BREAKTHROUGH

WINTER 2018

INSIDE THE CLINIC

Historic Gift Supports Cutting-Edge new Treatment

This gift will have a truly transformative impact on our work.

Dr. François Bénard, B.C. leadership chair in functional cancer imaging, BC Cancer

This fall, the BC Cancer Foundation announced a historic $18.346 million philanthropic investment from the Aqueduct Foundation on behalf of an anonymous  donor that aims to transform treatment for people facing metastatic cancer. The individual donor’s lifetime giving to the BC Cancer Foundation totals an astounding $29 million.

The $18 million gift will fuel a world-leading Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics (MIT) Program at BC Cancer. “It will span research and development of cutting-edge pharmaceuticals through to clinical trials over the next five years,” says Dr. François Bénard, B.C. leadership chair in  functional cancer imaging,
BC Cancer.

Statistics now indicate that nearly half of all Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. With the growth and aging of our population it is  estimated that the number of new cancer cases in British Columbia will grow by a staggering 40 per cent over the next decade.

“Recent research proves that radioactive particles can deliver drugs directly to the site of advanced cancers, killing the cancer cells and saving the healthy tissue surrounding them,” says Dr. Bénard. “To have the greatest impact, these treatmentsneed a specific radioactive atom which is extremely rare and can only be produced at a few specialized facilities around the world. One of these facilities is TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle physics, located at the University of British Columbia.”

Radioactive isotopes hold the potential to fundamentally transform the treatment landscape, but until now their limited availability and high cost currently prohibited further research and development.

According to Dr. Bénard, Canada is currently in a unique position to improve cancer treatments on a global scale: “Thanks to the generosity of our anonymous donor, we can now capitalize on B.C.’s exceptional strengths in isotope production, radiochemistry, imaging and nuclear medicine. We believe BC Cancer will lead the way to creating the next generation of cancer  therapies.”

HOW DO RADIOLIGANDS TREAT CANCER?


Radioligands are unstable atoms that make up the world around us. They emit energy, or “decay”, in order to become stable. The result of this decay is a range of radioactive emissions that can be used for a variety of purposes including cancer imaging (via radiotracers) and therapy (via radiopharmaceuticals). Radioligands are produced by nuclear reactors or particle accelerators. BC Cancer has its own cyclotron in Vancouver, which is used to produce medical isotopes for daily patient imaging and research projects.

Through the MIT Program, Dr. Bénard and his colleagues will:
• Conduct clinical research studies into the effects of combining peptide receptor radiotherapy with chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy;
• Introduce new or improved pairs of radiotracers and radiopharmaceuticals for prostate cancer; and
• Develop and validate use of radiotracers and radiopharmaceuticals for a variety of other cancers.

“Bringing this treatment to B.C. and Canada will open a survival door for so many men."
—Raymond Band, patient

Nanaimo's Raymond Band has been facing prostate cancer since 1994—nearly a third of his life. Band was recently given just six months to live. Out of options, he flew to Germany to receive two rounds of radioligand therapy. Since treatment, his prostate-specific antigen levels have dropped 95 per cent and he is doing significantly better.

"Research and innovative trials will give prostate cancer patients, like me, and eventually many other people facing other cancer types, hope—and ultimately, more time,” says Band.

The first trials will scientifically confirm the effectiveness of radiopharmaceuticals for men with incurable, metastatic prostate cancer. “Results from this trial hold tremendous promise for the treatment of other common cancers, including metastatic melanoma, breast, ovarian, pancreatic
and blood cancers,” says Dr. Bénard.

Dr. Pippa Hawley, medical director, provincial pain and symptom management and palliative care program, BC Cancer

Cannabis: How can it help with cancer?

We want to ensure that people receive the proper advice, including when and how to use it, rather than getting it from an unreliable source.

