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Research Highlight | May 14, 2019

Promising findings in pancreatic cancer study highlight the importance of genetic sequencing

VANCOUVER – A study by researchers from TFRI’s Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care (EPPIC) research program has led to the discovery of a unique treatment that is offering hope for a subset of patients with a cancer that is hard to diagnose and treat effectively.  

Published in Clinical Cancer Research, the study found a small group of patients whose pancreatic cancer carried a rare trait that was potentially treatable with a targeted therapy often used to treat lung cancer. After receiving treatment, those patients’ health improved.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada, with 700 people diagnosed each year in British Columbia alone. Within the next decade, it is poised to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

“Pancreatic cancer often comes with a poor prognosis. With this insight we have reason to be optimistic,” said BC Cancer medical oncologist and clinician-scientist Dr. Daniel Renouf. “After looking into the genetic structure of the pancreatic tumours, in several cases we identified a unique trait that we had seen before in other cancer types that was potentially treatable. In these relatively rare instances, we have seen rapid and remarkable results. This is a breakthrough in terms of the potential of precision medicine for pancreatic cancer.”

Insights gained from genetic sequencing can open the door for innovative and personalized forms of treatment. Without this sequencing, patients like Calvin Sommert, might not be faring as well as he is.

After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2016, the father-of-two found himself with little energy to participate in the outdoor activities he loved. “I felt terrible back then. I had lost about 70 pounds,” says Calvin. “But now I’ve gained some of the weight back and I’m hiking and mountain biking with my family again. My wife and I are looking forward to getting out and camping this summer.” 

As part of this study, 47 British Columbians with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) received a full genetic analysis. Of those, the study found that three patients, including Calvin, could receive precision medicine specifically for their tumour type.

"This sequencing technology helps BC Cancer researchers identify new and personalized treatments for cancers that are difficult to treat," said Dr. Francois Benard, Vice President of Research at BC Cancer. “It is because our researchers were able to look into the entire genetic composition of the participants and their cancers, instead of a limited number of genes, that they found such an effective treatment.”

“The outcomes of this study are a compelling example of how BC Cancer Foundation donors are fueling promising precision medicine treatments and bringing new hope to cancer patients and their families,” said Sarah Roth, president & CEO of BC Cancer Foundation.

These results are made possible by BC Cancer Foundation donors, BC Cancer’s Personalized Oncogenomics (POG) program, and the Terry Fox Research Institute’s Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care (EPPIC) National research program, as well as support from Pancreatic Cancer Canada. 


About BC Cancer

BC Cancer, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is committed to reducing the incidence of cancer, reducing the mortality from cancer and improving the quality of life of those living with cancer. It provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @BCCancer.

About the BC Cancer Foundation

BC Cancer Foundation is the fundraising partner of BC Cancer. Together with our donors we are changing the outcome for people affected by cancer in B.C. and beyond by connecting personalized care, innovative research and opportunities to contribute. We are the largest funder of cancer in B.C. and every dollar raised stays right here at BC Cancer to advance research, enhance care and break down cancer to benefit the people of B.C.

About the Terry Fox Research Institute

Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the brainchild of The Terry Fox Foundation and today functions as its research arm. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with more than 80 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, B.C. For more information please visit and follow us on Twitter @TFRI_Research.

About the Provincial Health Services Authority

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.