Genomic research into lymphoid cancer offers new model for cancer diagnosis and treatment

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency  will receive a $10 million investment to further their work in finding a cost-effective, genomic approach to treat lymphoid cancer patients. The substantial support from Genome British Columbia, the BC Cancer Foundation, Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will dramatically advance therapies for patients diagnosed with the disease: lymphoid cancers are the fourth most common cancer in BC.

“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. Joseph Connors, project leader and clinical director at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Lymphoid Cancer. “It brings together a culmination of decades of meticulous record-keeping with cutting-edge technology to maximize our knowledge about lymphoid cancers.”

Dr. Connors 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 – and Dr. Connors 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.

The research project will study four specific lymphoid cancers of which there are more than 500 cases each year in our province. In more than half of these cases primary treatment fails, and associated costs of secondary treatment run over $60,000 and this amount is often exceeded in just the cost of anti-cancer drugs alone. Personalized medical care employing sophisticated genomic techniques may dramatically reduce this cost: in the last few decades a number of new drugs have come on the market to improve patient outcomes but a drastically new approach is now required in order to apply the genomic information now available. Core components of the project will include careful analysis of all the costs that result from personalized lymphoid cancer care and development of economic analytic tools that enable healthcare planners to assess the economic impact of applying similar techniques to treating other cancers and other diseases.

“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.”

“The BC Cancer Foundation is proud to support this initiative as the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Lymphoid Cancer is on a trajectory to establish a world-leading model of advanced care, which will truly benefit patients diagnosed with lymphoid cancer,” says Douglas Nelson, President & CEO, BC Cancer Foundation.

The research project Personalized treatment of Lymphoid Cancer: British Columbia as a Model Province is funded through Genome Canada’s 2012 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition.

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Editors note: Video b-roll and photos available here.

About the BC Cancer Foundation:

The BC Cancer Foundation is the bridge that connects philanthropic support and research breakthroughs in cancer knowledge. As the fundraising partner of the BC Cancer Agency and the largest charitable funder of cancer research in this province, we enable donors to make contributions to leading-edge research that has a direct impact on improvements to cancer care for patients in British Columbia. We fund with the goal of finding solutions. As an independent charitable organization, we raise funds exclusively for the BC Cancer Agency that support innovative cancer research and compassionate enhancements to patient care.

About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $625M in research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. www.genomebc.ca

For more information or to arrange an interview contact:

Allison Colina
Communications Specialist
BC Cancer Foundation

e: allison.colina@bccancer.bc.ca

Jennifer Boon
Communications Specialist
Genome BC

c: 778-327-8374  
e: jboon@genomebc.ca