Dr. Pippa Hawley, medical director, provincial pain and symptom management and palliative care program, BC Cancer

Can cannabis really help with symptoms due to cancer? A new study is about to find out. Dr. Pippa Hawley is spearheading a cross-country clinical trial to explore the benefits of cannabis for cancer patients, over half of whom already use the substance, according to a recent BC Cancer survey. With the help of donor funds, the study will be the first of its kind and could help introduce cannabis as a mainstream treatment for symptoms of the disease—on the tail of its
federal legalization on October 17.

The goal is to see if one of three cannabis extracts can enhance the quality of life of patients, many of whom use it to alleviate pain, anxiety, nausea, sleep  disturbance and other symptoms.

“We want to ensure that people receive the proper advice, including when and how to use it, rather than getting it from an unreliable or illegal source,” says Dr. Hawley.

In the recent survey of around 800 cancer patients, sparked by Dr. Hawley and funded in part by BC  Cancer Foundation donors, about half of respondants reported using cannabis for treatment-related symptoms. Roughly 65 per cent of those who use medical cannabis do so for pain control. An additional 40 per pent of patients do so for nausea, 42 per cent for sleep and 35 per cent for anxiety.

“The results of this survey were surprising to us and really highlight the need to spearhead new research into the use of cannabis as it relates to patient  treatment,” says Dr. Hawley. She adds that many who choose to use the substance do so at their own risk—often purchasing it from unlicensed dispensaries which vary in quality, and from other less-than-ideal sources.

“Ultimately, we want to reduce potential for harm while helpingmaximize the intended effect of alleviating symptoms and enhancing quality of life,” she says.

UNDERSTANDING THE BEST WAYS TO USE CANNABIS-BASED PRODUCTS FOR CANCER RELATED PAIN

The study is being designed as a patient-centred clinical trial inconjunction with the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Group, and Dr. Hawley hopes it will launch early next year.

It will test three varieties o fcannabis-based oil extracts—one high in tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC; another in cannabidiol, also known as CBD;
and one featuring both—as well as a placebo oil.

THC is most commonly associated with cannabis as it is responsible for the substance’s mindaltering effects. CBD, on the other hand, does not cause  uphoria.

“As part of the trial, patients will be allowed to experiment in a structured way to figure out which type of extract, if any, works best for their overall symptom  burden, as well as each individual symptom and how well they tolerate the extracts,” says Dr. Hawley, noting that their reactions will be closely monitored throughout the study.

EXPANDING THE SCOPE OF CANNABIS AS A SYMPTOM MANAGEMENT TOOL

While the results of this study will allow BC Cancer to identify which symptoms respond to which types of cannabinoids, additional research will be needed to  understand with more precision the most effective dosage required for each symptom, depending on their severity, adds Dr. Hawley.

“This study will be  implementing a novel ‘aggregate n-of-one’ research method that will be able to be replicated for other studies, enabling researchers to build upon the knowledge that we will gain and further our collective understanding of the uses of cannabis-based products,” she says.

“As we conduct more research we will be able to provide others with evidence-based guidelines on how to best manage cancer-related symptoms throughout the whole cancer journey.”

You can help enhance the quality of life for patients 
To learn more, contact Laura Ralph at laura.ralph@bccancer.bc.ca or 604.877.6156

YOUR IMPACT

Janet Cottrelle

Transformative $1-million gift

HELPING REDUCE OVARIAN CANCER CASES

Ovarian cancer research at BC Cancer has received a large boost thanks to an inspired and generous donor. Driven by a passion to find a cure for women’s cancers, Toronto lawyer Rob Collins, through the Janet D. Cottrelle Foundation, generously donated $1 million to support ovarian cancer research at BC Cancer.

Every three and a half hours a Canadian woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Rob lost his beloved wife Janet to the disease and is committed to help save lives. His mission aligns with that of BC Cancer’s Ovarian Cancer Research (OVCARE) team—to reduce death and suffering from all gynecologic cancers by 50% by 2034.

Rob and Janet founded the Janet D. Cottrelle Foundation in 2014 to make a difference in the lives of women affected by ovarian cancer. Rob is passionate about supporting brilliant scientific minds across the country, specifically in British Columbia. He is inspired by the groundbreaking research happening at BC Cancer, led by Dr. David Huntsman, director of OVCARE. “Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease. In many cases, it robswomen of their quality of life and
their dignity, and ultimately, any hope in their lives,” says Rob.

