Why we need to expand personalized cancer treatment in British Columbia

February 28, 2018

Personalized Onco-Genomics needs to grow if we’re to fully address the cancer problem here in British Columbia.

Right now we have around 26,000 new cancer diagnoses in the province, and that figure is expected to increase as our populations continue to grow and age. Approximately 10,000 of those new cases will present themselves as metastatic disease, and that is a very big clinical problem. It’s also one that we don’t know a great deal about.

There is much to learn. Most of the information we’ve been able to generate about metastatic disease comes from primary tumours, restricted to a single site. In addition, we don’t have much information on metastatic tumours that have been treated.


So there are two opportunities that present themselves now: we can deploy POG systematically for those with metastatic disease and for those who have already received multiple therapies, to no avail.

This is critical for a number of reasons. Typically, if a patient is introduced to a new therapy, it means they have become resistant to a previous therapy. Ultimately, treatment resistance is what kills people.

So we need to have better ways of managing treatment resistance, and a better understanding of what drives resistance in the first place.  If we understand what makes it resistant we can interfere with the resistance mechanism and cause the cancer cells to die. This is fundamental.

In metastatic disease, we need to know what causes cancer to reach this point, and what the properties that continue to drive it are.

We have an enormous amount of patients that are coming forward with these attributes who need to be studied. It’s vitally important that we scale POG up to be able to accommodate these people. Ideally, I’d want to be able to take up to 10,000 new patients a year.


BC Cancer Foundation donors started the Genome Sciences Centre and have supported the GSC throughout its history. I can’t imagine being able to conduct the leading-edge, world-class research we’ve been able to do without them.  I offer the history of GSC as proof of that being true.

We’ve been at the cutting edge in ways that no other Canadian group has, we’ve participated in internationally-led research projects and been granted somewhere in the order $900 million worth of funding over the past 20 years. That’s all predicated on the strong foundation built by BC Cancer Foundation donors.

I don’t see us being able to go forward and continue this remarkable leveraging we’ve been able to accomplish, and continue to operate at the leading-edge, without BC Cancer Foundation support.

Thank you for your continued support to the POG program and for tuning in to the BC Cancer Foundation’s research blog this month.

Dr. Marra