Key Achievements

In the five years since operations commenced, the Victorian Cancer Biobank (Biobank) has developed into a unique and valuable infrastructure platform that offers significant benefits to Victoria. It has established an international reputation for providing high quality, ethically obtained biospecimens. Essential to the success of the Biobank is the support of the community, clinicians and cancer researchers. The key achievements of the Biobank are summarised below.

Gaining community support for the cancer research and the Biobank

  • More than 19,000 Victorians (over 3,000 per year) undergoing cancer and other surgery have donated blood and surplus tissue to the Biobank
  • Their altruism is based on a genuine interest in medical research and a belief that, although they may not benefit individually, their donation could lead to improvements in the diagnosis and management of cancer that would benefit others

Streamlining the supply of biospecimens through a centralised access model

  • Unique centralised access model ensures that a single application for biospecimens provides researchers with access to the inventory collected and stored at four tissue bank sites
  • An innovative fresh tissue service, delivers tissue in media on ice to researchers across metropolitan Melbourne within 3 hours of surgery; more than 1050 samples have been delivered since 2007 for research involving cell line culture
  • More than 21,000 biospecimens have been supplied to researchers located within Victoria, interstate and internationally
  • 135 applications received from researchers, 32 fully supplied and closed and 28 research papers using biospecimens and services have been published to June 2011 

Building a large inventory that attracts collaborative research to Victoria

  • The Biobank is now the largest, open access cancer repository in Australia, with an inventory of more than 350,000 biospecimens
  • It is the only biobank containing a large collection of all types of cancer. Access to large sample numbers is essential for ensuring research findings are statistically significant
  • Other states in Australia have attempted to establish a similar integrated biobanking platform, without success. As a result, researchers from other states and internationally apply to the Biobank for biospecimens and services
  • Of 122 applications received, 14 applications involve interstate collaborators and 7 involve international collaborations, including shipment of samples outside Victoria

Case Study 1: Protein biomarkers in patients with colorectal cancer
The Preventative Health Flagship at CSIRO in Adelaide, in collaboration with their academic, clinical and commercial partners, including the Ludwig Institute, Parkville, is undertaking research to develop a blood based biomarker for early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC).

“Serum and plasma specimens provided by the Victorian Cancer Biobank (VCB) have been an integral part of our research efforts to develop a blood based diagnostic test for CRC. Since 2005 we have analysed over 50 potential protein biomarkers in a series of case-control studies using at least 50 CRC specimens from VCB in each study,” explained the project leader, Dr Leah Cosgrove. “The largest of these studies, which was completed this year, included both serum and plasma from 100 CRC donors recruited, sampled and processed by the VCB. Overall we have used specimens from over 300 CRC donors collected via the VCB through their network of tissue banks at hospitals in Victoria.”

Following a successful application by CSIRO and their collaborators to NHMRC for funding to further develop a biomarker panel, the Biobank will prospectively collect and supply of serum and plasma specimens from a new cohort of donors attending colonoscopy clinics.

Building an integrated network to support clinical trials and translational research

  • Two key structures established by the Biobank create an ideal structure to support multi-centre clinical trials and translational research projects
             - the ‘hub and spokes’ operational model involving 27 hospitals throughout metropolitan Melbourne and Geelong
             - a collaborative network of clinicians, research nurses and medical scientists
  • Biobank provides support for 12 clinical trials (5 industry sponsored, 7 academic) and 12 translational research studies
  • Processing of clinical trial blood samples by the Biobank has increased following the closure of the Cancer Trials Australia laboratories at Royal Melbourne Hospital
  • Network structure also supports Victorian Cancer Agency funded collaborative consortia
             - Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium
             - Melbourne Melanoma Project
             - Victorian Lung Cancer Initiative 

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Establishing an international reputation and attracting international research consortia to Victoria

  • The same network structure that supports clinical trials, also attracts international research to Victoria, as larger numbers of participants can be accrued more rapidly. In particular, studies in less prevalent cancer types such as pancreatic cancer have access to larger numbers of patients.