INFUSING HOPE

His $1-million gift is already igniting hope in BC Cancer’s labs by supporting two cutting-edge research projects.

The first will determine whether removal of the fallopian tubes at the time of hysterectomy or in place of tubal ligation (known as “opportunistic salpingectomy”) is an effective prevention strategy for high-grade serous carcinoma, the most common sub-type of ovarian cancer.

The second project looks at the role of endometriosis in two of the most common ovarian cancer subtypes.  Dr. Huntsman and his team are pursuing two key  knowledge gaps that will lead to changes in clinical practice:

  1. to determine whether molecular changes predate cancer in sufficient time to offer screening.
  2. to determine which types of changes in endometriosis aremost closely associated with cancer.

“This generous gift has enabled us to pursue prevention strategies more aggressively through the provision of stable salary support, pilot funding for new  prevention initiatives and supplementary funding to augment grant-funded projects,” says Dr. Huntsman.

British Columbians become cancer survivors every day because of excellent research and care, which is fueled by generous donors like Rob, who says “anything we can do to reduce the number of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer or to improve the quality of life for those who are will be a great stride forward in the struggle with this disease.”

Dr. Robert Olson, radiation oncologist at BC Cancer – Prince George

Prince George to launch new precision radiation therapy program

Not all types of radiation are created equal,” says Dr. Robert Olson, radiation oncologist at BC Cancer – Prince George (Centre for the North). “In fact, over the last decade, mounting evidence has suggested that precision radiation therapy can lead to better outcomes for patients.”

Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT) and Stereotactic ABlative Radiotherapy (SABR) deliver radiation therapy to tumours from various positions around a person’s body, converging on the tumour site.

SABR delivers high doses of radiation over a shorter period of time, while limiting the dose that healthy tissues  surrounding the tumour receive.

BC Cancer – Prince George features highly skilled radiation oncologists, technicians and support staff who deliver world-class treatment to patients and conduct innovative research under the leadership of Dr. Olson. The BC Cancer Foundation recently launched a fundraising campaign to help this expert team bring precision radiation therapy to patients in the North. “Precision radiation therapy holds the potential to minimize side effects. By establishing a research
program and acquiring vital new equipment, we can have a direct impact for patients in the North and across B.C.,” says Dr. Olson. With philanthropic support, Dr. Olson’s team plans to launch two clinical trials to:

  • Assess the ability of VMAT to reduce side effects,
  • Test new, more cost-effective methods of
  • delivering VMAT and SABR, and
  • Test the ability of SABR to extend survival and increase cure rates in patients with metastatic disease, as a follow-up to a forthcoming article by Dr. Olson’s team in The Lancet, a leading medical journal.

Clinical trials will bring hope to patients who have limited treatment options and will establish BC Cancer – Prince George as an international leader in radiation oncology, sparking meaningful change far beyond B.C.’s borders. The potential to reduce future operating costs will have a significant benefit to our overall health care system.

BC Cancer – Prince George currently faces staff shortages in key roles. “Enabling investigators and staff to be part of cutting-edge clinical trials supports the recruitment and retention of oncologists, fellows and graduate students to the North,” says Dr. Olson.

“I believe that with help from donors in our province, BC Cancer – Prince George can become a hub of innovation in cancer research and care. Our hope is to make this a destination for experts to hone their skills, lead by example and collaborate with centres around the world.”

To learn more about BC Cancer - Prince George's precision radiation therapy program, please contact Elissa Morrissette at elissa.morrissette@bccancer.bc.ca or 1.855.707.5992.

Melanie McDonald, professional practice leader, patient and family counselling, BC Cancer

Creating a comfortable space for emotional support

Like many people facing a cancer diagnosis, Karen felt a range of emotions when she was first diagnosed with bladder cancer.

“I was stunned and scared,” she says.

