Monthly Archives: September 2018

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New melanoma drug treatment a ‘game-changer’

Cancer sufferer George Schuszter has already benefited from one of the melanoma drugs. Photo: Angela WylieAustralian cancer patients will soon be able to test a potentially ”game-changing” melanoma treatment that could extend their lives for years.

A large trial combining two drugs for people with advanced melanoma is due to begin at several Australian hospitals in coming months after a small American study of 52 people found the treatment shrank most participants’ tumours. The clinical trial by the Ludwig Centre at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre found that while nine out of 10 patients responded to the treatment, 16 or one-third of the patients’ tumours regressed more than 80 per cent and five of these patients’ tumours regressed completely.

The director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Cancer Services at the Austin Hospital, Professor Jonathan Cebon, said the results showed ”unprecedented benefits” for patients with advanced melanoma, a common cancer that has been notoriously difficult to treat.

He said the results, announced this week in the US, showed more than 80 per cent of the patients were alive after one year of treatment, including some who had lived beyond two years.

”This is a disease which would normally be fatal and on average it is fatal within about six or seven months. With this clinical trial, the majority of patients responded and many of them appear to be alive and well many months later without evidence of relapsing, so it’s a real game changer,” he said.

While half of the patients experienced adverse events related to the treatment, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering said the drugs did not cause any deaths and the side effects ”were, in most cases, relatively easily managed and reversed”.

Professor Cebon said Australian patients would soon be invited to participate in a larger trial of the treatment, which includes two drugs – ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab.

Both drugs are being used by some Australian patients, however the recent US study was the first to combine the two for patients with advanced melanoma.

The international trial, which is aiming to enrol 915 people, will include the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Melbourne among other hospitals yet to be announced.

The research is being funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The treatment is part of a new class of immune system-boosting drugs that are showing promising results for several cancers. Some cancer specialists believe they could even become a cure.

Professor Cebon said he was excited about the upcoming trial because treatments for advanced melanoma that has spread beyond the skin were limited. He said the only drug that had controlled advanced melanoma for more than two years was Yervoy, and even then it was only that effective for about one in five patients. Furthermore, access to Yervoy is limited to those who can afford to pay about $120,000 for it because it is not yet on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

George Schuszter, 79, of Lilydale, said he believed Yervoy had kept his advanced melanoma at bay since he received it free through a trial under the care of Professor Cebon. He said although the drug had caused shooting pain down one of his legs, he would tolerate it to continue living with his loving wife of 58 years, Maria-Magdalen.

”I’m thrilled with it,” said the father of one, whose cancer has spread to his liver. ”I want to live.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with more than 10,000 Australians treated for melanoma each year. It is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 44 and about 1500 people died from it in 2011.

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CSIRO says no deception in sale to Novartis

The CSIRO has denied it duped the pharmaceutical giant Novartis into buying a compromised anti-counterfeit device to protect millions of medicine vials.

A Fairfax Media investigation in April revealed that DataTrace DNA, a joint venture between CSIRO and another company, Datadot Technology, misled the Swiss multinational by passing off cheap Chinese chemicals as its own “trade secret” formula.

But the deputy chief of the government’s peak scientific organisation, Mike Whelan, told a Senate Estimates committee that CSIRO’s internal investigation had found no evidence that it had deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis over the supply of materials.

“Secondly we have identified no evidence that CSIRO officers deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis with respect to the security level of the solution offered by DataTrace to Novartis,” he said.

Mr Whelan said the organisation was continuing its investigation into the allegations, but defended the sale of its 50 per cent share in DataTrace three months after signing the deal with Novartis.

“The allegation that CSIRO seeked [sic] to capitalise on the alleged deception of Novartis through the sale of CSIRO’s interest in DataTrace is also false,” he said.

He said there was nothing unusual about CSIRO “selling down its shareholding” in a company.

In 2010, DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd signed a five-year deal with Novartis to supply a custom-designed high-security forensic “tracer” that would protect its vials of injectible Voltaren from being copied, filled with a placebo and sold by crime syndicates.

But despite a deal to supply a unique tracer code, DataTrace issued Novartis cheap tracer it had bought in bulk from a Chinese distributor.

