Breakthroughs In Cancer Care With Professor Robyn Ward

Cancer Council NSW
Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor Medicine and Health
Faculty of Medicine and Health

In 2023, we had the privilege of hearing from Professor Robyn Ward on the advances made in cancer research over the past 18 years.

After testing positive for COVID the year before, Robyn finally had the chance to share her insights with our POSH Gala Ball guests.

Here are three takeaways about the impact that advancements in precision medicine, immunotherapy and living drugs are having on the lives of those diagnosed with cancer.

Unlocking personalised precision

When reflecting on what was available to oncologists in 2005, Robyn says, “we had lots of drugs that were basically indiscriminate in terms of whether they kill cancer cells or normal cells.”

Back in 2003, the first human genome was sequenced, and “it took 13 years and cost 3 billion USD”, says Robyn. Now, we can sequence the cancer genome of a person with cancer for the cost of $2,000, all in the space of two weeks.

Precision medicine stands as a landmark discovery that is reshaping the landscape of cancer treatment.

For the first time, we can match the genomic makeup of a cancer cell with the right therapy for a patient. Robyn says, “it’s allowed us to treat cancers that were previously untreatable, like lung cancer.”

“This not only increases the effectiveness of treatment but also reduces the physical toll on patients, marking a significant leap forward in cancer care”, says Robyn.

Turning the body’s defences against cancer

In 2011, cancer treatment was revolutionised with the introduction of the first registered immunotherapy drug. “This innovative drug transforms a lazy immune system into an aggressive force against cancer cells”, says Robyn.

According to Robyn, “the discovery of immunotherapy stems from two important observations.”

Firstly, it was observed that the cancer cells weren’t being recognised by the body’s immune system.

Then, another observation revealed that some people with cancer, such as kidney cancer, experienced remarkable remissions, as their immune systems took charge and eradicated cancer cells.

Diseases like melanoma, a fatal disease once it’s spread, are now cured more often, highlighting the remarkable results made possible through immunotherapy.

Shifting the tide with living drugs

Another development in cancer treatment is living drugs, like CAR-T treatment, which is a personalised approach to treating leukaemia and lymphoma.

Robyn explains the process as “extracting immune cells, multiplying them outside the body, and reintroducing them to target and destroy cancer cells.”

“This living drug approach has transformed a once pretty much uniformly fatal disease, to a disease where many people can live normal lives, cured of their disease”, says Robyn.

The development and implementation of CAR-T treatment is a significant achievement in cancer research over the past 18 years.

It’s not just a discovery sitting on a shelf, but a major step that has transformed clinics worldwide.

From precision medicine to immunotherapy and living drugs, these revolutionary cancer treatments, have enabled a personalised touch to cancer care.

These breakthroughs are the result of countless contributions to cancer research.

That’s why it’s important to understand that each research project brings us closer to a cancer free future, one step at a time.

As cancer treatments continue to make strides, we need your support to help fund more research.

Because it’s all of us against cancer.

If you’d like to join us at POSH Ball, you can learn more and book your tickets on our website here:

/Public Release. View in full here.