Fortunately, Patient and Family Counselling Services at BC Cancer helped guide and provide support for Karen as she managed the many changes to everyday life that cancer can bring.

“Accessing Patient and Family Counselling Services was probably one of the most important things I did when I was diagnosed—I was able to face my fears, my anger and challenges in my relationships resulting from my cancer diagnosis,” she says. “I am incredibly grateful for my counsellor who helped me make sense of my experiences during this difficult journey.”

BC Cancer has seen an increased need for psychosocial services and is expected to continue to grow.

This growing demand called for a much-needed renovation to the psychosocial services space at BC Cancer – Vancouver to better serve patients and their families.

Thanks to the generosity of BC Cancer Foundation donors, the fifth floor of BC Cancer – Vancouver recently received a significant expansion and renovation.

“The psychosocial oncology program offices are used to see patients and family members face to face to help navigate the complex impacts (emotional, practical, spiritual, physical) of cancer,” says Melanie McDonald, professional practice leader, patient and family counselling, at BC Cancer. “The spaces are in high demand and used by counsellors and psychiatrists, as well as residents and practicum students.”

The renovation created more office space for counsellors, socialworkers and psychiatrists to help meet the demand for services. Private therapeutic space is essentialfor providing the confidential services offered by this team so experts like Melanie can do their best work for patients and families in need.

The offices are now more modern, well-lit and provide a  comfortable space for patients to receive much needed support,” says Melanie.

The expansion has created a number of enhancements to care delivery, including:

  • a new room to host support groups;
  • recruitment of a full-time psychiatry fellow and a spiritual health practitioner; and
  • workable space for  counselling students andadditional staff. 

“The entire psychosocial oncology program would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all of the generous donors for helping us meet the growing needs of cancer patients,” says Melanie. “These offices are a direct contribution to providing care in cancer treatment.”

You can help support psychosocial care for families impacted by cancer across the province. Please contact Becky Yost at 604.707.5926 or becky.yost@bccancer.bc.ca

Centre Spotlight

Rosalyn Salanguit was diagnosed with tongue cancer when she was 34 years old. Dental care was a significant part of her journey

IMPROVING ORAL HEALTH IN ABBOTSFORD

The BC Cancer team ensured I had all the resources and knowledge to maintain my dental care at home. I feel fortunate that my journey was a positive one.

Rosalyn Salanguit, patient at BC Cancer

British Columbians undergoing treatment for cancer often experience dental problems that must be addressed by an oral oncology expert. People with a  road range of cancers, from head and neck to oral cancer to leukemia, require treatments such as bone marrow transplants, systemic therapies and radiation  therapy which have a significant impact for their oral health.

Currently, all cancer patients between Abbotsford and Hope with a need for specialized dental care must travel to other BC Cancer locations to receive this essential service.

Although long-distance travel takes a significant emotional and physical toll, many cancer patients from Abbotsford still make the journey to access these vital services. As a result, the closest dental clinic at BC Cancer – Surrey is rapidly reaching capacity.

ENHANCING CARE CLOSE TO HOME

The BC Cancer Foundation has embarked on a fundraising campaign to build a two-chair dental clinic at BC Cancer – Abbotsford, which will result in a higher quality of care, closer to home, for patients across the entire Fraser Valley.

The Abbotsford Dental Clinic will initially be open two days per week and will be located within the radiation therapy area of BC Cancer – Abbotsford. Through the clinic, oral cancer care will be integrated into patients’ overall care plans, through collaboration with radiation and medical oncologists and other members of the health care team.

“It’s exciting to think we could provide this care closer to home for the people of the eastern Fraser Valley,” says Dr. Allan Hovan.

It is anticipated that the growth of the oral oncology program will attract oral surgeons and prosthodontists to work at BC Cancer – Abbotsford, enabling more
procedures to be performed in-house and reducing the need for external referrals.

Support the Abbotsford Dental Clinic today. To learn more, contact Rachel Mitchell at rmitchell@bccancer.bc.ca or 7.877.751.0111.