Professor Murray Cairns secures MRFF Genomics Health Futures Mission grant for research to optimise treatment of hypertension

Congratulations to Professor Murray Cairns (University of Newcastle & HMRI) who has been awarded a $2.6 million grant through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Genomics Health Futures Mission 2022 to improve treatment for hypertension.

Professor Cairns’ project is set to make a substantial contribution to cardiovascular health, particularly in regional and rural communities across Australia.

Recognising the need for timely control of blood pressure to reduce serious cardiovascular emergencies and chronic heart disease, Professor Cairns and his team are exploring new options in precision medicine.

“We propose a clinical trial to test a new tool with the potential to identify the drugs that are most likely to work for a patient based on their genetic profile. This method enables precision medicine for high blood pressure rather than trialling drugs that might not necessarily work for that particular patient,” explains Professor Murray Cairns.

The focus of the project is a ‘pharmagenic enrichment score’ – a risk score based on assessment of an individual’s genetics against the biological pathways activated by each drug option. The aim is to match people with the drug that will work best for them, based on this score.

The team has recently published compelling data to show how this approach should work in the journal ‘Circulation.’ You can read the article here.  

If proven successful for treatment of hypertension, this approach could not only save lives, but also reduce high rates of GP presentations and hospital readmissions, and importantly improve the quality of life for the 8.8 million Australian adults and their families affected by high blood pressure.

Gillian Donn is a consumer and an Associate Investigator on this project, who has lived experience of using medication to reduce her blood pressure. The medication she used did work, but unfortunately caused a number of intolerable side effects. “Having access to a medicine that worked well for me the first time around, would have made life so much easier for me and my family, and saved a lot of time and money going back to doctors to seek additional help and new treatment options.”

Stephen O’Connor, a consumer who was made aware of his high blood pressure earlier this year shares, “After discussing the high risk of cardiovascular complications I was prescribed a low dose medication, which had very little impact. After increasing the dose, the problem persisted so my doctor then tried a series of other medications and doses until eventually my blood pressure was brought under control. I was surprised by this trial-and-error approach, so if genetics can be used to reduce the guesswork and time to achieve a positive effect, that would be a significant breakthrough.”

Associate Professor Nicolette Hodyl, the Director at NSW Regional Health Partners, is also an Associate Investigator on this project. Nicki expressed enthusiasm for this work, stating, “We are pleased to support this important program of work by leveraging our networks and expertise to support broader uptake of this work, increasing potential for state and national-level impact.”

Working in collaboration with Professor Murray Cairns on this initiative are Professor Andrew Boyle, Associate Professor Tracy Dudding-Byth, Associate Professor Doan Ngo, Professor Christopher Reid, Associate Professor Aaron Sverdlov, Professor John Attia, Doctor Anastasia Mihailidou, Doctor William Reay and Professor Clare Collins.

The MRFF has invested $500.1 million to the Genomics Health Futures Mission, aiming to fund research that integrates genomic knowledge and technology into clinical practice, offering hope to Australians suffering diseases that are life threatening and currently untreatable.