March 6, 2018

Canadian pancreatic cancer research team provides personalized medicine, new hope to patients

VANCOUVER – Canadian pancreatic cancer researchers are joining forces under a Terry Fox initiative bringing new hope for patients with this deadly disease.

“For many years it’s been hopeless from a patient perspective, and we are hoping to help shift this,” says Dr. Daniel Renouf (BC Cancer, University of British Columbia) who, along with Dr. David Schaeffer (UBC, Vancouver General Hospital), is leading a $5-million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative recently funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute.

A lack of early detection tests. Few known symptoms. Very limited treatment options. No known biomarkers that can be used to direct therapy.  These are among the clinical challenges team EPPIC, short for Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care, is tackling over the next five years to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a disease with just a nine per cent five-year survival rate.

“Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often,” says Dr. Schaeffer, noting a priority is to discern if the metastatic and primary tumour differ in their genetic make-up. Four out of five patients have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis and most will succumb within a year.

Patients are very keen to participate in the research study. “My push is to keep the support coming for the research, and to bring hope to other pancreatic cancer patients. This is a disease that needs more hope,” says Susan Stewart, 57, a North Vancouver resident who was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer in January 2017. She was enrolled immediately in EPPIC as well as a clinical trial where she received an experimental therapy. Although it is early days yet, her results today are promising.  Her pancreatic cancer tumour is no longer visible on CT scans, and the metastatic cancer on her liver has shrunk considerably. Her doctors are using the EPPIC results to try and understand why her tumour has had such an incredible response to the experimental treatment.

The EPPIC team aims to sequence metastatic pancreatic tumours of 400 patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.  They hope to improve understanding of pancreatic cancer biology to individualize treatment strategies, and to facilitate the development of new treatment options.

This project is currently under way in Toronto and Vancouver, through two clinical trials (COMPASS and PanGen), and will be expanded shortly to include eligible patients in Kingston, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Montreal site opens this week. Genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of patient tumours will be conducted at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the BC Cancer Genome Sciences Centre.

“This funding will allow us to bring leading-edge pancreatic cancer research to more Canadian patients and further advance our understanding how to best treat advanced pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Steven Gallinger, Leader of OICR’s PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative, which supports the COMPASS trial. “Collaborating with the other research groups will more rapidly result in more robust findings that can help us accelerate the development of new treatment options.”

The team will also store and analyze the genomic and clinical data collected in a knowledge bank that will be shared by Canadian and international researchers seeking ways to improve treatment.  The bank will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director, is thrilled TFRI is funding this high-calibre precision medicine team to tackle such a hard-to-treat cancer. “Pancreatic cancer research has been historically underfunded, and we are very excited to be expanding such a successful personalized medicine project to patients across Canada.  We hope precision medicine may hold the key to finding better treatments for this incurable disease.”

EPPIC’s multidisciplinary team comprises clinicians and scientists from BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, OICR, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Research Institute of MUHC, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Queen’s University and the Ottawa Hospital.

In addition to Drs. Renouf and Schaeffer, other principal investigators of EPPIC and the COMPASS and PanGen trials are: Dr. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre/UHN/ OICR), Dr. George Zogopoulos (MUHC/Research Institute of MUHC/McGill University), and Dr. Oliver Bathe (Tom Baker Cancer Center, University of Calgary). Many of the team’s investigators are members of PancOne™, an initiative of Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC).

TFRI’s investment in EPPIC also builds on funding from BC Cancer Foundation, OICR, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, PCC and VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation. 

About The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)

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 www.tfri.ca and follow us on Twitter (@tfri_research).

Media Contacts

Katelyn Verstraten, 604-675-8000 ext. 7630; 604-358-8898 (cell) kverstraten@tfri.ca

Kelly Curwin, 604-675-8223; 778-237-8158 (cell) kcurwin@tfri.ca

EPICC Backgrounder

October 27, 2016

OICR’s Transformative Pathology Program contributes to recent PanCuRx findings

Ilinca Lungu, a Research Technician in OICR’s Transformative Pathology Program, talks about her group’s contributions to recent findings from the PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative.

Access to the Transformative Pathology Program’s resources and expertise is available to the research community through Diagnostic Development in OICR’s Collaborative Research Resources Directory. For more information about how you can access these services, visit oicr.on.ca/collaborative-research-resources.

