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New Drug Hope to Slow Liver Cancer Tsunami

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

24/01/22 - Professor Peter Leedman AO, Director Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and an international multidisciplinary team have received a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Development Grant to evaluate novel RNA-based treatments for liver cancer.

Liver cancer is a looming health threat in Australia. While rates of other cancers are falling or remaining static, liver cancer is the only top ten cancer on the rise.

Between 2017 and 2021 there was an approximate 30 per cent jump in new cases of liver cancer.

Over the past 40 years the incidence of liver cancer has grown by an average of 4.5% per year for men and 5.2% for women.

Professor Leedman said liver cancer was rapidly becoming one of the hardest to treat cancers with a poor prognosis and few treatment options.

"Tragically, patients have just an approximate one in five chance of survival.

“New treatments are urgently needed.

“Thankfully the world of RNA-technology is providing opportunities for new treatments,” he said.

The NHMRC Federal government grant of $483,000 will enable research to evaluate a new RNA drug.

RNA molecules in a cell carry instructions for making proteins. They can also help genes turn on and off, aid chemical reactions, alter other RNAs, and even build proteins.

“We are developing an RNA-based drug to treat liver cancer which, if successful, would potentially change the way patients are treated and improve their outcomes”.

“The RNA drug, called mRx-7, inhibits the growth of liver cancer cells. The grant allows a highly-collaborative team from Perth, Sydney, Texas and Vancouver, to test mRx-7 alone and in combination with other standard-of-care treatments and to evaluate how well it is tolerated,” Professor Leedman said.

This project will evaluate how effective the new drug is and develop some of the essential data needed to progress it to a clinical trial.

“Success would position mRx-7 to progress further towards early-phase clinical trials in patients with liver cancer, which would be extremely exciting and potentially life-saving.

“Development Grants from the NHMRC are critical for drug development as they have a commercial focus and enable essential studies to further develop a drug like mRx-7 into a treatment that could be used for patients with liver cancer,” said Professor Leedman.

The team consists of Professor Leedman, Dr Andreas Bader (Texas), Professor Geoffrey McCaughan (Centenary Institute), Professor Pieter Cullis (University of British Columbia), Emeritus Professor George Yeoh (UWA) and Associate Professor Rakesh Veedu (Murdoch University).

Media Contacts: Miriam Borthwick

M 0437 411 683

Patient Case Study

Liver cancer patient John Lawrence has experienced the lows and highs of a cancer treatment journey spanning nearly 10 years.

As a young man he managed farm properties in WA’s south west, in the days when exposure to strong chemicals was common and less protection worn.

A career change took him to Alcoa where he worked for 27 years.

In late 2013 John was diagnosed with prostate cancer and further investigations revealed he also had liver cancer.

Treatment began with hormone therapy and radiation for the liver cancer.

Over several years John suffered several bouts of his liver cancer returning which resulted in a number of trips to hospital for liver and major abdominal surgery.

A large tumour was found attached to his abdominal wall. It was thought to be inoperable but three years ago a surgeon successfully removed it after treatment with radiation.

John’s cancer treatment didn’t end there. Next he was given non PBS listed drugs which have had a positive impact in holding at bay the cancer regrowth.

His latest scans at the end of 2021 showed John’s cancer had not returned.

John Lawrence liver cancer patient



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