About A/Prof Phoebe Phillips


Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and lethal forms of cancer. “The five-year survival rate is less than 5%, and most patients succumb to the disease in the first six months,” Phoebe explains.

In more than 80% of patients diagnosed with the disease, the disease has already advanced and spread, and cannot be removed with surgery. Even after a diagnosis is made, the typical medical approaches of treating cancer, namely surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, have limited benefit in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. As a result, the majority of patients die within a few months of diagnosis.

One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so difficult to treat is that it has an extensive scar- or fibrotic reaction, which prevents anticancer drugs from reaching tumour cells. Novel therapeutic approaches are desperately needed.

Phoebe’s focus has always been on identifying why pancreatic cancer is so bad and responds so poorly to treatment.

Her research to date has identified proteins that actually kill off pancreatic cancer helper cells. The research revealed that pancreatic cancer responds so poorly to treatment due to a scar tissue reaction that surrounds the tumour. Phoebe’s research team subsequently identified a protein which when they modulated its expression, they were able to get the drug into the tumour.

Phoebe’s current research continues to be driven by her desire to improve the efficacy of therapies for pancreatic cancer.

Phoebe is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellow, and leader of the Pancreatic Cancer Translational Research Group at the University of New South Wales. Her training into pancreatic diseases began as a research assistant in 1999 with the Pancreatic Research Group at UNSW and she completed her PhD in 2005. In the same year, Phoebe commenced a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Massachusetts in the USA, before returning to Australia in 2007.

Phoebe is thrilled with the progress being made in terms of pancreatic cancer research, and hopes in the future that the technologies she is investigating might have far-reaching benefits by being applied to the treatment of other cancers.

 It is Phoebe’s passion and drive to change the dismal prognosis of pancreatic cancer that Cure Cancer Australia admires. She says that without the support from Cure Cancer Australia, she wouldn’t have been able to establish her research team and make the progress they’ve made.