Precision medicine now available to all children with cancer in Australia

20 Dec 2023

A landmark moment in the treatment of children with cancer was reached in November, with the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) becoming available to all children with cancer in Australia.

This means that every child diagnosed with cancer, regardless of their cancer type or risk profile, will have access to this world-leading comprehensive precision medicine program. There have now been over 1400 children who have been enrolled on ZERO since 2017, with over 100 of those children being enrolled in the last four to five weeks.

Led by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, ZERO’s first national precision medicine trial began in 2017, focusing on identifying new treatment options for children with high-risk cancers. Some children who are alive today, would almost certainly have died had they not taken part in this trial. 

The success of this clinical trial led to joint funding of $67 million from the Federal Government and Minderoo Foundation to expand the program. Since then, the ZERO team has been working tirelessly with all children’s hospitals throughout Australia to build capacity and initiate the protocols to make this world-leading program available to all children upon diagnosis.

ZERO is based on the recognition that every child’s cancer is unique. Each child’s cancer is analysed at a genomic level, so scientists can look for any genetic alterations that could be driving the cancer’s growth, then search for treatments that may be able to target those alterations. But more than that, genomic analyses can lead to a whole new way of understanding a child’s cancer, which clinicians can then use to inform diagnosis, prognosis, risk stratification and treatment options.

Through ZERO we are gaining more insight into the mechanisms causing cancer, and beginning to answer many important research questions, such as, what makes some children susceptible to developing cancer, which genetic changes drive childhood cancers, and how might we develop new targeted treatments matched to these unique changes. 

ZERO is also making a significant contribution to the global childhood cancer research effort. Through online data-sharing platforms, the data and discoveries being generated through ZERO are being made available to scientists and clinicians all over the world. The unprecedented collaborations that are being established will accelerate the rate of progress towards better outcomes for all children with cancer, sooner.