PCFA Peer Review Process

Research Committee, peer review process and conflict of interest

A message from the Research Chair, Professor John Mills

In Australia and internationally, prostate cancer funding is severely lacking, especially when compared with some other cancers that cause equivalent morbidity and mortality (e.g. breast or colon cancer). As a result, the number of prostate cancer investigators is relatively small, as is their research output. This manpower and funding deficit means that advances in diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, which are urgently needed, are taking longer to be discovered and developed.

PCFA’s structured research program has the following aims:

  • To provide a logical, consistent and transparent framework for submission, review and selection of research applications for funding.
  • To support the very best Australian research into prostate cancer, and to ensure that allocation of PCFA grant funds is guided by a clear strategic focus and a set of specific research priorities, based on deficits in existing research.
  • To play a catalytic role in expanding the number of distinguished, senior Australian scientists working on prostate cancer, whilst ensuring that promising young investigators have the funding required to allow them to mature into independent prostate cancer researchers.

PCFA Research Committee

Since 1999, PCFA has been committed to providing a transparent, well-organised and academically rigorous venue for the funding of worthwhile research projects focused on prostate cancer.

In 1999, PCFA’s Peer Review Committee (as the Research Committee was then known) was chaired by Professor Roger Reddell (1999 -2003), followed by Professor Robert Baxter (2003-2006). The current Chairman, Professor John Mills, was appointed in 2007 at a time when, due to the ongoing success of Movember, PCFA was able to establish its annual grant program.
An outstanding group of scientists bring their experience and expertise to PCFA’s Research Committee.

With Board input, oversight and approval the Research Committee is responsible for: 

  • Developing the broad goals of the PCFA Research Program (the Research Strategy), developing its specific aims, assisting in the implementation of that Program, and reviewing the Research Strategy on at least an annual basis
  • Reviewing applications tendered as part of the Research Program, in a rigorous, transparent and fair process, and identifying and ranking applications that should be funded for the Board’s review
  • Identifying areas of prostate cancer research which are felt to be under-investigated (especially in the case where there are insufficient applications) and developing strategies to correct that imbalance.

Research Committee Biographies

Prof John Mills is a specialist physician, medical scientist and businessman, Professor John Mills received a BS (Hons) from the University of Chicago and an MD (Hons, with specialisation in microbiology) from Harvard Medical School. He holds Fellowships in the American College of Physicians, the Royal Australian College of Physicians and is an Associate Fellow of the Royal College of Pathology of Australasia. Professor Mills has been actively involved in patient care since 1966, and retains a small clinical practice at the Alfred Hospital. He holds professorial appointments at UCSF, Monash University and RMIT. Conducting medical research since 1961, Professor Mills has more than 200 peer-reviewed publications reporting original research, plus numerous reviews, book  chapters and edited texts. He has been on the editorial board of several journals, the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, and is currently actively involved in research review and administration. Since 1992, Professor Mills has been involved in biomedical business, and is currently a Director of TissuPath P/L, a specialist histopathology practice with a special interest in uropathology and prostate cancer, Chairman of Swedish biotechnology company Cavidi AB, and non-executive director of GBS Venture Partners Pty Ltd. He is also a Director of PCFA.

Mr. Bruce Kynaston (Consumer Representative) initially graduated as Medical Officer and eventually became Director of The Queensland Radium Institute. Later in his career he worked for an extended period of time as a Radiation Oncologist and in his role as consultant to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Bruce treated many men for prostate cancer in the pre PSA era. In addition, he acquired a qualification in medical administration and served on the NH&MRC ('76-'84), and its Medicine Advisory Committee and Radiation Health (Standing) Committee. Bruce was later appointed to the Ionizing Radiation Advisory Committee that reported to the federal Minister for the Environment where he served for 3 years.

In 1985, two years post his retirement, Bruce had a refresher course in radiotherapy as a patient for prostate cancer.  Since his prostate cancer diagnosis, he has been actively involved as a member of Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast support groups and has helped with his advice and opinion related to prostate cancer testing issues and consumer involvement whenever needed.

Bruce is currently symptoms free of PCa and plans to help us along in the area of support to other men for years to come.

Professor Suzanne Chambers heads the Department of Preventative Health at Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, Queensland. Prof. Chambers has been the Director of Research at the Cancer Council Queensland from 2006 to early 2011.  In this role, she was responsible for the strategic direction, development and management of research program activity, the broad aim of which is to undertake psycho-oncology and epidemiology research that translates into improved and effective clinical practice, public health interventions and policy, and optimal individual behaviour. This includes six defined research areas: Descriptive Epidemiology; Lifestyle and Cancer; Prostate Cancer; Skin Cancer; Community and Applied Psycho-Oncology; Cancer Aetiology; as well as the Queensland Cancer Registry and Cancer Counselling Service. In 2005 she received an academic appointment from the Griffith University School of Psychology and since 2006 has been a member of the Griffith Psychology Health Research Centre.  Her particular area of interest is in adjustment to prostate cancer and she is currently leading two large scale NHMRC funded trials into psycho-education/ decision support and couples based interventions for men with localised prostate cancer.  Professor Chambers also holds an NHMRC Career Development Award.

