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Personalized medicine on the horizon for BC cancer patients

July 4, 2011

Found in News

Vancouver, July 4, 2011 – Genome British Columbia and the BC Cancer Foundation have joined forces to announce a major step forward in applying the power of genomics to personalized medicine. The innovative partnership stems from the strong focus of both organizations on the potential of genomics to improve patient outcomes in BC.

Genome BC’s new Personalized Medicine Program aims to utilize genomic sciences to tailor improved medical treatments for patients. The Personalized Medicine Program also endeavours to mitigate non-effective treatment options, which in certain cases cause patients unnecessary side effects. Additional goals of the program, which was developed with the support of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), are to utilize genomic knowledge in disease prevention and early diagnosis.

Genome BC’s Personalized Medicine Program is funding three applied genomics research projects totaling $9 million with $3 million from Genome BC and the remaining funds from other Canadian and international sources secured by applicants.

One jointly-supported research project is “Genomics Applied to the Management of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)” led by Dr. Aly Karsan, Medical Director of the Cancer Genetics Laboratory at the BC Cancer Agency and Dr. Marco Marra, Director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre. Genome BC and the BC Cancer Foundation are contributing $1 million each to the AML project. Additional co-funding is provided through other sources including Simon Fraser University and Illumina.

AML affects approximately 200 British Columbians per year, including former BC MLA Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins, who passed away in September 2010 after two occurrences of the disease. Her sister, Rupinder Sachdeva, says, “Sindi was humbled and proud of the quality of care she received at the BC Cancer Agency. BC has some of the best cancer survival rates and Sindi was a prime example: she survived almost seven years with AML that had a prognosis of several months. She would have been absolutely thrilled about this project, which holds such great promise for cancer patients and their families.”

AML is presently treated with stem cell transplantation or chemotherapy. This AML project will increase the use of genomic data to improve the therapeutic stratification of patients, thereby leading to more personalized treatment and hopefully improved outcomes.

Dr. Aly Karsan, project lead and head of Clinical Diagnostic Genomics at the BC Cancer Agency, says, “We are ecstatic to begin this project, which will identify all genetic markers and mutations associated with AML. We have a perfect storm of resources in BC, including tissue samples from the BC Cancer Agency’s unique hematology cell bank, cutting-edge, whole genome sequencing capabilities, and generous funding from Genome BC and the BC Cancer Foundation. These invaluable resources have come together to ensure we evolve the identification of genetic mutations in AML into a clinical tool to better treat each patient’s individual cancer.”

Aided by ever advancing genomic technology, scientists are now able to analyze the human genome much more deeply. All three of the projects funded through Genome BC’s Personalized Medicine Program are oriented to validating new and innovative technologies to enable faster and more cost effective approaches to personalized medicine.

By supporting translational research with outcomes that will be applied in a clinical setting, Genome BC is leading the way in truly applying the power of genomics to some of our most challenging medical needs. “Our hope is that the Personalized Medicine Program will be the foundation on which a larger initiative would be funded to implement the translation of innovations based in genomics into the health system,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC.

Douglas Nelson, President and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation says, “This is the news that BC’s more than 22,000 cancer patients and their families have been waiting for. The AML project is a tangible, practical step towards bringing personalized medicine research into the clinic. The BC Cancer Foundation and its donors are proud to be standing at the beachhead of this historic initiative.”

“We applaud Genome BC for launching this Personalized Medicine Program,” says Lynda Cranston, President and CEO of the PHSA. “The funded projects will demonstrate the impact of applied genomics on improving patient outcomes and maximizing the benefit of the healthcare dollars we spend.”

In addition to the AML project, Genome BC is funding “Clinical Implementation of Diagnostic Biomarker Assays in Heart and Kidney Transplantation” (project value over $2.5 million) and “Implementation of a Pharmacogenetic ADR Prevention Program in BC” (project value $3 million) through the Personalized Medicine Program. For more information on Genome BC’s personalized medicine initiative please see attached backgrounder or visit our website: www.genomebc.ca/pmp.


Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $450M in technology platforms and research projects. 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.

The BC Cancer Foundation is the fundraising partner of the BC Cancer Agency and the largest charitable funder of cancer research in BC. 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.

Media Contacts:

Judy Hamill
Communications Specialist
BC Cancer Foundation
T: 604-707-5934

Jennifer Boon
Communications Specialist
Genome BC
C: 778-327-8374