New funding to boost prevention and improve treatment of chronic conditions

New funding to boost prevention and improve treatment of chronic conditions

Three leading George Institute researchers have been awarded funding for research programs to improve treatment of high blood pressure, severe depression, and stroke, and to help people make healthier purchasing choices. 

The funding is part of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Investigator Grants 2024 round, allowing the highest-performing researchers the flexibility to pursue important new research directions as they arise, without being restricted to the scope of a specific project.

Better use of established medicines

There is great potential for established medicines to deliver widespread health gains, particularly for common conditions like high blood pressure and severe depression. But there are many challenges involved in making these treatments available to people who need them. The goal of this program is to unlock this potential by smoothing the pathway to regulatory approvals.

High blood pressure is the leading cause of preventable mortality globally and affects over three million Australians. Depression is the leading cause of disability globally - a third of patients have treatment-resistant depression, which doubles the direct costs, productivity loss and rates of permanent disability. Novel use of long-approved medicines holds promise for breakthrough benefits for both conditions.

Lead Investigator Prof Anthony Rodgers hopes his research will help overcome a significant barrier to making already available affordable treatments accessible to people struggling with these conditions.

“We know that research-based pharmaceutical companies don’t invest in better use of established medicines and generics manufacturers don’t have the capacity or incentive to conduct extensive research and development. At the same time, publicly funded research is often insufficient to be able to meet requirements for regulatory approval or reimbursement.”

Prof Rodgers and his team will run a suite of coordinated, rigorous clinical trials to overcome these barriers. The project will also upskill early- to mid-career researchers in trial design, conduct and translation, as well as providing them with a comprehensive understanding of regulatory and reimbursement approval pathways and commercialisation processes. 

The right to know: Addressing health-related information deficits in online purchasing contexts

Poor diet and alcohol use are two of the top five modifiable risk factors for chronic disease in Australia, accounting for 10% of the total disease burden, and contributing significantly to overweight and high blood pressure, responsible for a further 14% of this burden.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated the already rapid migration to online shopping, with online food retail revenue (groceries and meal apps) now at more than AU$1 billion per month, with further growth expected.

But Professor Simone Pettigrew said that online shopping trends are eroding hard-won gains achieved in providing health-related information at the physical point of sale for foods and beverages. 

“While labelling laws are yet to explicitly include making the warning visible in product photography in the online setting, marketers can continue to exploit this regulatory loophole, removing consumers’ right to know about the healthiness of their purchases.”

Prof Pettigrew and her team will conduct an audit of health-related information on products sold online, compare this with information available in store and test different online approaches to promoting healthy options. 

“Our results will generate evidence-based policy recommendations for information provision across various food and beverage purchasing contexts, including grocery and meal or alcohol deliveries.”

Innovative strategies to reduce the global burden of stroke

Despite remarkable progress in stroke care and prevention, it remains the leading cause of death and disability, worldwide. In Australia, some 38,000 people suffer a first-ever stroke each year, and it is the leading cause of disability and third most common cause of death. 

The burden of stroke is even greater in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with rising rates of key risk factors like high blood pressure, poor access to treatments, and rapid demographic and urban lifestyle changes.  

To reduce this burden, ‘gold standard’ randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are urgently needed, but they are increasingly costly and complex to run. Also, as the Australian population is relatively small, international multicentre networks are required to recruit the large number of patients needed to study treatments that may have modest but important effects on outcomes.

The funding will enable Professor Craig Anderson and his team to complete several ongoing RCTs, find new and innovative ways to run trials in different countries and train a new generation of clinical trialists around the world.

“This work is all part of a broader strategy to reliably define what works and what doesn’t - or is harmful - and ensuring that the right therapies are delivered to the right patients, including those in LMICs,” Prof Anderson said.