October 21, 2016

OICR-led study finds four unique genomic signatures in pancreas cancer, uncovers potential of immunotherapies

The pancreas cancer puzzle

Pancreas cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of the disease. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, only 8 percent of pancreas cancer patients survive more than five years after diagnosis. OICR’s PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative has recently published the results of an international collaboration that increases understanding of this complex disease and how to treat it based on a patient’s unique profile.

Continue reading – OICR-led study finds four unique genomic signatures in pancreas cancer, uncovers potential of immunotherapies

October 12, 2016

New findings challenge current view of how pancreas cancer develops

Dr. Faiyaz Notta and Dr. Steven Gallinger

The findings provide important insights into how pancreas cancer develops and spreads and new strategies for better understanding one of the mostly deadly types of cancer.

Toronto (October 12, 2016) – Researchers in the multidisciplinary PanCuRx research initiative at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, led by Dr. Faiyaz Notta and Dr. Steven Gallinger, today published new findings that challenge current beliefs about how and why pancreas cancer is so aggressive.

Continue reading – New findings challenge current view of how pancreas cancer develops

June 1, 2015

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $4.6 million to support pancreatic cancer research

TORONTO, ON (June 1, 2015) – Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced OICR is investing $4.6 million over two years in PanCuRx, an initiative that seeks solutions to the high fatality rate of pancreatic cancer. The multidisciplinary program brings together researchers from the fields of genomics, pathology, cancer biology and informatics, as well as clinician scientists, who will collaboratively work to better understand pancreatic cancer on a molecular level and use this understanding to develop better, more personalized diagnostics and therapies for patients. The research will focus on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

“There have been huge scientific advances over the past few decades on many types of cancer, but statistics on pancreatic cancer have remained largely unchanged,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “OICR is proud today to announce support for PanCuRx and help to improve these statistics and bring new solutions to patients.”

Initial funding for the initiative was provided last spring by Sylvia M. G. Soyka, director, and the Board of Trustees of the SMGS Family Foundation to the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University (CFHU). The focus of this funding is to find and identify the molecular drivers behind metastatic pancreatic cancer. Researchers at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Sheba Medical Center in Israel and at OICR in Toronto are currently working collaboratively to achieve this goal.

“This new funding will help tackle one of the least understood types of cancer. Ontario’s innovative and collaborative research community, together with our partners in Israel, are well suited for this challenge to discover new solutions and treatments that will benefit patients worldwide,” said Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation.

PanCuRx’s unique, collaborative design will allow teams of researchers to pursue research and clinical questions in parallel, with a tight link between clinical practice and lab research. The research will also be highly integrated with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s translational PDAC program, ensuring that in addition to increasing understanding of the disease more generally, the research will directly inform the treatment strategy of patients who participate.

“The focus of PanCuRx is to ensure we bring the patients closer to the research and the research closer to the patients,” said Dr. Steven Gallinger, Surgical Oncologist and Head, Hepatobiliary/Pancreatic Surgical Oncology Program at University Health Network, Senior Investigator, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital and leader of the PanCuRx initiative. “By working together among disciplines and between the research and clinical components we feel much more can be accomplished and we have a real chance of making an impact on improving outcomes for PDAC patients.”

“I am alive today because of the groundbreaking treatment I received from Dr. Gallinger, Dr. Malcolm Moore and their team,” said Libby Znaimer, a prominent Canadian journalist and pancreatic cancer survivor. Znaimer received therapy targeted at the molecular level to the specific subtype of pancreatic cancer she was diagnosed with, an avenue of diagnosis and treatment that this new funding will further explore. “This summer I will celebrate seven years since diagnosis. We need more research to ensure that outcomes like mine become the norm, rather than a rare exception.”

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) makes up approximately 85 per cent of pancreatic cancer cases. In 2014, an estimated 4,700 Canadians were diagnosed with PDAC and 4,400 died from the disease. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Canada and the current five-year survival rate of 7.7 per cent is the lowest of all cancers. While the number of people dying from common cancers such as breast and colon cancer has dropped dramatically over the past 30 years, there have been only slight improvements for PDAC. It is estimated that PDAC will be the second leading cause of cancer death in North America within 10 years.