A state of the art, purpose-built laboratory complex in Victoria will provide new hope to Australian blood cancer patients.
Based in Richmond, Melbourne, the Epworth Centre for Immunotherapies and Snowdome Laboratories is a Centre of Excellence in blood cancer patient treatment and care, made possible through a $13M partnership between the Epworth Medical Foundation and the Snowdome Foundation.
Funded entirely through philanthropic donations, the Centre launched in 2021, and aims to provide access to innovative, personalised treatment options, clinical trials, clinical research and academic programmes to deliver better outcomes for blood cancer patients.
Epworth is the first private hospital group in Victoria to offer immunotherapies for cancer treatment, with patient cells processed on-site in the purpose-built laboratories.
In a milestone achievement, the first blood cancer patient was treated through the Centre in February 2023.
70-year-old Peter Hyatt had ongoing chest discomfort throughout the beginning of 2022 and thought he had possibly injured his ribs.
“By the middle of the year I was in a pretty bad state,” Peter said. “I had COVID, I had shingles and I had what I thought at the time was an inflammation of the ribs.”
Over the next two months, repeated treatment by a physiotherapist and many GP appointments followed, yet Peter’s condition did not improve. Peter was then sent for an MRI and the results came as a huge shock.
“I was called in and told that I had a cancer of the bone. That was very, very confronting and it was a really hard thing to get my head around.”
Peter had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer with no known cure.
After initially undergoing four months of standard chemotherapy treatment, Peter underwent an autologous stem cell transplant. This procedure involves bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells being collected, stored and then infused back into a patient.
In a first for the Centre, Peter’s stem cells were collected at Epworth Freemasons and processed in the laboratory before his stem cells were then transplanted back into his body, to restore his blood cell production and boost his immune system.
Thanks to this treatment, Peter is now in remission and able to enjoy more wonderful moments with his family and friends, creating more precious memories.
Professor Miles Prince AM, Director of Molecular Oncology and Cancer Immunology at the Epworth Centre for Immunotherapies and Snowdome Laboratories said the new Centre has the ability to deliver cancer treatments of today and be adapted to provide the treatments of tomorrow.
“We are moving away from high dose, aggressive cancer treatments like chemotherapy to embrace new and more personalised medicines such as immunotherapies,” Professor Prince said.
“Chemotherapy is to fossil fuels what immunotherapy is to renewable energy. There is a tsunami of new immunotherapies coming that will change the treatment of blood and other cancers, and the Epworth Centre for Immunotherapies and Snowdome Laboratories is poised to treat patients with these new therapies.”
Prof Prince added that the stem cell treatment is a stepping stone to providing more advanced cancer care.
“Plans are underway to begin what is known as CAR-T treatment through clinical trials at Epworth Freemasons. In this treatment, we manipulate and reprogram the patient’s T cells in the laboratory which then bind to the cancer cells and kill them. Some of those treatments were previously only available overseas.”
On hearing the news that the Centre had treated its first patient, Kirstee Macbeth, Chief Executive, Snowdome Foundation, said “The ground-breaking discoveries in blood cancer research and application of advanced technologies means that Australian blood cancer patients can now benefit from precision medicine, tailored to their disease treatment. Immunotherapies are pioneering this approach. Snowdome is incredibly proud to partner with Epworth, connecting our visionary philanthropic donors with Australia’s brightest research minds to provide access and drive better treatment options for blood cancer patients. The Centre is key to this delivery, and we are delighted to have played a small part in making hope real for Peter and his family. “
“On behalf of everyone at Snowdome Foundation, we would like to express a heartfelt thank you to the visionary and generous donors who contributed to the realisation of this Centre. Thank you so much for your support and for making a difference to Australian blood cancer patients. We are incredibly grateful.”
Clinical trials of CAR-T cell therapies at Epworth are expected to begin before the end of 2023.
Hear more about Peter’s journey in the video below.