Strength in Numbers: New consortium driving precision medicine in Atlantic Canada

Bryn 3

Bryn Robinson is Horizon Health Network’s Research Engagement Manager

As we strive to deliver more personalized care for each patient, precision medicine will have an important role to play.

In cancer care, precision medicine means using leading edge tools to identify a person’s specific genetic makeup, and then customizing treatment based on those markers. If we know that a particular genetic profile responds better to a drug or therapy, we can get them the treatment that has the best possible chance at success sooner.  

The Atlantic Cancer Consortium (ACC) is an initiative launched by the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) in January 2021 – its goal is to bring together the people and resources needed to increase the use of precision medicine across the four Atlantic provinces.  

Horizon is proud to have one of our own playing a significant part in this initiative, where, at the Saint John Regional Hospital, medical oncologist Dr. Tony Reiman is one of the two leads in New Brunswick for the consortium. 

Dr. Reiman is already quite familiar with TFRI, leading their pan-Canadian project Multiple Myeloma Molecular Monitoring (M4) study, and more recently taking on the role of Atlantic Node Lead for TFRI’s Executive.  

In addition to providing leadership to the ACC pilot project, Dr. Reiman will be leading one of the ACC’s five projects with Dr. Robin Urquhart from Dalhousie University. This research study, Clinical implementation of enhanced next-generation sequencing (NGS) based lung cancer molecular profiling in Atlantic Canada: reaching a rural and underserved Population, has several aims.  

First, the researchers will look at how we can use next-generation sequencing to make more rapid diagnoses. This tool has the potential to scan and precisely identify the genetic molecules in a sample in less time and, increasingly, at less cost. With lung cancer continuing to be the most frequently diagnosed cancer, and the leading cause of cancer death, in Canada, speed is especially important.

As well, Dr. Reiman and Dr. Urquhart’s project will examine ways that health care in Atlantic Canada can support liquid biopsy research. Instead of asking a person to provide a sample of tumor tissue through surgery, or have an imaging scan, liquid biopsy can use a small amount of blood, urine or saliva to look for cells or molecules that the tumor sheds in these fluids.

Dr. Tony Reiman is one of the Atlantic Cancer Consortium co-leads for New Brunswick 

Improving the use of and access to liquid biopsy can reduce the need for invasive tests to diagnose cancer or assess a person’s response to cancer treatment.  

Finally, the team will identify any barriers in Atlantic Canada to using precision medicine in cancer care, especially with rural or underserved groups in the provinces, in order to improve access to these leading precision medicine tools.  

The ACC will receive $3.9 million over the next two years to do this work, including a contribution of $1.5 million from TFRI, $375,000 from the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation and $175,000 from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

Together, the five projects that are part of the ACC will demonstrate how the participating institutions can effectively and efficiently collaborate in delivering the latest in cancer diagnosis and care. Once completed, the Atlantic Canadian institutions can apply to become members of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, which will link us to knowledge and data from the top cancer researchers across the  country.