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$10M supports genomic research into personalized cancer treatment


Vancouver, BC – A project at the BC Cancer Agency that seeks a cost-effective, genomic approach to treat lymphoid cancer has received $10 million in funding. The project – led by Dr. Joseph Connors, clinical director at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Lymphoid Cancer – is receiving the funding from Genome British Columbia, the BC Cancer Foundation, Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

“This funding allows BC to become a real world laboratory to show how we can use genomic analysis cost effectively to treat more cancer patients in a way that can readily be duplicated elsewhere around the world,” says Dr. Connors. “It brings together a culmination of decades of meticulous record-keeping with cutting-edge technology to maximize our knowledge about lymphoid cancers.”

He adds that recent research has shown that genomic sequencing can recognize specific lymphoid cancers that are often untreatable with current technology. These cancers could be treated more effectively using personally designed treatments: he and his team intend to provide this type of treatment in the near future.

Each patient’s cancer is distinct; therefore treating them with a one-size-all approach is not efficient or cost effective and can put patients through unnecessary treatments that will not be of benefit to them. Personalized cancer treatment means determining the specific genetic characteristics of a patient’s cancer and prescribing therapies that are customized for the unique molecular makeup of their cancer. Genomic sequencing is now able to accurately and quickly decode the entire genetic instructions in malignant and normal cells. This opens the possibility that doctors will be able to use this information to choose treatments that are specifically designed for that individual patient’s cancer.

Analysis employing genomic sequencing is now able to accurately decode the entire genetic instructions in malignant and normal cells at a reasonable cost, opening the possibility that doctors will be able to use this information to choose treatments that are specifically designed for that individual patient’s cancer.

The research project will study four specific lymphoid cancers. In more than half of cases of these types of cancer, primary treatment fails. A reasonable estimate is that the cure rate for several common lymphoid cancers can be increased by at least 20% and, by improving diagnostic accuracy and keeping patients from relapsing.

The project team will demonstrate that genomics tools can be provided for lymphoid cancer patients in British Columbia in a practical way that rapidly and cost effectively enables local cancer specialists to use special genomic sequencing information to identify different, more effective treatments than would otherwise be offered.

To date, genomic personalization of lymphoid cancer treatment has only been applied in research settings, not day-to-day medical care.

Researchers will also design a whole provincial specimen acquisition and treatment guidance report consisting of personnel, standard operating procedures, specimen transportation and analysis procedures, report generation, report interpretation by an expert panel, communication procedures to provide treatment guidance for the primary oncologist and database recording to track the whole system.

“Genome BC’s investment into this work is farsighted – analysis of this cancer will provide a revised lymphoma treatment model for our province and analytical tools that can be applied to other types of the disease,” says Dr. Alan Winter, president & CEO of Genome BC. “This funding closes a gap between novel research and real-time clinical application.”