Commitment – The Driver of Change
What does it take to improve survival statistics that haven’t changed in almost 50 years, or see treatments advance after 20 years of the same methods? It takes commitment. Unwavering dedication – not only from us – the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, but from our community, and commitment from the most influential of all – the government, with a power to generate major change across the country.
It is no secret that ovarian cancer statistics have not seen significant improvement in decades, whilst other cancers: cervical, breast and bowel have made leaps and bounds in early detection and treatment in the last 20-plus years. Currently, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is just 48 per cent, compared to 92 per cent for breast cancer, 84 per cent for uterine cancer, 70 per cent for bowel cancer and 74 per cent for cervical cancer. These five-year survival statistics were not always so high.
Between 1987 and 2013, bowel cancer's five-year survival rate improved from 52 per cent to today’s 70 per cent, cervical cancer’s five-year survival in 1988 was 71 and by 2035, it is expected to be eradicated – thanks to Australia’s HPV vaccination program, while breast cancer improved from 76 in 1994, to 92 percent today. To give further context, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer today, remains lower than the five-year survival rate for all cancers in 1975, when the modern cancer research era began.
History shows that when communities, governments and industry come together, big improvements in survival rates can be realised and countless lives saved – it can be done. For these cancers once deemed far more fatal, change didn’t happen just overnight. Years of collective commitment by organisations, patients, researchers, public campaigns, advocacy, and governments saw the dial shift towards better outcomes. It takes dedication.
While ovarian cancer has historically been left behind, it’s our mission to make it a similar success story for the next generation of women and girls. This is why our organisation exists. At the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, we are in it for the long haul, we will continue to fight the status quo, because the next generation deserves better.
The OCRF’s Commitment:
So, just how are we showing our commitment to a future free from the threat of ovarian cancer? While awareness is critical, we believe funding life-saving research is most valuable to saving more lives. We’re putting our money where our mouth is:
Between 2010 and 2020, the OCRF has funded 10% of all ovarian cancer research in Australia
$17 million since 2010 and more than $25 million since our inception in 2000
In the 20/21 financial year alone, over $1.7 million was paid in nine research grants around Australia, with a focus either on early detection, treatment or prevention
Over $230,000 was spent on supporting ovarian cancer research by way of funding living biobanks in Melbourne and Adelaide – a resource that is essential in contemporary studies
We believe that innovative research is the way that we can save the most women and girls. That’s why we’re investing in finding new and effective treatments, managing recurrence, early detection, and prevention with money that has been raised and donated by our incredible community.
Tom Jobling, co-founder and former Chairman of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, is the Head of Gynaecological Oncology at Monash Health and has been treating and operating on ovarian cancer patients for more than 30 years. He reflects on milestones and major moments in the ovarian cancer research landscape since the inception of the OCRF.
“I'm most proud of the fact that we were able to prosper Australian research, which, I think, is second to none on the planet. We’ve been able to enable clinical researchers – the amount of work that research scientists have to do to get a dollar so that they can live and prosper their research is ridiculous.”
And as for the results of funding vital innovative research:
“The ability to detect ovarian cancer early and the ability to treat it and to combat chemoresistance will be the major projects that we are working on now. And, we have come a hell of a long way in the last 20-odd years, so we are particularly proud of that. All of this research has been funded by the OCRF.”
The OCRF Community’s Commitment:
While lobbying governments and funding researchers has, and will continue to be pivotal in our success, it is our dedicated OCRF community that has almost single-handedly driven the rate of progress in the ovarian cancer sphere, by increasing the funding pool to enable research, year on year.
“An organisation like the OCRF cannot make the disruptive change required to shift survivability rates alone – we rely so heavily on the support, commitment and dedication of so many others.”
Lucinda Nolan, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, says we need to target not only the heads of the decision makers, but the hearts too to create and sustain change. This is through lived experiences – direct or indirect – by our community, who so selflessly share their stories.
“This is why the personal impacts of this disease are front and centre of our campaigns – through the generosity of our Community Ambassadors sharing their stories; and why we spend time and effort in ensuring the community and Government understand the current dire statistics – and the solutions required to make the difference.”
For every fundraising campaign participation, in memory event, to Witchery white shirt or Georg Jensen pendant purchase, our community is bound together by a burning desire to make a difference. And that they have. The year 2021 saw milestones made and passed, in terms of significant awareness and large shifts in revenue raised:
The Frocktober month-long campaign saw over a massive $1,000,000 raised by men, women and girls across the nation, the Silver Lining Ride got physical and virtual cyclists back on their bikes to contribute a huge $216,000, and the Witchery White Shirt Campaign saw its biggest global reach (over 8.6 million), with shirts selling out in record time, thanks to key campaign ambassador, Celeste Barber.
The Government’s Commitment:
Raising both money and ovarian cancer research awareness in our immediate and wider community is imperative, so researchers can make life saving discoveries in the lab. However, it is our government that will be instrumental in progressing science discoveries, enabling true change for populations – now and into the future. As demonstrated by 5-year survival statistics improving across many cancers in Australia, government intervention is the final ‘hurdle’.
The Australian Government's Medical Research Future Fund publicly released its ‘Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy 2021-2026’ in late 2021. With promising inclusions, the statement noted three focuses for funded research:
Enhancements to the translation of research outputs to deliver impact, including through commercialisation of research
Promotion of capacity and capability in the health and medical research workforce, and
Encouragement of adaptive approaches to emerging challenges, supporting rapid response and effective collaboration both nationally with other public and private sources of health and medical research funding.
These areas – commercialisation, promotion and collaboration are clear objectives that current and future OCRF research can attest to fulfilling. This translates in our continuous close work with clinicians on our Scientific Advisory Committee and our Consumer Representative Panel, which brings those affected by ovarian cancer together. Both groups offer invaluable advice and perspectives on decision making within the organisation.
With promising OCRF-funded research projects being undertaken in ovarian cancer treatment and early detection, it will soon be the Government’s turn to back life-saving research and ultimately save thousands of women’s lives.
To see discoveries, move from medical trials into feasible and cost-effective policy and programs, we need the advocacy, collaboration and commitment of the OCRF, the community and the government.
As we welcome the new year, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation is committed as ever, to the women with ovarian cancer today and our future generations. We will continue to prioritise funding research that will have the biggest impact for most women. With a plan to improve survival rates by rapidly incorporating research advances into clinical practice nationally, innovative personalised treatments and through the development of an early detection test.
But we cannot do it alone. Join us, as we continue to deliver our strategy.
The Lab is our regular giving donation program.
The Lab is 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.
Join The Lab