Professor John Mills recently retired as the Chair of PCFA’s Research Advisory Committee after pioneering PCFA’s research program and strategy from the start in 2003. We are indebted to John for his vision and commitment to prostate cancer research in this country.
Professor Mills is a specialist physician, medical scientist and businessman. He received a BS (Hons) from the University of Chicago and an MD (Hons, with specialisation in microbiology) from Harvard Medical School and 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 Melbourne. 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 Research & Development at TissuPath Specialist Pathology, a boutique histopathology practice with a special interest in uropathology and prostate cancer. He is also a non-executive director of GBS Venture Partners Pty Ltd and a Trustee of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC). He was formerly Executive Chairman of Swedish biotechnology company Cavidi AB and Managing Director of Narhex Life Sciences, an Australian biotechnology company.
Around the time when PCFA was considering establishing a more structured Research Program, John had only just founded TissuPath Specialist Pathology with two anatomic pathologists. In the early days of TissuPath prostate cancer was a common specimen, and John’s interest in research resulted in him undertaking significant research into prostate cancer. Consequently he was the viewed as the perfect candidate to take up the job as Chairman of PCFA’s new Research Program. “In 2006, I was approached by Graeme Johnson and Prof. Anthony Costello – then the Chair and a non-executive director of the PCFA, respectively – about the possibility of establishing a structured research program for the PCFA, which I would chair, says John.
Preparations for the establishment of this national initiative started back in 2003, and as a result of generous grants from Movember and its own fundraising, PCFA began to accumulate significant funds that enabled the initiation of a research program underpinned by a Research Committee.
During these early days, PCFA funded a number of highly significant grants but the program suffered from a nearly complete lack of structure: there were no overall goals or specific priorities, guidelines for submission of applications, schedules for applications and announcements of successful applications, and there was not a rigorous and transparent review process.
The first logical step towards establishing PCFA’s Research Program was to survey current prostate cancer research in Australia. This survey showed that there were a significant number of internationally-prominent senior scientists working in prostate cancer in Australia – part of Australia’s highly regarded medical research community, but it also highlighted the deficiency in research activity and funding, both nationally and internationally”, recalls Professor Mills.
As a result, the Research Program established two flagship grant categories to breach these gaps, one that supported the transition of young scientists into independent researchers and one that awarded our senior researchers in the field.
The funding PCFA has provided to Australian prostate cancer research since 2006, with the support of major partners such as Movember, has significantly increased the total funding available to prostate cancer research. The catalytic effects of PCFA grants are shown in the successes that our Young Investigator grantees have achieved in becoming fully independent with their own NHMRC funding, and in the successes of our Concept grantees that are now actively engaged in prostate cancer research, again with independent NHMRC funding.
PCFA’s Research Program is now into its eighth year. And what a time it has been! Under John’s leadership from 2007-2013, in partnership with Movember, the program funded 152 projects nationwide to a total value of approximately $34 million. “It was a tremendous “high” for me to be allowed to establish a program to fund prostate cancer research for PCFA, says John, especially a program that had enthusiastic support from the PCFA Board, the Research Advisory Committee and the research community generally. And seeing the impact that Movember & PCFA funding had on the careers of young and established scientists - as well as on their research achievements - was very, very gratifying. The only negative was not having enough money to fund all of the eligible grant applications we received. I am looking forward to watching the Research Program achieving much more in the future”.
In 2013, in recognition of the outstanding contribution of Professor John Mills to PCFA as Chairman of PCFA’s Research Program (2007-2013), PCFA established the prestigious John Mills Young Investigator Award. This award recognises and supports the career of an outstanding, young, clinician researcher that shows exceptional promise as a developing leader in the field of prostate cancer.
John remains a distinguished non-executive Director on our National Board.