Cancer researchers are building a database of 70,000 tumours from Australia and around the world, which they say will allow them to more rapidly diagnose and treat patients and save billions of dollars in health care.
The ProCan project has been operating from a purpose-built $10-million laboratory at Westmead Hospital in Sydney's west.
Roger Reddel, who is leading the team from the Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI), said the free database would provide crucial information to more rapidly determine the nature of tumours and reduce the need to try medications that may not work.
"If we can get the right treatment first up it will be of great benefit to patients and increase the chance that they will ultimately be cured," Professor Reddel said.
International effort to supply database with tumours
So far 300 prostate cancers from Switzerland have been analysed and the United States and Italy have also agreed to provide samples.
There has also been interest from China and France.
Scientific director Tiannan Guo recently moved to Australia from Zurich to help build the database, where scientists are analysing the proteins of different cancers and tracking how they respond to treatment.
Dr Guo said it was the largest project of its kind anywhere in the world.
"Tumours are dynamic, they're moving targets," he said.
"A tumour can become resistant to a drug when they're growing. The only way to capture these changes and to change the choice of drugs is to understand the protein change over time."
Database will guide clinicians to pick the right treatment sooner
Karen Canfell from Cancer Council NSW said the potential benefits were significant.
"The idea is that we will be able to use this as a large-scale reference library so that clinicians can better select the treatment to match the patient," Professor Canfell said.
Last year an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report found that for the first time, more people died from cancer than cardiovascular disease.
Professor Canfell said about 134,000 people would be diagnosed with cancer this year.
"We've seen cancer survival at five years improve from less than half to over two-thirds. So that's fantastic," she said.
"But the issue now is that some cancers haven't seen the same gains.
"[Patients with] some cancers are still experiencing low survival and ProCan will help us, I think in the long term, plug that gap.
"This is first and foremost about using existing treatments more effectively."
Value to health care 'absolutely enormous'
Perth photographer Erinna Ford has survived cancer four times. Aggressive treatments for Hodgkins lymphoma failed, before her brother provided a bone marrow transplant that saved her life.
"It's not fun being told that you've relapsed. It's actually quite devastating," she said.
"I think anything that can reduce the length of treatment and make it less traumatic is a great idea."
CMRI commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent economic benefit analysis of ProCan.
Professor Reddel said it showed that even a modest gain of 5 per cent in the successful treatment of cancers could save $3 billion in healthcare costs over a decade.
"In terms of a cancer project, this is indeed a global first," he said.
"When you think about the cost of treatments and the cost to patients of not succeeding at the first attempt the value to the healthcare system is absolutely enormous."