Precision medicine is a tailored approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles. [1] It is underpinned by genetic and genomic testing (sequencing), the results of which enable better prediction, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Seventy-five per cent of Australians would be willing to use genetic testing to identify the most effective drug to treat their disease. Of those people, 95 per cent said they are willing for their results to be used to improve treatments for future patients. [2]

Strong Industry Sector

Australia is seen as a leader in genomic research and medicine and is an active member of groups such as the International Cancer Genome Consortium and the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. Its genomics research and precision medicine attract increasing interest from private and public sector groups each year.

Chinese genome sequencing company BGI Group has strengthened its ties with Australia, opening a strategic research hub for the Asia Pacific region at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane. It is undertaking R&D with CSIRO, Griffith University and James Cook University and recently signed an agreement with Australian digital health start-up, PRYZM, to accelerate the diagnosis of rare diseases.

Australian organisations developing applied genomics technology include 3D imaging and printing solutions such as Bespoke Medical Innovations’ custom replacement knee joints and the BioPen, which allows surgeons to draw live cells and growth factors directly onto the site of an injury.

Another strategic partnership is boosting cancer research and treatment between Varian, a leading US manufacturer of medical devices and software, and GenesisCare, Australia’s largest private provider of cancer care. Using Varian’s expertise in image-guided technology and GenesisCare’s experience in clinical and research domains, the companies will partner on hardware and software development including developing image-guided treatment monitoring solutions in molecular targeted radiation (theranostics).

Capacity in research and innovation

Genomic sequencing is moving rapidly from the research environment into clinical practice, transforming patient diagnosis and management, particularly in rare diseases and cancer.[3]

In the next five years genomic data from more than 60 million patients is expected to be generated in healthcare globally.[4]

The Genomics Health Futures Mission[5] is the centrepiece of the Australian Government’s $1.3 billion National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan announced in 2018. Funded through the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, it will continue to drive growth in genomics research and clinical practice.

National research network Australian Genomics is developing the building blocks for the full integration of genomic medicine into mainstream healthcare. With an 80-member network of hospitals, research institutes, genetic testing laboratories and data management services, Australian Genomics is bridging the gap between research and the application of genomics in day-to-day medicine.

The rapid technological advances in genetic testing in Australia are driving gene-related therapies, cancer treatments, and the development of new drugs that target a person’s specific genetic make-up. Four of the world’s 15 major biobanks are based in Australia. All four focus on bio specimens relating to cancer[6] they are the Australasian Biospecimen Network, the Australian Prostate Cancer BioResource, the Kathleen Cuningham Consortium for Research into Familial Breast Cancer (KConfab), and the Victorian Cancer Research Tissue Bank.

Australia is also home to a number of comprehensive cancer centres, including the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, the Nelune Cancer Centre, Sydney, and the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Sydney.

These centres, along with medical research institutes and universities, are informing national clinical and research programs on the implementation of genomic medicine in cancer and rare diseases. International collaboration and partnerships are an important accelerator of this vital work.

Committed public sector spending

The Australian Government is committed to the Medical Technology, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical (MTP) sector through the A$1.3 billion National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan.[7]

The centrepiece of this plan is the Australian Genomics Health Futures Mission (GHFM), a $500 million research program over 10 years. The GHFM will engage with communities to help save or transform the lives of more than 200,000 Australians through research into better testing, diagnosis and treatment.[8]

The first project funded under the Mission is the $20 million Australian Reproductive Genetic Carrier Screening study (Mackenzie’s Mission). Administered by research group Australian Genomics, the study will test 10,000 couples to identify those with an increased chance of passing on a severely debilitating or fatal genetic condition to their children.

The Australian Government, backed by the research and medical community, is committed to further integrating genomics into the health system through the 2018-21 framework.

[1] US Food and Drug Administration. Precision Medicine.
[2] Research Australia, Opinion Polling 2018, Australia Speaks! 2018: Opinion Polling for Health and Medical Research.
[3] Stark et al (2019), Australian Genomics: a Federated Model for Integrating Genomics into Healthcare, The American Journal of Human Genetics 105, 7-14.
[4] Ibid `
[5] Australian Department of Health.
[6] Brooks Life Sciences; Frost & Sullivan.
[7] National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan – Australian Genomics Health Futures Mission.
[8] Greg Hunt, Media Release, 17 May 2018.