The sale of counterfeit medicines has become a booming black market and a significant global health problem. Interpol seized 3.75 million units of fake drugs in 2012.

The invention sold to Novartis – a microscopic chemical powder painted on the neck of its Voltaren ampoules – was supposed to protect against such counterfeit attacks.

Instead Novartis was given a widely available tracer material that was only suitable for low-risk applications with no security concerns.

Damning internal documents seen by Fairfax Media showed DataTrace and some of the most senior officials at the CSIRO knew that Novartis was being misled in a deal believed to be worth $2.5 million.

As a result of the Fairfax Media revelations DataDot was placed into a trading halt and the company launched an internal investigation. Federal Science Minister Don Farrell also called for CSIRO to investigate the allegations.

When questioned by Senator Richard Colebeck at Monday’s estimates committee about why he did not launch an independent investigation, Senator Farrell said an internal review was appropriate because other third parties were also conducting investigations.

“We believe that’s the way to best protect the reputation of CSIRO,” he said.

The shadow minister for science, Sophie Mirabella, criticised the government for failing to conduct an independent enquiry.

“Months after the government was embarrassed into launching an investigation into these very serious allegations of corruption at CSIRO, we hear today that the investigation is being conducted by none other than CSIRO itself,” said Mrs Mirabella.

“CSIRO should have nothing to fear from a genuinely independent investigation into allegations of serious misconduct,” she said.

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Hockey mother-in-law victim of bank adviser

Patricia Babbage: she says much of her wealth was wiped out. Photo: Wolter Peeters Speaking out: Joe Hockey. Photo: Mal Fairclough

Patricia Babbage still gets emotional when she thinks about her horrific experience at the hands of a financial planner employed by the Commonwealth Bank.

The 77-year-old mother-in-law of shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says planner Chris Baker put her life savings into high-risk products and wiped out much of her wealth.

”I thought I had been placed into conservative investments but, when I saw my money falling from $200,000 to $184,000 in a week and then kept falling, I would call him and he would say ‘it’s the GFC, don’t change anything, it will come back’,” she said.

By June 2009, Mrs Babbage’s retirement savings had fallen to $92,000 and she was in a panic. She said her husband, Terry, had died in 2004 and in 2005 she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had chemotherapy.

”I was sorting out my finances and spoke to the Commonwealth Bank and they suggested I speak to their financial planners,” she said. ”I then met Chris Baker.”

She said she was told that since she had turned 70, she needed to pull her money together and roll it over into products that Mr Baker suggested.

In April last year, Mr Baker was banned for five years by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission after an investigation into the advice of seven planners in the bank’s Commonwealth Financial Planning division.

Mr Baker wasn’t the only planner who was banned. An investigation by Fairfax Media at the weekend revealed that six others, including Don Nguyen, were banned and the bank initially tried to cover up Mr Nguyen’s misconduct. A group of whistleblowers tipped off ASIC in October 2008 and in March 2010 the regulator finally acted.

Soon after Mr Nguyen was banned, an investigation was conducted into other planners, including Mr Baker. ASIC put an enforceable undertaking on the bank’s financial planning arm in October 2011, which expires in four months.

The investigation into Mr Baker found that between March 1, 2005, and February 27, 2007, he committed breaches including failing to ”determine the relevant personal circumstances and failing to make reasonable inquiries in relation to the personal circumstances of clients before implementing advice”.

The investigation found many of his clients were profiled with aggressive risk profiles and that he failed to provide a statement of advice to clients when required.

On May 15, 2009, the bank wrote to Mrs Babbage, saying she had been given a new planner. In another letter she was told ASIC had accepted an ”enforceable undertaking from Chris Baker which precludes him providing financial services for a minimum period of five years”.

In August, she was offered $43,286 in compensation, which included $8213 in interest, an offer that was valid for 60 days. She refused. In November last year, the bank increased the offer to $67,092, which included $5131 in interest. Mrs Babbage took the offer.

”It was too hard to keep fighting,” she said.

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White not thinking about Wallabies

Nic White scores a try against the Hurricanes last Friday. Photo: Jeffrey ChanScrum-half Nic White says he remains focused on leading the ACT Brumbies to the Super Rugby finals and is refusing to get caught in a Wallabies dream.

