clinical practice and I hope that findings will lead to a clinical meaningful improvement in patient outcomes. On behalf of all the investigators involved with the RENO study, I sincerely thank the AGITG.”



In 2016, a $100,000 Innovation Fund Grant was awarded to Dr Matthew Burge from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for the MONARCC trial, which opened to recruitment early in 2018.

Treatment of advanced bowel cancer has improved significantly over the past few years. The number of different chemotherapy and targeted or “biologic” therapy options has also increased. Therefore, the complexity of treatment decisions faced by the treating oncologist have also increased. This includes determining the best treatment regimen and best sequence in which to prescribe the available drugs.

This trial seeks to determine what the best initial treatment is for an elderly patient population – commonly diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in Australia – that is known to have difficulty withstanding the expected side effects of the commonly used combination chemotherapy regimens.

“Winning this award means a huge amount to me. The recognition of the importance of this research question is particularly gratifying,” said Dr Matthew Burge.   “I now plan to lead a national study which I hope will improve the treatment options and outcome for elderly patients with advanced colorectal cancer.”

On being awarded the Innovation Fund grant additional funding was successfully sought by an industry partner – enabling this study to be extended and made available to additional eligible patients.


2015: DOCTOR Genomics Study

In 2015, Professor Barbour and co-investigators from the School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, were also awarded a $50,000 Innovation Fund Grant, towards a translational study entitled the DOCTOR Genomics Study, which was an extension to the larger scale DOCTOR trial.

It looked at the genetics of tumour samples collected from patients before starting therapy, to understand what are the genetic determinants of oesophageal cancer relapse and why some patients benefit from pre-operative therapy while many do not.

“The Innovation Fund Grant provided necessary funds to begin the pre-planned and very exciting genomic sub study. The grant funded DNA copy number analyses that was performed on tumour tissues from participants providing important insights in oesophageal tumour biology and serving as important first steps for subsequent next generation sequencing studies”, reported Principal Investigator Professor Andrew Barbour.

“The additional Innovation Grant has allowed us to capitalize on the analysis of patient blood and tumour tissue biopsies that were collected as part of the DOCTOR trial before and after pre-operative therapy.”

The data generated from the Innovation Fund Grant is being analysed now to identify patients who are more or less likely to get a benefit from pre-operative chemo or chemoradiotherapy. It is also focussing on identifying markers of risk for those patients likely to develop serious side effects from these treatments.

Professor Andrew Barbour.


2015: Gastric Cancer Study

Advanced stomach cancer is a lethal disease necessitating the urgent need to develop new treatments. Prof John Mariadason, Dr David Lau and Associate Professor Niall Tebbutt were awarded $50,000 to look at advanced stage gastric cancer and response to the drug Regorafenib, a drug currently used in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

“Receiving this support from the Innovation Fund has allowed us to generate some evidence to suggest that FGFR-driven gastric cancers may respond better to regorafenib, but we need to confirm this in more patients” said Professor John Mariadason. “It is important to continue to improve the outcomes for people with stomach cancer and we can only do this by continually gathering more information about treatment alternatives.”

The 2015 Innovation Fund grant enabled the research team to develop sufficient evidence to reference in a successful subsequent grant submission to the NHMRC for a three year project, titled The FGFR family as drivers and biomarkers of regorafenib response in gastric cancer.