H. Miles Prince, MD, MBBS is a specialist hematologist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and a full professor at the University of Melbourne and Monash University in Australia. Dr. Prince is also the director of molecular oncology and cancer immunology at Epworth Hospital in Victoria and is a co-founder of the Snowdome Foundation.
Tell us about growing up in Australia and what you enjoyed most about your early years.
My family is actually from India, and we immigrated to Australia when I was three years old. We’re from an Anglo-Indian family and moved into a small town in Australia called Geelong, which is outside of Melbourne in the south of Australia. I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive family, and their philosophy was to provide me any opportunity they could. Luckily, I won a scholarship to a good school because we didn’t have much money. That scholarship was to Geelong Grammar, which really opened up lots of opportunities for me to get a good education and get into medicine. As I reflect back, it probably had a big influence on my perspective on philanthropy and support. I feel like I’ve had a leg up. Somebody along the way gave me an opportunity and I think that colored the way I see life. When I can, I try to give other people opportunities, whether that be through philanthropic support or mentorship. It’s been a big influence. Life was fun growing up in Australia. I was very sporty and played a lot of rugby, which gave me a chance to travel overseas. That really opened up my passion for travel and seeing the world.
How did you become interested in medicine and hematology specifically?
My interest in medicine came from my interest in biology. What really struck me about medicine is that it was incredibly intellectually stimulating but also an opportunity to engage in other people’s lives. Then when I got through medicine and started looking at specialties, hematology grabbed me straight away because it was all about getting to know patients. I often tease my sister because she’s a surgeon, and I talk about surgeons “speed dating” their patients compared to physicians actually having a long relationship. To me, it is about having a long, sustained relationship with patients. I was also interested in oncology, but at the time, in the early 1980s, hematology was curing people and I wanted to be a part of that.
Dr. Prince co-founded the Snowdome Foundation with the mission of accelerating new therapies for patients with blood cancers.
You’ve been working on genomics and the promise of personalized medicine for years. Where are we today in terms of the promise versus the reality for blood cancers?
My view of personalized medicine is that it’s about the right treatment for the right patient. When I think about where we are today and the Moonshot for Cancer and the potential to cure patients, it’s because of the alignment of technology. We couldn’t do personalized medicine without super computing, being able to analyze massive amounts of data in a quick period of time. We wouldn’t be able to do it without our understanding of the sequence of the genome or the fundamentals of biology, which has really accelerated. All of those things have begun to come together, and the issue now is to make it practical for our patients. Ten years ago, I went to an American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, and I came back depressed because I thought, how are we going to synthesize this massive amount of information from genomics? But somehow, we’ve done it. Somehow it has become manageable. We do have to move to the next step of using artificial intelligence, but I think we’ve shown an incredible capacity to be able to take a massive amount of data and make it manageable by using clever bioinformatics.
What are some of the challenges in delivering these new advances to patients?
I use genomic testing on my patients every day, and I think in hematology we use it more than any other specialty. One of the biggest issues that is underestimated is the logistics of getting the right specimen from the patient to the right laboratory and getting a result in a timely, affordable fashion. Through my philanthropic work in Australia, a major focus has been trying to improve the delivery of genomics to the community, rather than just in the “ivory towers.” I’ve been lucky enough to work at Peter MacCallum, but I also work in private practice where the logistics of getting specimens to the right place and then processed appropriately is more difficult. I think another major challenge is not to “dumb down” personalized medicine. We don’t want to provide the cheapest version; we want to provide the best version. Quality and speed are the big logistical issues in delivering personalized medicine. We can’t sit in our ivory towers at the best institutes in the country and only provide personalized medicine to those patients; patients in the community deserve to get the very best genomics-based treatment.
Tell us about the Snowdome Foundation and the important research need it fills in Australia.
This foundation is one of my most meaningful endeavors. My co-founders and I established it about 10 years ago with the mission to accelerate new therapies for patients with blood cancers. We fundraise aggressively and allocate millions of dollars each year for research. We fund research that we think is most important, so we have supported epigenetics, genomics, and immunotherapies. We are about leveraging the dollar, so we have partnered with groups like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the U.S. We put a lot of our funding toward fellowships and, in recent years, put a lot of funding into improving genomic therapies. Snowdome really has become the preeminent institute for funding translational blood cancer research in Australia. There was a huge need and we’re filling it. COVID has put a damper on some of it, but having said that, we funded the highest amount of grants in our history in 2021. We’re not shy about asking the big questions, and we see genomics and immunotherapies as being some of the critical ones.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab or seeing patients?
I really love my exercise, so it’s mainly going to the gym and running and walking. We have a house down on the beach and I enjoy being there. It’s really about the solitude of the beach and the air for me; that’s what I love about Australia. Although I love traveling, some of my happiest moments are throwing the ball on the beach with my dog.
Dr. Prince enjoys time on the beach with his dog Piper.
Do you have advice for other hematologists looking to take on leadership roles?
I often tell trainees that you’ve got to invest the academic time early in your career. Build a reputation and put yourself in a position to be an expert. You know you’ve achieved it when someone calls you up and asks your opinion, but you have to set yourself up to do that.
Dr. Prince (left) enjoys a meal with Keith Stewart, MD.
Is this a good time to be a hematologist?
People always say that Australians are overly positive, but to use an Australian phrase, this is an awesome time to be in hematology. That’s not overplaying it. Things are changing and improving, and we’re on that curve with advances in immunology to get rid of chemotherapy. I’m treating patients today with multiple myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and we’re not using chemotherapy at all. We want to be in a world where we can dispose of chemotherapy, and one of the key areas to getting there is immunology and targeted genomic therapy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.