Director, The Daffodil Centre, A Joint Venture between Cancer Council NSW and The University of Sydney, Australia

Karen Canfell is inaugural Director of the Daffodil Centre, a flagship centre of the University of Sydney and a joint venture with Cancer Council NSW, Australia. She is also Professor & NHMRC Leadership Fellow, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, Australia. Her research involves evaluation and translation of new strategies for cancer control and she has led multiple impact and economic evaluations for government agencies in Australia and internationally. For example, her work underpins the transformation of the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia which in 2017 moved to HPV DNA testing to replace Pap smears. In collaboration with the VCS Foundation, she initiated Compass, Australia’s largest clinical trial (76,000 women), and the first trial internationally to assess cervical screening in an HPV-vaccinated population. Compass is directly supporting the implementation of new cervical screening program, acting as a sentinel experience for safety monitoring and evaluation. In 2019, Prof. Canfell became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, with citation: “internationally recognised for her work on optimising cervical cancer screening in the era of HPV vaccination. Based on her work, the Australian National Cervical Screening Program changed its approach to screening for cervical cancer – a move that has seen Australia projected to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue.”

Prof. Canfell is active in global health and leads key aspects of the WHO impact and investment case for cervical cancer elimination. Her work is cited in the WHO strategic plan for elimination and findings from key publications were presented at the Executive Board (EB) of the WHO with the EB’s subsequent support of the resolution for elimination. In the period 2020-22, her team has supported WHO in development of detailed clinical management guidelines for cervical screening in low-income countries.

In 2020 she initiated, and co-leads with Dr. Freddie Bray from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the International Partnership for Resilience in Cancer Systems (I-PaRCS) with key partners IARC, the International Cancer Screening Network, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the coordinating centre Cancer Council NSW. The I-PaRCS brings together the global modelling community to support decision-making across cancer control both during and after the crisis.

Professor Canfell is 2020 recipient of the NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award (Leadership in Health Services Research), and the 2021 recipient of Cancer Australia’s Jeanne Ferris Award for her contributions to gynaecological cancer research.

Contribution to field of research: Prof. Canfell’s team provides policy-makers with an evidence base for decision-making in cancer control. In addition to her work supporting WHO, over 12 national-level policy decisions in Australia, England and NZ have been based on her team’s work. In recent years Prof. Canfell’s team have extended the multidisciplinary approach used to support transformational changes in cervical cancer control – including modelling, linked data analysis, clinical trials, stakeholder engagement and implementation science – to other opportunities. For example, her team have evaluated the benefits and cost-effectiveness of major new innovations in a number of other areas, including the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, where she led systematic reviews and modelling for 2016 national guidelines for HPV screening and modelling for 2017 revisions to the National Clinical Management Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer. She has been involved in the evaluation of the role of risk-based breast cancer screening (supporting a Commonwealth-funded Roadmap to Optimising Early Detection of Breast Cancer in Australia), screening for Lynch Syndrome; and her team are currently actively evaluating detailed options for prostate specific antigen testing and lung cancer screening.

Scientific and program track record: Professor Canfell has published 280+ peer-reviewed papers (191 in the last 5 years) and has senior authored multiple national commissioned reports to governments. Her citation profile has built rapidly in recent years (Total citations 8,700+, H-index 44 [google scholar]). In recent years her senior authorship of many key publications spanning cancer control, linked data analysis, clinical trial results and observational epidemiology reflect her leadership of a productive, talented and rapidly developing team of early-and-mid-career researchers and now emerging leaders, who are now part of the Daffodil Centre.

She leads major competitive grant-funded projects from national and international agencies including: the NHMRC, MRFF, NCI USA. For example, she is CIA of a major $3.6M MRFF-funded project “Modelling five-years patterns in cancer incidence, staging and related health services.” She is co-PI for CISNET-Cervical (an US National Cancer Institute collaborative program grant now on its second round of funding), a major endeavour to model HPV and cervical cancer control in the USA. She holds an NHMRC Leadership Fellowship and also leads C4, an NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control, which is focused on providing the evidence base to support cervical cancer elimination in Australia and regionally.

Collaborations:  Prof. Canfell collaborates with policy-makers in several countries. Her group has worked closely with the Screening Section, Department of Health over many years. Her ongoing collaboration with the Ministry of Health in New Zealand has led to multiple monitoring, and evaluation reports. She has current active research collaborations with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Harvard University, National Cancer Institute USA, and the University Laval, Canada, and the Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. She also has collaborations with Prince Charles Hospital/University of Queensland on lung cancer screening, Royal Hospital for Women Sydney, Royal Women’s Hospital Melbourne, the Victorian Cytology Service, and other epidemiology and modelling groups (including Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford; NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, Sydney; Erasmus Medical Centre and Vrjie University Medical Centre, Netherlands).

International standing: As examples of her standing: keynote speaker at the World Cancer Leader’s Summit in Kazakhstan in 2019; invited to participate and present at multiple WHO-convened meetings on cervical cancer elimination in 2018-21; invited to speak for the ‘pro’ position in a plenary ‘Big Debate’ at the World Cancer Conference, Paris 2016; on-stage interviewee for the 2017 Economist ‘War on Cancer’ event in Singapore; and presented at APEC Cervical Cancer Meetings. She has been invited to speak and chair sessions at international meetings on multiple occasions.

 Supervision and mentoring: Professor Canfell leads the Daffodil Centre, a University of Sydney Flagship Research Centre of over 120 academic and professional staff and students. As Director and (with the Deputy Director Prof Anne Cust) co-Chair of its Research Steering Group, she has supported the development of new networks for Higher Degree Research (HDR) students and Early-and-Mid-Career (ECMR) researchers and professional staff, which bring together the young researchers from the two participating institutions. She has primary-supervised 8 PhD students to completion (in addition to others co-supervised); several have been successful in obtaining fellowships from NHMCR or CINSW (Dr. Kate Simms, Dr Jie-Bin Lew, Dr. Megan Smith).

Community engagement and participation: She has a long history of engagement with governments and health organisations – for example, since 2013 she has chaired Cancer Council Australia’s Cancer Screening and Immunization Committee and from 2011-2018 was a member of the Australian Government’s Medical Services Advisory Committee’s Protocol Advisory Sub-Committee. She has been involved in and/or facilitated UICC and APEC Virtual Dialogs and many regional and international meetings on cancer control and access to cancer services in low- and middle-income countries.