Lab Canada

$150M supports personalized health research projects

Ottawa, ON – The results of a major $150-million genomics and personalized health competition, a Genome Canada – Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) partnership – have been announced.

Seventeen projects in total have been approved for funding, each valued in the range of $3 million to $13 million. The projects will focus on the application of genomics to tailor patient treatments and therapies in fields as diverse as epilepsy, autism, HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, rare neurological diseases, and stroke, among others. The projects will be spearheaded by some of Canada’s top researchers and leading teams at academic institutions in Quebec (eight projects), Ontario (four projects), Alberta (one project) and British Columbia (four projects).

Of the total $150 million, approximately $45 million is through Genome Canada, $24 million through CIHR and $2 million from the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. The balance of funding is secured by regional Genome Centres from provincial governments, health charities, the private sector and other partners.

“What’s exciting about these projects is that each one holds enormous potential for breakthroughs where there is a serious clinical need. Personalized health is about tailoring treatment and medicines to the individual patient based on their unique genetic makeup and this is only possible through advances in genomics research,” said Dr. Pierre Meulien, president and CEO of Genome Canada.

“Our partnership with Genome Canada and the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium is providing us with the ability to invest in a fashion that will impact many areas of health such as infection, cancer and rare diseases,” said Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of CIHR.

The successful teams are as follows:


Personalized medicine in the treatment of epilepsy; Project leader: Patrick Cossette; Project co-leaders: Berge Minassian, Jacques Michaud; Centre hospitalier universitaires de l’Université de Montréal. The team will identify genes that are associated with epilepsy and that are predictive of the response to various anti-epileptic drugs. This will result in earlier and more effective care and potentially prevent cognitive decline in children.

Biomarkers for pediatric glioblastoma through genomics and epigenomics; Project leader: Nada Jabado; Project co-leaders: Jacek Majewski, Tomi Pastinen; McGill University Health Centre. Researchers have identified mutations in a particular gene in a significant fraction of children and young adults with high-grade astrocytomas (HGA) brain tumours. These mutations partly explain why this cancer remains unresponsive to treatments. The team will develop new tools that will help health care providers identify these mutations in brain tumours.

Personalized cancer immunotherapy; Project leader: Claude Perreault; Project co-leader: Denis-Claude Roy; Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont. About half of patients with a hematologic cancer develop resistance to chemotherapy. For these patients, the usual treatment is immunotherapy but the effectiveness of the transplanted cells varies widely and there is the chance of rejection by the patient, while in some cases, graft versus host disease (GVHD) develops where the donor cells attack the patient. The team is developing a genetic test that will predict GVHD, leading to safer use of bone marrow transplants. This will also improve immunotherapy by targeting the right immune cells to the right tumour cells.

IBD Genomic Medicine Consortium (iGenoMed): Translating genetic discoveries into a personalized approach to treating inflammatory bowel diseases; Project leader: John Rioux; Project co-leader: Alain Bitton; Montreal Heart Institute. While there are a several drugs available on the market to treat inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), currently physicians are unable to predict which drug would be most effective for a given patient. The team will develop tests allowing doctors to match the right drug with the right patient. While the research will focus on two specific drugs, the project is in fact creating a system that will become an even greater asset for a large number of new drugs, which are expected to reach the Canadian market in coming years.

PEGASUS: Personalized genomics for prenatal aneuploidy screening using maternal blood; Project leader: François Rousseau; Project co-leader: Sylvie Langlois; Université Laval. Every year in Canada, about 10,000 pregnant women undergo amniocentesis to screen for genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome. This procedure represents a non-negligible risk and, tragically, 70 healthy fetuses are lost due to complications from the procedure. Recently scientists have discovered that fetal DNA present in the mother’s blood can be used to test for genetic abnormalities, through a simple blood test. The team will compare different genomic technologies for their effectiveness to successfully detect genetic abnormalities using the mother’s blood.

Innovative chemogenomic tools to improve outcome in acute myeloid leukemia; Project leader: Guy Sauvageau; Project co-leader: Josée Hébert; Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer. Recent developments in DNA sequencing, however, allow for a more complete analysis of acute myeloid leukemia tumours. The team will use personalized DNA from patients to determine how they should be treated, based on the specific genetic makeup of their tumours. They are also developing new models for tracking cancer cells that are left behind after a patient is treated.

