St Vincent’s Health Australia understands the vital role that medical research plays in improving health outcomes. Through our three co-located research institutes – the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research – we work together to bring about advances in medical care that are directly applicable to clinical practice.

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney

Translational research continues to evolve on the St Vincent’s Sydney campus as its inaugural five year research strategic plan – ‘developing health care research’ – draws to a close.

Research on the St Vincent’s Sydney campus has delivered a range of support platforms that encourage excellence in clinical and biomedical research throughout the organisation. The St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research has matured and become the ‘mothership’ for research across the campus.

Four key areas were highlighted for the strategy’s focus: exceptional research, remarkable people, sustainability and growth, and mission and social justice research. Core to the delivery of these strategic areas was reform of the governance surrounding research across the Darlinghurst campus. The St Vincent’s Research Campus Executive Council has played a central role in bringing together Executive Directors of the St Vincent’s Public and Private Hospitals, Garvan Institute and Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institutes. The Council also provides the link to the Office of Health and Medical Research at the NSW Ministry of Health as one of the eight designated Medical Research Hubs for NSW.

Research on the St Vincent’s Sydney campus has now refreshed its Strategic Plan for the next five years. The next steps are to integrate a realistic research agenda into the six strategic commitments outlined in the St Vincent’s Clinical Services Strategy, which sets a roadmap for the organisation including precision medicine, ambulatory models of integrated care, telehealth and virtual care, creation of centres of excellence around number of flagship clinical services, and care to the poor and vulnerable.

In parallel to the Clinical Services Strategy is the ambitious campus redevelopment masterplan, which sets out plans for the revitalisation of the last remaining site in the research precinct. Known as the ‘West Street Redevelopment’, the project aims to deliver the last piece of the research story on the Darlinghurst campus by focussing efforts in true translational research through purpose-built clinical trials facilities, learning and education spaces, and office-based research, including commercial space for industry that will create an atmosphere of collaboration and hopefully catalyse the long journey between research and commercialisation.

Much of the vision for West Street has emerged from the successful elements of the Sydney campus’ Translational Research Centre which houses the Clinical Genomics Unit, UNSW Kirby Institute, clinical academics, and non-cancer clinical trials teams in a community-facing facility.

The Sydney campus’ biostatistics and clinical trial design, ‘Clinic’ has also been enormously successful. A partnership between St Vincent’s and Stats Central (at the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics), the project has moved from an ad-hoc service to a weekly ‘clinic’ where researchers obtain expert statistical, trial design, and data analysis advice from consultants. The program has also led to the implementation of the common data management IT system, REDCap, which is hosted on health service servers, and which improves the quality, security and integrity, and accessibility for analysis of any research data.

The Kinghorn Cancer Centre is also now recognised as the top clinical trials centre in NSW, with a very high proportion of cancer patients accessing cutting edge treatments, many of which are not available elsewhere.

The research agenda at St Vincent’s continues to evolve and the Centre for Applied Medical Research adapts and responds to the changing needs of the campus. The Centre’s mission is to support our research community and to provide the tools and world-class facilities that foster innovation and high quality work.

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St Vincent’s Sydney plays a lead role in prostate cancer research

A/Prof Louise Emmett, Clinical Director of Theranostics and Nuclear Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney

During the year, St Vincent’s Sydney established Australia’s first Prostate Cancer Research Alliance (PCRA) in collaboration with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the University of Melbourne.

The partnership brings together world-leading experts to focus on the most promising ways to predict the future progression of prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis, reducing any development in the cancer, and improving treatments for men with advanced forms of the disease.

With total funding of $12 million from the Movember Foundation Australia and the Australian Department of Health, the project will focus on ways of predicting the risk of further prostate cancer and improving treatments for men with advanced forms of the disease.

Of this total, $5 million has been allocated to St Vincent’s Sydney to lead a randomised trial, headed by A/Prof Louise Emmett, which looks at whether combining LuPSMA technology – which uses a radioactive molecule that binds only to prostate cancer cells with minimal impact on neighbouring healthy cells – with the hormone therapy drug enzalutamide will prolong the lives of men with metastatic prostate cancer.

It is hoped that the research findings could be incorporated into clinical practice as early as 2023.

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

Professor Peter Choong, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Chair of Surgery

The commitment of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne to research from bench to bedside and back again, underpins its commitment to providing ‘innovative care and enabling hope’ to the Australian community. The hospital’s research efforts encompass all aspects of health care, including early models of disease, new treatment options, and new ways of delivering care, and then embedding these important developments into its health care facilities and programs.

During the year, the St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Research Endowment Fund distributed almost $900,000 to support over 40 projects across a wide range of clinical areas and disciplines. By providing this early funding support, young clinician researchers in particular can develop their projects to compete for larger competitive funding grants at national and international levels.

The hospital’s research team also continued to build broader collaborations and important partnerships with CCRM Australia, MTPConnect, the Melbourne Academic Centre for Health, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, and other local, national and international groups.

While the campus’ biggest research news of the year was the Commonwealth Government agreeing to provide $30 million to the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery – allowing the groundbreaking research project to achieve its full scale – the year saw a number of other exciting strategic partnerships with industry collaborators, including:

  • A collaboration with ShareRoot to develop its MediaConsent platform as a tool to improve the dynamics of clinical trial recruitment, patient engagement and the understanding of patients’ health-related behaviour through the use of social media and the proper accompanying consent processes.
  • A partnership with the ‘Actuator’ – Australia’s national medtech accelerator, which partners with hospitals to drive clinically-led innovations and provide a pathway towards commercialisation – via a successful LaunchVic Health Startup Grant with the aim of scaling med-tech innovation.
  • Joining the steering committee of CT:IQ, a national initiative supported by MTPConnect to drive innovation in clinical trials in Australia.
  • Joining the Centre for Commercialisation of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) Australia as a founding member. CCRM Australia provides a unique translational platform to address bottlenecks in regenerative medicine commercialisation.
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St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s breakthrough
palliative care research

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Margaret Ross and Justin Dwyer are part of the team conducting a trial of psilocybin to address ‘death anxiety’. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s A/Prof Mark Boughey and Dr Margaret Ross gained approval for a study to assess the efficacy of a synthetic version of psilocybin – a psychedelic drug often referred to as ‘magic mushroom’ – to reduce anxiety in patients with terminal illness.

Researchers have observed that while traditional therapies work for many people, there are some who face their end-of-life plagued by anxiety and depression. These patients can withdraw from their families and spend their final weeks and months in anguish instead of being able to enjoy meaningful time with their loved ones.

The trial – the first of its type in Australia – will involve 30 patients at St Vincent’s Melbourne receiving the drug in conjunction with psychotherapy in the hope it will ease their paralysing fear.

St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation

A charitable arm of the St Vincent’s Clinic, The St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation’s core mission is to encourage and enable medical research and education on the St Vincent’s Darlinghurst campus. The Clinic Foundation assists early career researchers, helps kick-start new and innovative research projects, and provides resources to those researchers with more established research projects to take their work to the next level.

Since its inception, the Clinic Foundation has donated over $17,000,000 to medical research across St Vincent’s Sydney. It also recently announced that it will make available another $1,000,000 in 2020 for the continuation of such high quality research.

Other areas of research recently supported by the Clinic Foundation include stem cell therapy for a variety of diseases and conditions, type 1 diabetes, breast cancer, bowel inflammation, and aggressive pituitary tumours.

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