• The ‘renewable energy’ of cancer care

    Peter Hyatt was in “a pretty bad state” last year – but he had no idea he would need some of the most advanced healthcare on offer in Australia.

    The 70-year-old had ongoing chest pain from the start of 2022, and his condition worsened as the months passed.

    “I had COVID, I had shingles, and I had what I thought at the time was an inflammation of the ribs,” he said.

    Two months of physiotherapy and repeat visits to his general practitioner brought no solution, but an MRI scan led to Mr Hyatt visiting a centre in Melbourne that aims to provide ‘the treatments of tomorrow’.

    “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,” he said.

    Mr Hyatt was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer with no known cure.   

    In February 2023, he became the first patient at the Epworth Centre for Immunotherapies and Snowdome Laboratories, where – after four months of standard chemotherapy – he would undergo a lifesaving stem-cell transplant procedure.

    “We are moving away from high-dose, aggressive cancer treatments like chemotherapy to embrace new and more personalised medicines such as immunotherapies,” said Professor Miles Prince, the centre’s Director of Molecular Oncology and Cancer Immunology.

    “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.” 

    Mr Hyatt had an autologous transplant – his own stem cells were collected at Epworth Freemasons hospital and processed in the laboratory, then infused back into his body to restore his blood cell production and boost his immune system.  

    He is now in remission and able to enjoy life once again with his family and friends.

    It was a milestone procedure for the centre – launched in 2021 through a $13 million partnership between the Epworth Medical Foundation and the Snowdome Foundation, funded by philanthropic donations. 

    Epworth HealthCare is the first private hospital group in Victoria to offer immunotherapies for this type of cancer treatment.

    Prof Prince said the stem-cell technique was 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,” he said. 

    “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.”

    Snowdome Foundation CEO Kirstee Macbeth said blood cancer patients in Australia could now benefit from precision medicine, tailored to their disease treatment, thanks to such ground-breaking discoveries and advanced technologies.

    “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,” she said. 

    “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.”

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