In February of 2017, the Terry Fox Research Institute and two leading cancer centres in Canada – the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto and BC Cancer in Vancouver – launched an innovative pilot project to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine for their cancer patients.
The Terry Fox Canadian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Network (TF4CN), as the project is called, was created in an effort to provide much-needed evidence on how best to roll out a broader vision for data sharing and collaborative translational and clinical research to help make precision medicine, a promising framework for cancer care, a reality.
"With the support of the Terry Fox Foundation, TFRI is pleased to have provided catalytic funding to bring this novel and innovative research initiative forward. A project of this scope with two leading cancer care and research institutions working together in this way has never been done before," said Dr. Victor Ling, president and scientific director of the Terry Fox Research Institute, during the network's launch. "Our ultimate goal through this collaboration is to create a national network of designated Terry Fox comprehensive cancer centres that will be able to deliver excellence in personalized and precision medicine from coast to coast to coast."
Through the pilot project, these organizations will provide complementary analyses of specimens (e.g. tumour biopsies and blood samples), identify and determine ways to harmonize their research processes, set up an IT infrastructure for data sharing, and develop resources required to conduct multi-centre precision medicine clinical trials.
The initial focus will focus on four major projects, including:
- A Collaborative Framework for Comprehensive Genomic Profiling of Cancer Patients to Understand Response and Resistance to Cancer Therapy. Co-leads: Dr. Marco Marra (BC Cancer) and Dr. Trevor Pugh (Princess Margaret)
- Optimizing and Harmonizing Adoptive T-Cell Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer. Co-leads: Dr. Brad Nelson (BC Cancer) and Dr. Pam Ohashi (Princess Margaret)
- Quantitative Molecular Imaging to Improve the Management of Prostate Cancer. Co-leads: Dr. François Bénard (BC Cancer) and Drs. David Jaffray and Alejandro Berlin (Princess Margaret)
- IT Infrastructure Resource Development: Clinical and Genomic Data Sharing, IntraInstitutional Communication. Co-leads: Dr. Steven Jones (BC Cancer) and Dr. Trevor Pugh (Princess Margaret)
Each organization is contributing $4 million over the next two years for a $12-million total investment that will see multidisciplinary teams focus on four specific research thrusts that are institutional priorities: genomics, immunotherapy, molecular imaging and data sharing.
"As a world-leading comprehensive cancer centre, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has made strategic investments to enable personalized cancer therapy through efforts in immune therapy, genetic sequencing and molecular imaging, thanks to the ongoing support of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. We are excited to participate in this new strategic partnership with the Terry Fox Research Institute and the BC Cancer Agency to enable collaborative efforts in these areas and to accelerate the implementation of effective, targeted therapies for patients," said Dr. Bradly Wouters, executive vice-president, science and research, University Health Network.
"This project will leverage BC's pioneering contributions in massively parallel sequencing and cutting-edge research in cancer immunology and molecular imaging. Along with our funding partner, the BC Cancer Foundation, we are committed to excellence in cancer care and research and we are pleased to be a founding partner in this initiative. We will share our expertise and learn from each other to make a substantive difference for cancer patients in British Columbia and across Canada" said Dr. François Bénard, vice-president research at the BC Cancer Agency.
Networking and shared efforts of comprehensive cancer centres already operate in many other countries, including the US and Europe. A multimillion-dollar continuing annual investment from many funding sources is required for the pan-Canadian network to become fully operational. Several national and international cancer experts have voiced their support for the TFRI-led initiative, saying that Canada already has many elements that would contribute to the network's success and its aim to transform cancer care so current and future generations will benefit from precision medicine.