By Lucinda Nolan
Established in 2000, the OCRF has grown to become Australia’s leading independent body dedicated to funding national ovarian cancer research. We demonstrate leadership in the ovarian cancer space through:
- prioritising research that will have the biggest impact for the most women
- collaborating with ovarian cancer experts to identify and pursue the most promising projects
- embracing a dual focus on both the present (reducing the lethal threat for women today) and the future (striving for complete eradication of the disease)
While there have been many advances in our understanding of the basic biology of ovarian cancers, the significant challenge ahead is to shift survivability rates for ovarian cancer patients. Research remains the only solution. The OCRF continues to lead, and advocate for, increased research funding to save women’s lives, mobilising Government, corporates, philanthropists, and the community. There is, unfortunately, a long way to go.
Ovarian cancer is the most lethal female cancer yet is critically underfunded and, unfortunately, we know from first-hand experience that when funding into ovarian cancer is neglected, women and girls die. The next generation of women deserve better and the OCRF is committed to ensuring that this happens, but we can’t do it alone. We have a clear plan to stop ovarian cancer and you can help us get there.
Currently, ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of 46% which means women and girls have less than half a chance to survive this disease. This year, more than 1720 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Only 791 will still be alive in five years. What is even more stark is the reality that 95% of advanced stage disease diagnoses relate to a type of ovarian cancer that has a five-year survival rate of just 29%. That means these women have less than even a third of a chance to survive this disease. How and when did this become so passively accepted?
Improvements in survival rates for women with breast, uterine and cervical cancer came from research, early detection tests, public campaigns, collaboration, and advocacy. We should be rightly proud that the Federal Government and the Australian community were determined to help save these lives. Now it is ovarian cancer’s turn. The OCRF has learnt from the success of other cancers, and we are ready to drive significant change.
So, what is the Plan?
Last year, we commissioned a State of the Nation: Research Audit by Insight Economics to understand research funding so that we could develop a clear roadmap for improving the stagnated survival rates for women and girls with ovarian cancer. While it became clear that there was an urgent need for investment in ovarian cancer research, it was also clear that there was unanimous agreement around how that could be achieved. Researchers, those living with ovarian cancer, and clinicians overwhelmingly agreed on three things:
- We need an early detection test
- We need increased funding for a national approach to treatment and research; and
- We need to act now
The State of the Nation report outlined three clear goals, all leading the way in increasing survivability rates in the short, medium, and longer term. We continue to actively pursue these goals today:
Goal 1: We want to improve survival rates to 50 per cent for women today by rapidly incorporating recent research advances into clinical practice nationally.
Goal 2: We want to improve 5-year survival rates beyond 50 per cent through development and increased access to new and innovative personalised treatments.
Goal 3: We want to improve 5-year survival rates towards 90 per cent through the development of new methods for early detection and diagnosis.
While the goals and broader focus areas are clear, we need to ensure that we are funding the areas of research that will more likely achieve or progress these goals. The State of the Nation was very clear on where we should be investing our money:
- Finding new and effective treatments – improving treatment options to increase survival rates
- Managing recurrence - better management of recurrent disease to enhance survival and quality of life
- Early Detection – saving lives through early diagnosis
- Prevention – reducing disease prevalence through preventative research
How the OCRF is tackling ovarian cancer
We remain the largest non-governmental funder of ovarian cancer research in Australia and the largest funder of early detection and diagnosis research. However, current research funding demand is outstripping our ability to fund all quality research submitted. We are working feverishly to raise even more revenue to support all promising ovarian cancer research that falls within our research priorities.
While an early detection test is likely to have the greatest impact on ovarian cancer survivability, we are equally focussed on improving treatment options for those living with the disease right now. Ovarian cancers are complex to treat and prone to recurrence – the disease very often returns after initial treatment – further exacerbating the complexity of treating this disease. Exciting research is continuing in this space both to target the cells responsible for disease recurrence, and to develop treatments for patients on an individual, personalised basis.
In addition to our own research priorities, we have continued to lobby the government for increased funding for ovarian cancer research. In 2019, we successfully lobbied for $16.2 million dollars in MRFF funding with a particular focus on early detection and prevention research. Similarly, in December 2020, we secured additional funding on the back of the State of the Nation findings – again with a focus on early detection.
We continue discussions with Government on potential modifications to the current MRFF model, so that the application of the model does not continue to negatively impact the ability of the sector to respond effectively. One key aspect of these discussions is the current lack of predictability in the timings or sequence of specific MRFF grant funding calls – with a view to help secure scheduled MRFF funding for ovarian cancer research with known timeframes. This will help drive a sustainable and secure research environment for our brightest and best. Ovarian cancer researchers need certainty and stability in funding, both from non-profits and government funding bodies.
Early Detection Tests
We don’t believe in putting all our eggs in one basket (excuse the pun), so we are backing a myriad of early diagnoses research proposals to improve our chances of success. We are funding early detection projects focusing on a diverse range of potential biomarkers including tumour specific DNA methylation in the blood, novel exosomal biomarker panels, the multiplex Active Ratio Test, new blood protein biomarkers and extracellular vesicles. We are confident in the success of these approaches because they have been assessed by our international and expert Scientific Advisory Committee and our Consumer Representative Panel. We have international ovarian cancer experts telling us this is where you need to invest your money for the greatest returns. We are excited by the progress to date, and we will continue to chase funding so that early detection of ovarian cancer becomes part of a woman’s regular health check - just like a pap smear or mammogram.
Collaboration and Advocacy
As another means to close the funding gap, we have proactively secured several collaborative partnerships. Some of these partnerships are with other cancer research organisations, where we have secured matched funding for ovarian cancer research as the minimum baseline. We have also joined forces with individual researchers and research institutions to make applications for Government funding with the OCRF acting as the collaborative partner. This is a way of showing Government that we are more than happy to put our money and assets where our mouth is – if this is a way that we can progress increased survivability rates together. Presenting a united front to build up and expand the ovarian cancer research sector is vital to research progress.
What do we need TODAY?
We are at a critical crossroad now – we have the evidence, the perspectives, and the plan to solve the ovarian cancer issue, but significant effort needs to occur now to make it a reality.
Our best shot at improving ovarian cancer survival rates, our collective challenge, is to move the fight beyond the researchers in the lab to more funding and support from government, philanthropists, corporates, and communities. If we are not all in this together, then we are somehow accepting of many women and girls continuing to suffer needlessly.
The call to action is clear – we need to shift the current dial – across funding levels, campaigns, and advocacy. Your support and advocacy can be as simple or as complex as your commitment to the cause.
- Donate to ovarian cancer research – become an OCRF regular donor (and member of The Lab); support a campaign; fundraise or donate what you can when you can.
- Become a strong and single-minded third-party advocate: like, share and repost our social messaging; add some comments; start the conversations. We are stronger as a collective, raising the voices of every person impacted by this disease.
- Help us out – join the OCRF team as an ambassador to raise awareness equitably across the nation – ovarian cancer does not discriminate on geography – we need to reach every woman, everywhere and we need your help to do just that. Get in touch for more information.
The OCRF commits to driving real change – we would love you to join Team OCRF today – so you can be a part of rewriting the future. Women and girls have already waited too long – another day is a day too late.
History has shown that when government, philanthropists, corporate organisations, and the community join together, significant improvements can be realised for cancer survival. Ovarian cancer has fallen behind for too long, but together we are building momentum toward a future free from the threat of ovarian cancer.
how you can help
Join The Lab - a community of like-minded people coming together to provide a solid foundation of funding, each month, so that vital ovarian cancer research can continue uninterrupted.