COSA formally began its investigation into the need for nationally coordinated biobanking from clinical trials in 2008, thanks to unrestricted grants from Roche and Novartis.  Work commenced with a short survey of CCTG biobanking activities, followed by a one-day stakeholder workshop in October 2008.  The national workshop identified the emerging need for a national coordinated approach to biospecimen collection and storage and included a discussion of the major barriers to such an approach in Australia.  The tissue banking workshop report is available under the “Resources” tab.

In August 2009 to help define a national model for coordinated biobanking for clinical trials, Deloittes was engaged to assist COSA with progressing this initiative.  In November 2009 COSA held a national solutions workshop with attendance of the CCTGs and key stakeholders including Cancer Australia, biobank managers, consumers and cancer researchers.  The report 'Developing a national approach to biobanking 2010' is the outcome of these extensive national stakeholder consultations, and is available under the “Resources” tab.

Two years have passed since the release of our consultation report on biobanking from clinical trials and there has been some frustration that the recommendations have not been taken forward.  The recommendations made required a funding source and partnerships with biobanks and pathology practices.  Unfortunately the difficult financial times have affected funding for all research activities.  Both the NHMRC and State Governments have withdrawn funding for infrastructure activities such as biobanking and there is no prospect of any change to this in the present funding environment.

Nevertheless, there has been considerable activity related to finding ways to develop or maintain biobanking for clinical trials and a consultation by the NHMRC (chaired by Nik Zeps) resulted in the NHMRC establishing a scheme whereby the costs of biobanking could be met via cost recovery through Direct Research Costs (DRCs) in project (and other) grants.  This means that the NHMRC will fund biobanks indirectly through the peer-reviewed granting scheme.  There are obvious downsides to this model for biobanks in that only NHMRC funded grants can direct any funds to them and these don’t represent the largest clients of biobanks currently.  Similarly it does not address the cost of prospective collection, which must be met through other sources.  During this period, the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) were also examining the role of pathologists and pathology practices in biobanking and have engaged with senior ministers toward identifying ways that they can further facilitate this.

Many clinical trials now require biobanking as well as upfront genetic analysis for patient stratification.  Both of these costs may now be put in full into any grant application and Grant Review Panels will be briefed about how to review such costs.  The RCPA has also approached the government with respect to prospective fees paid through Medicare for these items and whilst not successful at this stage, there will be growing pressure to do so as personalized ‘precision’ medicine becomes more and more embedded into clinical practice.  There is therefore some cause for optimism that biobanking from clinical trials may obtain more support in the near future.

Clearly the funding pressures present some challenges and these must be met not only in Australia but at an international level.  It was therefore COSA’s pleasure and honour to host the Marble Arch International Working Group on Biobanking on 4 May 2013.  This group is comprised of the heads of most of the major cancer biobanks around the world and is a semi-informal organization aimed at discussing the pressing issues in an open forum.  They meet twice a year alongside the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) Annual Scientific Meeting (Sydney, 4-9 May 2013) and the European, Middle-Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking (ESBB – Verona, 9-11 October 2013) and have done so since their inception in December 2005.