Professor Robert Alexander (‘Frank’) Gardiner (AM, MBBS, MD, FRCS, FRACS)  is an Academic Urologist with the University of Queensland at the UQ Centre of Clinical Research and is a Consultant Urologists at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. He also has senior adjunct academic appointments at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and Queensland University of Technology.
In addition to his membership of the Medical and Scientific Committee (MSAC) of PCFA, he is Chairman of the MSAC of Cancer Council Queensland, Chairman and member of the Executive of the Viertel Centre for Research in Cancer Control, Queensland and is Chairman of the Pathology subcommittee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. In addition to membership of the Board of Directors, Cancer Council Australia, the Advisory Board of Andrology Australia and the Advisory Board of the Asian Pacific Prostate Society, he has an appointments on the  editorial boards of 5 international journals.

He holds the position of a Web-page editor, BJU International journal and is Section editor, FingerTip Urology, BJU International, which he initiated and instigated. He has a long history in prostate cancer research and is an author on over 130 peer-reviewed publications in urology and urological research and the recipient of many competitively won research grants. He is a Fellow of the Urological Research Society which is limited to 75 members elected internationally.

A/Prof Howard Gurney is Director of Clinical Research, Medical Oncology at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Associate Professor Howard Gurney is a medical oncologist with sub-specialty interest in prostate and genitourinary cancer. He helped establish a large multidisciplinary prostate cancer management team in Western Sydney involving urologists, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists. Associate Professor Gurney has a strong track record in clinical and translational research, particularly in anti-cancer drug disposition, novel methods for dose calculation and new therapies for prostate and genitourinary malignancies. He has been an investigator on more than 70 clinical trials and has more than 60 peer-reviewed publications.

A/Professor Susan Henshall has been the Group Leader of the Prostate Cancer Group in the Cancer Research Program at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney for more than one decade. She is a past PCFA Young Investigator and is currently a Cancer Institute NSW Fellow.  She holds conjoint academic appointments with the University of New South Wales and Georgetown University in the United States. 

Her main research focus over the years has been the identification of genes and pathways whose expression changes can predict the development of aggressive life-threatening prostate cancer or resistance to chemotherapy used for the treatment of advanced stage prostate cancer. Recently, Sue has accepted a new position with Cancer Council Australia. She is now the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) Advocacy Director at CCA.

Prof. Afaf Girgis is Executive Director of the Translational Cancer Research Unit, Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, South Western Sydney Clinical School, UNSW. She is a Behavioural Scientist in cancer control and psycho-oncology and an internationally regarded authority in this field. Prof. Girgis has extensively researched and published in areas including the prevention and early detection of cancer; development and psychometric testing of measures to assess cancer patients’, caregivers’ and health care professionals’ unmet needs and communication skills training for the oncology workforce.

Associate Professor Richard Pearson.  Following three years as a Human Frontiers of Science Fellow at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland, Associate Professor Pearson was appointed Head of the Protein Chemistry Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in 1995. He is also Co-Head of the Cell Growth and Differentiation Program at Peter Mac, and is a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and Principal Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne.

Associate Professor Pearson’s research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of the regulation of ribosome biogenesis, protein synthesis and cell growth, and using this knowledge to address how deregulation of these processes contributes to malignant transformation. He currently receives project grant support from NHMRC and Cancer Council Victoria and has co-authored more than 55 peer-reviewed articles. He served on NHMRC Grant Review Panels between 2006 and 2008.

Associate Professor Lisa Horvath is the Head of the Department of Medical Oncology (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) at the Sydney Cancer Centre and a Visiting Post-doctoral Scientist at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research. She is also a senior lecturer at both the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales. She has an active clinical practice, is involved with a large number of clinical trials in prostate, lung and colorectal cancers in addition to phase I trial work. Dr Horvath has published 24 original research papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last 10 years. She has presented extensively at national and international meetings both peer-reviewed and invited presentations.
Dr. Horvath’s research interest is predominantly on tissue biomarkers of prognosis in localized prostate cancer but since returning to clinical practice, her research has focused more on drug resistance in hormone-refractory prostate cancer.

