Following the announcement last December of the appointment of Prof David Thomas as the new Director of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, David has now commenced the role here. In addition to this role, he will also serve as Head of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Cancer Division, as well as leading a research laboratory (Genomic Cancer Medicine) there.
David joins The Kinghorn Cancer Centre from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, where he headed the medical oncology program within the Sarcoma Service. A National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, David has published over 100 peer-reviewed publications spanning basic, translational and clinical research, with a particular focus on the impact of genomics on cancer medicine.
His current research interests include how cancers evolve – mapping changes in cancer genomes at the chromosomal level – and understanding how the immune system sculpts tumour development.
He has a specific interest in rare cancers known as ‘sarcomas’, which particularly affect the young. They comprise 20% of childhood cancers and 10% of cancers in young adults, but only 1% of cancers overall. There are around 70 subtypes of sarcoma, each requiring different kinds of treatment, and therefore depending upon highly specialised multidisciplinary care.
“I am especially interested in liposarcomas and osteosarcomas, sarcomas that affect fat cells or bone, and that interest extends from genomic research within tumours, all the way through to clinical trial,” he explained.
David’s clinical achievements include leadership of the first trial of denosumab in the treatment of Giant Cell Tumour of bone, which was recently approved as standard of care by the US Food and Drug Administration. He leads several large-scale cancer cohorts, including the International Sarcoma Kindred Study, and Cancer2015, a genomic study of 10,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients in Victoria.
“The Cancer2015 program that I set up in Victoria is about bringing genomics into the field of clinical care. My plan is to implement a similar program in New South Wales, using the information drawn from the cohort to service the population of the State.”
“The Victorian and New South Wales programs should be interoperable, meaning they should be structured in such a way that the data can be brought together, creating more than the sum of its parts.”
“We need to think very carefully about how the knowledge we obtain can be used to intervene in human health – to assess cancer risk, for example, or to evaluate molecular targeted therapies.”
“It seems to me that the implications of genomic medicine are so broad that they go right to the fabric of how we fund health care. So we may as well get started trying to weave those elements together and form an evidence base that can drive the very large-scale investments that will be required to exploit our knowledge fully.”
David sees The Kinghorn Cancer Centre as the ideal place from which to start this process. “The centre forms a natural bridge between the superb basic science of the Garvan Institute and the clinical work of St Vincent’s Hospital and broader cancer community. My job is to fill it with people and ideas, so that knowledge becomes vision, which in turn translates into better health outcomes.”