The Innovation Grant: Where your donations go

The GI Cancer Institute Innovation Grant was created to support new research into GI cancer treatments. It is largely supported through the Gutsy Challenge and community fundraising. Thanks to the incredible dedication of our community, over $1.7 million in Innovation Grants have been awarded to new research since 2015.

The Innovation Grant enables researchers to conduct small scale ‘pilot studies’ which are the only way to test promising treatments before moving on to a larger trial. It also supports cutting-edge translational research that utilises data generated from clinical trials, together with the biological specimens collected from the patients who participate, to test new hypotheses that can lead to improvements in care.

Grant funding to conduct clinical trials is extremely competitive, which is why community support for research is so important.

“The Innovation Grant has been developed to help us conduct more research to improve survival rates, quality of life, and ultimately find a cure for the 34,291 Australians diagnosed with a GI cancer every year,” says Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Chair of the GI Cancer Institute.

Since 2022, the Innovation Grant is open for both clinical trials and translational research studies.


Grant recipients

2022, Clinical Trial: Improved local control using adaptive MRI-guidance with stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, Stomach cancer

Led by Dr Trang Pham, this study is investigating whether MRI-guided stereotactic radiotherapy improves the two-year local control by precisely targeting tumours inside the stomach area, while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue intact.

“This clinical trial will be one of the first Australia–Aotearoa New Zealand wide trials to assess whether MRI-guided radiotherapy can lead to better patient outcomes. I think it’s very important to keep the community involved as they help us keep the research patient-focussed. The community support will really allow us to continue this work and to have a positive impact on the lives of cancer patients and the wider community,” says Dr Pham.

– Dr Trang Pham, Principal Investigator


2022, Translational Research: The Molecular Colonoscopy Study (LIBERATE substudy), Colorectal cancer

Led by Dr Daniel Cox, this substudy explores the use of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) as biomarkers to screen for colorectal cancer risk among patients who are waiting for a colonoscopy, increasing chances of early detection and intervention.

“We’re looking to translate this technology to a clinically useful tool to tell us how to stratify patient risk of colorectal cancer. So when we look at those 5,000 patients on the waiting list, we ask them if they want to do this blood test, identify those with highest risk of colorectal cancer, get their colonoscopies expedited so they can get early diagnosis, early intervention and potentially more effective treatment,” says Dr Cox.

– Dr Daniel Cox, Principal Investigator


2021: ActDNA, a translational substudy of the ASCOLT trial, Colorectal cancer

Led by Professor Eva Segelov, this substudy is investigating if circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) can be used as a marker to indicate a patient’s prognosis or predict the risk of disease recurrence post-resective (tumour removal) surgery.

“This new research is something that we didn’t initially anticipate, but what it will be looking at is whether there are signs little bits of DNA in the blood sample that can predict whether or not the cancer will come back. The whole area of ctDNA is something that has been a great interest for many years, but we never had the tools to be able to do it until now,” Professor Segelov says.

– Professor Eva Segelov, Principal Investigator

2021: BIOMARCER-2, a phase II trial using immunohistochemistry for targeted treatments, Colorectal cancer

Led by Dr Shehara Mendis, this study focuses on the use of a simple and routine pathology test (known as immunohistochemistry) as a biomarker that can tell who might benefit most from a targeted cancer therapy called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor inhibitors (EGFRi), which is commonly used in advanced colorectal cancer.

“Rather than using the side of the colon in which their cancer originated, we will measure markers we think will indicate which patient will respond. We will essentially be sparing patients who won’t benefit from certain drugs the toxicity of it and undergoing the process of using ineffective therapies,” says Dr Mendis.

– Dr Shehara Mendis, Principal Investigator

2020: VADER, a phase II trial evaluating EGFR inhibition with HDAC inhibition, Colorectal cancer

Led by Professor Niall Tebbutt and Professor John Mariadason, this study will “re-purpose” a drug called valproate to treat patients with advanced colon cancer. While Valproate has been used to treat epilepsy and mood disorders for several decades, our recent laboratory findings have shown that this drug also has anti-cancer activity.

“Over 5000 Australians die from colorectal cancer each year including an increasing number of younger people. This trial will investigate a potential new treatment which is urgently needed for these patients. This research simply would not be possible without the commitment and generosity of those in the community who have dedicated their time and money to this important cause,” says Professor Mariadason.