Professor Peter Leedman completed medicine at the University of Western Australia (UWA), then trained in endocrinology at Royal Melbourne Hospital in the mid-1980s. He completed his PhD at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne with Len Harrison on autoimmune thyroid disease from 1987-1991. From 1991-1994 he was a Lucille P Markey Fellow with Bill Chin, a Howard Hughes Investigator in the Division of Genetics, Brigham and Women's hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston where he worked on the molecular mechanisms of thyroid hormone action.

His laboratory is focused on applying advances in understanding these molecular mechanisms to the development of novel therapeutics. The team's discovery of several novel transcriptional nuclear receptor coregulators, including SLIRP, has generated much interest in the role of RNA-binding coregulators in hormone action. Professor Leedman is Head of the Laboratory for Cancer Medicine and Deputy Director of WAIMR. He is also an endocrinologist and Director of Research at Royal Perth Hospital.

PCFA’s National Research Committee is coordinated by Dr. Miranda Xhilaga (Director – Research Programs)

Miranda is a physician and Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine, Monash University. In addition to her medical qualifications, she holds a Diploma in Immunology and a PhD in Molecular Biology from Monash University. Prior to joining PCFA as National Manager, Research Programs, Dr Xhilaga was a member of Professor David de Kretser's research group at the former Institute of Reproduction and Development (now Monash Institute for Medical Research) focusing on viral latency in the prostate, testis, epididymis and seminal vesicles, and the role of these organs in viral transmission. Dr Xhilaga has published numerous peer reviewed papers, most in high impact journals such as Journal of Virology, Nature Microbiology, Blood and has served as a reviewer for several journals including the Asian Journal of Andrology.

She has received many prestigious postgraduate and postdoctoral awards including a NHMRC CJ Martin Postdoctoral Fellowship and the US National Institutes of Health Fellows Award for Research Excellence. Dr Xhilaga is a member of the Society for Reproductive Biology and the Australian Society for Medical Research.

PCFA’s CEO, Dr. Anthony Lowe, also sits as an ex officio member of the Committee.

Determination of grant and applicant quality

Application review process

The peer review model that PCFA has adopted for assessment of research applications received every year is that of the NH&MRC. It is a two-tiered peer review process.

Step 1
1. Received applications are divided into categories that fit the criteria for funding.

2. Project titles and summaries are screened and external international assessors with specific expertise in the area of the grant (2/grant) and national assessors (1/grant) are selected and assigned to each grant.

3. External assessors evaluate each grant based on scientific merit, track record and significance and give all grants a score.

4. Upon receiving two or more assessments for each application, we calculate an average, and rank each grant based on this score. 

Step 2
1. Each member of the Research Committee is assigned up to 20 applications and acts a spokesperson for each of these grants.
2. Spokespersons of each grant assign an independent score to each of application received.
3. Final ranking (scores from 7 to 1, where 7 is outstanding) is prepared and grants are discussed one by one on the basis of their scores, merit and PCFA priority.

The Research Committee deliberation meeting, is an intense, one-day meeting conducted face-to-face, usually in Melbourne. The CEO and the National Chairman sit as ex officio members in this meeting.

Conflict of interest (COI)

The Australian prostate cancer research community is big yet small in that scientists do know each other and are aware of the research being undertaken in different laboratories around the country. COI due to past or current collaborations is frequently stated in the applicant’s letter to PCFA.  Great care is taken during the assignment process not to assign applications for peer review to scientists who work together within the same institution or/and assessors who have declared a COI with any of the applications received.

A conflict of interest may exist, for example, if the applicant or any of its personnel:

• Has a relationship (whether professional, commercial or personal) with a party who is able to influence the application assessment process.

• Has a relationship with, or interest in, an organisation, which is likely to interfere with or restrict the applicant in carrying out the proposed activities fairly and independently; or

• Has a relationship with, or interest in, an organisation from which they will receive personal gain as a result of the granting of funding through PCFA’s Research Program

Each applicant will be required to declare as part of their application, existing conflicts of interest or that to the best of their knowledge there is no conflict of interest, including in relation to the examples above, that would impact on or prevent the applicant from proceeding with the project or any funding agreement it may enter into with PCFA.

This applies also to conflict of interest with one or more members of the Research Committee. Upon identifying and establishing a conflict of interest with any of the Research Committee members, the Chair of the committee notifies the member that he/she will be excluded from the decision making process for that particular application.

If you indicate that you have a conflict of interest please specify the nature of this conflict.

Where an applicant subsequently (after submission of the application) identifies that an actual, apparent, or potential conflict of interest exists or might arise in relation to an application for funding, the applicant must inform PCFA’s Research Office in writing immediately.

Our efforts in ensuring an unbiased, highly competitive evaluation process have been commended in different forums and we are determined to work harder to ensuring a fair and reliable evaluation process.

Please Read the Guideline for Managing Conflicts of Interest in Peer Review

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