Dr Adam Hill Lab

TTRA Grant Success

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute a founding member of the National Research Centre for Cardiovascular Disease

14 January 2022

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute has joined forces with a team of internationally renowned Australian researchers and institutions to establish the Australian Stroke & Heart Research Accelerator (“ASHRA”).

The first of its kind translational centre was made possible through a $10 million grant from the Federal Government’s Targeted Translation Research Accelerator (TTRA) initiative, delivered by MTPConnect.

Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, says the exciting partnership will accelerate the Institute’s translational growth strategy through close engagement with the leading stroke and cardiovascular researchers across Australia.

"Our researchers will benefit from ASHRAs collaborative and diverse network, and the training and education programs will build a translation and commercialisation focus with our people, bringing our discoveries to clinics and communities," says Professor Kovacic.

"By working together, Australia’s leading stroke and heart researchers will be able to embark on projects that will transform our understanding and treatment of cardiovascular disease and ensure the discoveries made in our laboratories will not only deliver on their promise but will also reach patients sooner.

These projects include digital solutions to help patients and GPs, innovative medical devices that will improve and save lives and collaborations with industry that will improve drug safety, as well as lead to new treatments.

It’s a momentous day for the field of cardiovascular research, and one that will lead to a far healthier future for all Australians."

Key partners in the project include The George Institute for Global Health, Monash University, the University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, the Australian National University, Menzies School of Health Research, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, and industry collaboration.

Professor Kovacic added: “It’s a wonderful achievement to bring together the most talented and driven cardiovascular researchers from across the country, from the University of Western Australia to Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.

“By partnering together we can and will deliver better outcomes to all Australians.”

The broad partnership will deliver an impressive $30 million investment into cardiovascular disease research through the MTPConnect funding, care of the Medical Research Future Fund, as well as co-contributions from partner organisations and industry.

MTPConnect Managing Director and CEO, Dr Dan Grant, says the new Research Centre will focus on building a culture of collaboration and signal a new approach to boosting the translation and commercialisation of Australian research to do more to help people with cardiovascular disease.

"The Research Centres are truly patient-focused and will deliver better health outcomes and reduce the burden of disease and health inequities in Australia, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, rural and remote communities and other under-served populations," Dr Grant says.

Funding will be used to accelerate research into coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and heart failure, and transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

The Institute’s scientists will focus on accelerating two main projects – the world’s first durable artificial heart, and how to better screen drugs which can potentially cause arrhythmias.

Preparations for clinical trials of the durable Total Artificial Heart are already underway, with the Institute’s Professor Chris Hayward playing a key role, in conjunction with Australian engineers at BiVACOR and other collaborators, with the first implant planned for the second half of next year.

Professor Hayward says the application of this technology is the latest in a proud history of heart transplantation by scientists and doctors at the Institute and could eventually help some of the 300,000 Australians with heart failure.

"This new artificial heart technology is unlike anything seen before and gives hope to the many people with severe heart disease who need a heart transplant but would not survive without mechanical support while waiting. It will further open the way for assessment of durable heart replacement devices in those who are ineligible or unable to access a donor heart in the future," Professor Hayward says.

Another VCCRI recipient of the TTRA funding is the team looking into how to better screen drugs which can potentially cause fast and irregular heartbeats.

Regulatory requirements mandate that all new drugs need to be screened for their potential to cause arrhythmias. However, the project’s lead, Dr Adam Hill, says that while current screening is effective at identifying dangerous drugs, it is viewed as overly stringent and this has meant that the development of many helpful, or even lifesaving, drugs has likely been unnecessarily halted.

It’s hoped the research propelled by the new funding will result in an increase in the accuracy of knowledge about drug safety, as well as accelerate the development of new drugs for a range of disorders, ensuring they're not only safe but get to market as quickly as possible.

"Our team is building an end-to-end solution for the pharmaceutical industry, combining drug screening, computer simulations of heart cells, and risk prediction algorithms that will increase the safety of drugs going on to the market. This improved accuracy of the screening process will also see more drugs for different conditions safely cleared for use in patient care and treatment," says Dr Hill.

To achieve large scale rollout of the work as a commercially viable solution, the VCCRI team has partnered with Telstra Health to use the Telstra DataHub as the technology platform that will support the cloud-based pipeline. Russel Duncan, Telstra Health CTO, says the company is really proud to support the project.

"It has great to be involved in supporting VCCRI in bringing together research, technology and health care, consistent with Telstra Health’s purpose of improving lives through digitally enabled care for our community," says Mr Duncan.

Another key partner in the project so far is the company Nanion Technologies, which builds the screening platform central to the proposed solution. Dr Hill says these partnerships are critical in furthering the research, as is the MTPConnect grant to ASHRA.

"The team at the Institute is grateful for this grant’s emphasis on technology and its translation to commercial viability because this is where the strength of our work lies. We have all the scientific pieces of the puzzle in place ready to go, so the extra funding will allow us to translate the progress we have made in our lab into a solution that will have widespread impact on preclinical development of new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry," says Dr Hill.

About TTRA

Targeted Translation Research Accelerator: the TTRA initiative is a $47 million program supported by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and delivered by MTPConnect.

About MTPConnect

Established in 2015 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, MTPConnect is Australia’s Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Industry Innovation Growth Centre, championing the growth of Australia’s vibrant MTP ecosystem.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years