The Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund

Tuesday 7 July, 2020

Across all cancers, Australia has seen a huge increase in survival rates over the past few decades, with 69 per cent of people now living for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis – well up from the 42 per cent in the early 1980s.

But this progress has not been spread equally. Many low survival cancers remain, including mesothelioma, with just six per cent of people living up to five years after a diagnosis – the lowest rate of any cancer. More than 750 people were diagnosed with this devastating disease last year in Australia, with 134 cases in Victoria alone.

Lyall Watts wanted to change this.

Thanks to the generosity of the late Lyall Watts, his partner Gary Kenny, his mother Marjory Watts and sister Sandra Harbison, Cancer Council Victoria established the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund in 2016.

This important fund is dedicated to investing in mesothelioma research to develop a better understanding of how this deadly cancer works and importantly, to try to find a cure for people living with the disease. That was the goal of Lyall Watts.

Lyall Watts’ Story

Lyall Watts died of mesothelioma in 2014 after a decade-long battle with the disease. Despite living with this demoralising cancer for so many years, Lyall never considered himself a victim.

“These are the cards I’ve been dealt,” Lyall said. “I will get on with my life the best I can.”

His partner, Gary, said that Lyall was never focused on himself, but would always look at what he could do to try and help others who had been given the same diagnosis.

This desire to improve the lives of others turned Lyall into a strong advocate for more research in mesothelioma. Lyall wanted people living with this cancer to have access to a greater range of treatment options which could help make their lives at least a little bit better.

Ultimately, Lyall wanted to help ground-breaking Australian researchers find a cure for mesothelioma.

It’s the philanthropy, vision and commitment of Lyall Watts and his family that led to The Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund – which has already made significant progress into understanding mesothelioma.

The Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund's achievements

All donations made to the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund are invested into projects focused on the detection, development of and treatment for mesothelioma.

Currently, it’s funding two highly promising research projects: one by Professor Kieran Harvey at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and another by Associate Professor Peter Janes at the Olivia-Newton John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre.

Professor Kieran Harvey and his small research team have been working to understand which genes are important in causing mesothelioma, and how that information may help to find successful treatments, by deciphering the role of the Hippo pathway.

“The Hippo pathway is an important group of genes that relays messages from the surface of the cell to the nucleus to change the cell’s behaviour,” Prof Harvey said. “The activity of Hippo pathway genes can change and cause cancer and this occurs in at least half of all mesotheliomas.”

The researchers already have a much better understanding of the role of the Hippo pathway in causing mesothelioma and have found many genes which also influence mesothelioma cells. This is forming the basis for possible clinical trials of mesothelioma drugs, with Prof Harvey and team having partnered with an American biotechnology company which is already creating them.

“I am very excited at the prospect of being involved in the development of Hippo pathway drugs that will benefit mesothelioma patients,” Professor Harvey said.

Associate Professor Peter Janes, Head Researcher at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, has also seen success since receiving a grant through the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund. His work is exploring targeted antibody therapy for malignant mesothelioma.

Having found two proteins which are prominent in mesotheliomas, A/Prof Janes and his team are now developing antibodies to target them, which could help suppress the growth of malignant tumours.

“Our team of translational cancer researchers and clinicians, with collaborative ties to trial sponsors, is uniquely positioned to develop strategies that allow rapid translation into clinical trials,” A/Prof Janes said.

Both of these projects are making exciting progress towards ensuring that more people survive a mesothelioma diagnosis. These achievements have been made possible by the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund, which is entirely funded by Cancer Council Victoria’s generous donors. This was Lyall’s focus and unwavering ambition, which he shares with the amazing researchers working in Australia to unravel the mysteries of this deadly cancer.

This Fund began thanks to the incredible generosity and philanthropy of Lyall Watts and his family, but it needs the support of people like you to continue. Lyall spent years trying to ensure people affected by mesothelioma were able to access better treatment. You can help continue his inspirational work.

Please donate to the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund and help create a better future for people affected by mesothelioma. Together, we can continue to build on the wonderful progress achieved so far.  

Contact us

To find out more or contribute to the Lyall Watts Mesothelioma Research Fund contact Megan Potter on 03 9514 6694 or Megan.Potter@cancervic.org.au.