Personalized risk stratification for prevention and early detection of breast cancer; Project leader: Jacques Simard; Project co-leader: Bartha-Maria Knoppers; Université Laval. The team is developing a screening program so that women with a high risk of breast cancer will be identified and tested sooner. Younger women who are currently missed by age-based mammography screening will have their cancer caught at an earlier stage.

Personalized medicine strategies for molecular diagnostics and targeted therapeutics of cardiovascular diseases; Project Leader: Jean-Claude Tardif; Project Co-Leader: Marie-Pierre Dubé; Montreal Heart Institute. The team is applying its expertise in how genes influence drug efficacy and toxicity to provide guidance to health professionals in the selection and dosing of a specific drug for cardiovascular disease.


Enhanced CARE for RARE genetic diseases in Canada; Project leader: Kym Boycott; Project co-leader: Alex MacKenzie; Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa. Gene mutations cause thousands of rare disorders. The team will use new gene sequencing technologies to identify the genes implicated in many of these rare diseases. Once the disease-causing genes have been identified, researchers will test drugs that are currently on the market to identify those that might be effective against these rare diseases.

Autism spectrum disorders: Genomes to outcomes; Project leaders: Stephen Scherer; Project co-leader: Peter Szatmari; The Hospital for Sick Children. This project will mark Canada’s contribution to an ambitious international initiative that aims to sequence and analyze the genomes of 10,000 people with autism spectrum disorder.

Early detection of patients at high risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma; Project leader: Lincoln Stein; Project co-leader: Tony Godfrey; Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. A swallowable sponge under development in the United Kingdom allows for quick and painless diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus in a doctor’s office. The team aims to supplement this test with genomic technologies, allowing doctors to follow patients over time to
identify and treat those progressing to cancer. Early detection, treatment and even prevention of these cancers could save the health care system over $300 million a year.

The microbiota at the intestinal mucosa-immune interface: A gateway for personalized health; Project leader: Alain Stintzi; Project co-leader: David Mack; Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are incurable debilitating lifelong diseases that can affect children. Early detection is critical to avoiding complications. Currently no single test can determine the presence or type of IBD and the tests that exist are very uncomfortable for children. The team is developing a simple, non-invasive approach to detecting IBD that will also be more cost effective. The scientists will examine intestinal bacteria to develop better ways of identifying IBD and determining its severity.


PACE-‘Omics: Personalized, Accessible, Cost-Effective applications of ‘Omics technologies; Project leader: Christopher McCabe; Project co-leader: Tania Bubela; University of Alberta. The project will give policymakers and investors the tools they need to make the right investment decisions on technology development, regulatory pathways, cost-effectiveness and benefit to the Canadian health system.


Personalized treatment of lymphoid cancer: British Columbia as model province; Project leader: Joseph Connors; Project co-leaders: Marco Marra, Randy Gascoyne; BC Cancer Agency. The team will apply genetic sequencing to lymphoid cancers, the fourth most common type of cancer. This research could increase the cure rate of several lymphoid cancers by 20 percent. This research will use British Columbia as a pilot project to show how to use genomic analysis to cost-effectively cure more cancer patients.

Viral and human genetic predictors of response to HIV therapies; Project Leader: Richard Harrigan; Project Co-Leader: Julio Montaner; BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul’s Hospital. The team will develop a test for drug resistance personalized to an individual’s DNA and the DNA of the HIV virus. The project is also developing real-time surveillance systems for monitoring drug resistance to provide an early warning of geographic or population “hotspots” where resistance rates are highest and the risk of transmission greatest.

Reducing stroke burden with hospital-ready biomarker test for rapid TIA triage; Project leader: Andrew Penn; Project co-leaders: Christoph Borchers, Shelagh Coutts; Victoria General Hospital. The team is developing a test to differentiate transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) from other conditions, which will provide results within an hour or so, for a fraction of the cost of imaging. This will reduce unneeded imaging risks and costs as well as prevent TIAs from progressing to a full stroke.

Clinical implementation and outcomes evaluation of blood-based biomarkers for COPD management; Project leader: Don Sin; Project co-leader: Raymond Ng; St. Paul’s Hospital, University of British Columbia, PROOF Centre for Excellence. The team will develop new blood tests that will identify Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients at high risk for lung attacks as well as differentiate these attacks from other conditions. This means lung attacks can be prevented or treated earlier than was previously possible. At the same time, patients at low risk of an attack will be able to avoid unnecessary drugs and their potential side effects.