White got a taste of Wallabies camp on Tuesday when he made a brief visit to Sydney to join the squad’s preparation for the British and Irish Lions series.

He will return to Canberra on Wednesday to rejoin the Brumbies and their pursuit of a drought-breaking finals appearance.

There are still six spots up for grabs in the Wallabies squad for the three Test series against the Lions and White is a leading candidate.

But with no guarantees, the Brumbies’ No. 9 is making team success his priority.

White is one of the leading candidates to be interim captain after five senior Brumbies joined the Wallabies.

The Brumbies can all but secure their place in the finals for the first time since 2004 if they beat the Melbourne Rebels with a four-try bonus point on Friday night. White will go head-to-head against former Brumbies scrum-half Luke Burgess, who will make his return to Super Rugby after two years in France.

Before joining French rugby, Burgess played 37 Tests for the Wallabies and 56 Super Rugby games, but this is the first time he will square off with White.

White and Burgess are both vying for Wallabies selection, but White is not buying into the one-on-one battle. ”I’m excited about it, he was a guy I looked up to at school but I’m thinking about a win more than any personal battle,” he said.

The Queensland Reds are the only Australian team capable of knocking the Brumbies out of finals contention, but that would require the Brumbies losing their way in the final two games against the Rebels and Western Force.

But after last year’s meltdown while on the verge of the playoffs, the Brumbies are not getting ahead of themselves.

White will play a major role in stabilising the finals bid and his form has prompted Wallabies legend George Gregan to back him for the Lions series.

Brumbies coach Jake White will name his new captain on Wednesday with regular skipper Ben Mowen being unavailable on Wallabies duties.

The coach has plenty of options, with Pat McCabe, Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Matt Toomua and Dan Palmer all able to step up.

”There are a number of guys who will step up as leaders this week and we’ll do it as a group, the onus is on the whole group and everyone has a role to play,” White said.

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Harrower tips Hurst for glory

Natalie Hurst during Opals training. Photo: Jay CronanAustralian Opals great Kristi Harrower has backed Nat Hurst to become an international star and is so impressed by the point guard that she tried to lure her to WNBL champion the Bendigo Spirit.

Hurst and Harrower are in camp with the Opals at the AIS as new coach Brendan Joyce takes the reins for the first time since taking over from Carrie Graf.

Hurst – a six-time championship winner with the Canberra Capitals – will return to the WNBL for the 2013-14 season and is launching her bid to be the Opals’ general at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The 30-year-old is staking her claim to be 38-year-old Harrower’s successor as the four-time Olympian weighs up her future while battling an Achilles problem and contemplates starting a family.

And before the Capitals secured Hurst on a one-year deal, Harrower tried to convince her understudy to join Bendigo.

”Natty is a competitor, to be honest we tried to get her to the Spirit and then Canberra went ‘bang,”’ Harrower said. ”We think a lot of her, she’s got a bit of me in her and she’s a smart point guard. I don’t know what I’m doing [with my playing future] and she’s got so much experience. I think she can step up now. Nat is a pro.”

Joyce invited an extended squad to his first camp to test the depth and talent in Australian basketball.

Lauren Jackson was absent and is recovering from a virus which led to her losing five kilograms recently. Liz Cambage, Suzy Batkovic and Abby Bishop were also absent, and Harrower didn’t train as she weighs up her future.

Hurst has been in Opals squads before, but her playing and big-game opportunities have been limited behind Harrower and Erin Phillips.

”Nat … I like what I see,” Joyce said. ”I can see she knows how to play, she’s very impressive out there. I judge people on their merits and Natalie is getting things done that I like.”

In a major boost to Hurst and the Capitals’ championship hopes, the club announced on Tuesday it had snared the prized signature of young gun Carley Mijovic.

The 18-year-old Australian junior representative was the WNBL rookie of the year in 2011-12. At 196 centimetres, she bolsters the Capitals’ big-player stocks. Meanwhile, former Canberra star Marianna Tolo confirmed on Tuesday she would not be returning to the competition next season. Tolo will continue playing in France and has signed with Bourges.

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