Case Study 2: Establishing an international reputation and attracting international research consortia to Victoria

A. Clinical Lung Cancer Genome Project - Germany

Thoracic surgeon, Mr Gavin Wright and his team at St Vincent’s applied to the Biobank to support an international research collaboration. OCT embedded tissue was prepared from 224 donors undergoing surgery at Consortium sites, including Austin Health, Melbourne Health, Peter Mac, St Vincent’s and Southern Health. Analysis of the samples, which were sent to collaborators at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, uncovered the role of FGFR-1 amplification in squamous cell lung cancer (SCC) of the lung. The team at St Vincent’s Hospital found around 20% of people with SCC have the amplification in their cancer, which can be targeted by a currently available drug.
The research findings were highlighted in late 2010 in the Herald-Sun, The Age and The Australian. A letter written by Dr Anne Thompson, Executive Officer, and published in the Herald-Sun, highlighted both the Biobank's role and the generosity of Victorian donors who make breakthroughs like this possible.

B. The ICGC Pancreatic Study – Australia

The primary aims of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative (APGI) are to deeply sequence tumor and normal gDNA, survey global gene expression, and determine genome wide patterns of methylation of ~375 pancreatic cancer patients. The goal is to use the best clinical material available, with well-characterised and accurately annotated clinico-pathological, treatment and outcome data.
There are no Victorian principal investigators in this consortium, which is being managed by Prof Andrew Biankin at the Garvan Institute in Sydney. Prof Biankin approached the Biobank to support the study here in Victoria, as the Biobank network has established relationships with surgeons o are willing to support this study. The Biobank participation will improve the rate of accrual of patients to this study. In addition, the Biobank medical scientists have the skills required to prepare the samples according to the international protocol specifications. Data will also be collected by Biobank staff.
A pilot phase has commenced at the Austin and will be rolled out to other sites in 2012.

Creating industry partnerships for targeted therapy development

  • Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are collaborating with biobanking networks to access to human biospecimens required for targeted therapy development. Their main interest is in ethically obtained, high quality human biospecimens in large numbers. Follow-up data associated with the samples is also a major consideration.

Case Study 3: Building international commercial sector collaborations
After reviewing the Biobank website, Dr Arndt Schmidt of the Global Biomarker Research division of Bayer Pharma AG, Berlin, approached the Biobank to discuss building an ongoing collaboration. The Biobank was selected because the website indicated a large inventory of samples of all tumour types which had been obtained using sound ethical practices and because Melbourne has an ethnically diverse population.

The structure of antigens that form targets for antibody based therapies used for cancer treatment have been demonstrated to vary due to ethnicity. To enable Bayer researchers to examine the suitability of particular antibody therapies in different populations, the Biobank will prepare tissue microarray blocks where 50% of tissue cores will be derived from Caucasian donors and 50% from Asian donors. 

Increasing skills in Victoria

  • Providing high quality biospecimens in a timely manner requires skilled and committed staff. The Biobank has implemented a Quality and Training Program that has increased skills in three particular areas - medical laboratory science involving biospecimen preparation and data collection, molecular pathology and medical research management. 
  • 22 (16 EFT) medical scientists have been trained. Biobank Quality and Training Manager regularly visits sites, collaborates with local staff to review activities and undertakes an annual audit to ensure compliance with the standard operating procedures
  • Perceived gaps in skills are addressed through appropriate training, either outsourced or on site; training courses cover topics such as “Communications Skills and Informed Consent”
  • An ‘inter-biobank exchange’ program has been implemented to increase uniformity of processes across all sites and ensure staff are able to assist at another site if there is a short term need
  • Six data managers have been trained in collecting the Biobank Minimum Data Set from pathology reports and medical records
  • 18 pathology registrars have undergone training in biobanking and molecular pathology research through the Pathology Registrar Traineeship Initiative
  • Four Tissue Bank Managers, three Tissue Bank Coordinators have been trained in financial management, reporting and budgeting and staff management

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