The VADER study will be opening to patients in 2022.

– Professor Niall Tebbutt and Professor John Mariadason, Principal Investigators


2020: A translational substudy of the MASTERPLAN trial, Pancreatic cancer

Led by Professor David Goldstein, this substudy aims to validate the complex link between cancer outcomes and bacterial composition, based on evidence that suggests altering or restoring bacterial composition can have a positive impact.

“Supporting novel approaches in their initial stages is so important in this financially constrained time. By having this initial funding we can develop our concept with sufficient data to become competitive for government and/or industry grants,” says Professor Goldstein.

– Professor David Goldstein, Principal Investigator


2020: A translational sub-study of the CONTROL NETS trial, Neuroendocrine tumours

Led by Doctor Ben Lawrence, this substudy will analyse a specific marker in the neuroendocrine tumour, MGMT, to see if it predicts whether adding chemotherapy to treatment will be of benefit to a patient.

“Currently, PRRT is the best treatment for people with Neuroendocrine Cancer. We have run a clinical trial (called CONTROL NETs) to see if we can make PRRT more effective, by adding chemotherapy. Some people will benefit from adding chemotherapy, but some will not. We think we know how to pick who will benefit, and the Innovation Grant will help us to find out if we are right,” says Doctor Lawrence.

– Doctor Ben Lawrence, Principal Investigator


2019: FORECAST-1, Colorectal cancer

The FORECAST-1 study, led by Professor Gibbs, gives hope to patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who have exhausted all other treatment options. 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.

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

The trial opened in September 2020 and has nearly enrolled all the patients required to complete the study. Learn more about FORECAST-1

– Professor Peter Gibbs, FORECAST-1 Principal Investigator


2018: OXTOX, Colorectal cancer

The OXTOX clinical trial, led by Professor Janette Vardy, is investigating whether a new treatment called ibudilast can prevent and reduce a painful side effect caused by the chemotherapy, oxaliplatin, in people with advanced colorectal cancer. Peripheral neuropathy can cause numbness, discomfort and pain in the hands and feet, and can last for months or years after a patient stops treatment. It significantly impacts a patient’s quality of life, and there is currently no effective prevention or treatment.

“If the results of this trial are positive, it has the potential to improve patients’ quality of life and maybe even improve their survival if it means they’re able to get the desired dose of chemotherapy. So we’re very grateful to the community for the opportunity to be able to conduct this important study,” Professor Vardy says.

OXTOX is currently open to patient enrolment and aims to enrol 90 patients across five sites in New South Wales. Learn more about OXTOX

– Professor Janette Vardy, OXTOX Principal Investigator


2017: RENO, Rectal cancer

The RENO study, led by Professor Chris Karapetis, is examining whether some people being treated for rectal cancer can forgo surgery after chemoradiotherapy treatment. Surgery can have long-term side effects and many patients need permanent stoma construction.

“Awarding the AGITG Innovation Grant to RENO (REctal cancer No Operation) supports a trial that has the opportunity to translate into real changes in practice for patients with rectal cancer. 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 hopefully determine the answers to these questions.”

RENO is currently open to patient enrolment. Learn more about RENO

– Professor Chris Karapetis, RENO Principal Investigator


2016: MONARCC, Colorectal cancer

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.

MONARCC has completed patient enrolment and is currently in follow-up. Learn more about MONARCC

– Doctor Matthew Burge, MONARCC Principal Investigator


2015: DOCTOR Genomics Study, Oesophageal cancer

“The Innovation Grant provided necessary funds to begin the pre-planned and very exciting genomic substudy. 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,” says Professor Barbour.

– Professor Andrew Barbour, DOCTOR Genomics Study Principal Investigator


2015: Gastric Cancer Study

Led by Professor John Mariadason, Doctor David Lau and Professor Niall Tebbutt, this project looked at advanced stage gastric cancer and response to the drug Regorafenib, a drug currently used in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

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

“Receiving this support from the Innovation Grant allowed us to generate evidence to suggest that FGFR-driven gastric cancers may respond better to regorafenib. 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.”

– Professor John Mariadason, Doctor David Lau and Professor Niall Tebbutt


Help us continue developing new research

Any donation, no matter what size, will help us to conduct our clinical trials and lead to better health outcomes for the 28,600 Australian patients diagnosed with GI cancer each year.

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