​​​​​Image of Dr. Suzanne Kamel-Reid
Dr. Suzanne Kamel-Reid, Head, Clinical Laboratory Genetics and Director, Molecular Diagnostics, University Health Network advances personalized medicine through diagnoses and increases access to genomic profiling for patients with cancer.
​(Photo: The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation)

The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) announced today at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre that the University Health Network's (UHN) Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) will receive a $6-million grant from Genome Canada's Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) to develop a program increasing patient access to genomic tumour profiling across Canada. The project, led by Dr. Suzanne Kamel-Reid, Head, Clinical Laboratory Genetics and Director, Molecular Diagnostics, University Health Network is in partnership with LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services and The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

"Our project will take a new and limited technology and make it available to all Canadians," says Dr. Kamel-Reid. "It will increase access, improve the patient experience, and allow for better overall care for cancer patients across the country."

Also today, ​​a project led by Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, ​​UHN's Surgeon-in-Chief and Director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program, in collaboration with the U.S. biotech firm Lung Bioengineering Inc., a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corp., received $6 million to develop a genomics-based diagnostic test to determine whether a donor lung meets transplant requirments.

Dr. Shaf Keshavjee​Dr. Shaf Keshavjee​

A considerable number of patients needing a lung transplant die due to a lack of donor organs deemed suitable for transplant. The project proposes a genomics approach to assessing donor lungs and has the potential to save thousands of lives while reducing healthcare costs.

At present, evaluations of donor lungs are based on physiological assessements alone. As a result, less than 15 per cent of lungs, the healthiest, are deemed suitable for transplant, leaving unused countless "marginal" lungs that could also save lives. A genomics-based analysis could increase the number of transplant-acceptable lungs to nearly 50 per cent, resulting in a greater number of patients receiving this life-saving intervention.

​Dr. Kamel-Reid's project will provide high-quality genomic testing through expertise in UHN's Laboratory Medicine Program and LifeLabs' national testing network. Providing national market access to advanced genomic testing has the potential to save lives, and the infrastructure developed will represent a major advancement in providing the most effective diagnosis and treatment options for all patients.

"We knew we could do this – we knew we had the capability.  We just had to be given the opportunity to take our expertise and provide it on a larger scale," Dr. Kamel-Reid explains.

"It's part of the reason we partnered with LifeLabs. They're a great resource, with a great network, and because we've worked together before we know their commitment to making a difference."

The $2-million GAPP grant will be provided over a three-year term, and will be matched by both The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services, for a total investment of $6 million to improve access to advanced testing, and therefore treatment, of patients with cancer.

"We are really proud to be part of this this partnership," says Paul Alofs, President and CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. "The project will share the advancements we've made in molecular profiling, giving all Canadians access to more precise diagnoses, and more targeted treatment. It's in line with our creed, vision and values, and is an exciting step forward for improved molecular testing across Canada." 

"LifeLabs is thrilled to partner with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the University Health Network on this innovative initiative that will transform cancer treatment in Canada", says Jeff Sumner, Senior Vice-President, Clinical Affairs and Business Development at LifeLabs. "We look forward to bringing LifeLabs' strengths in specimen collection, our transportation network and extensive logistics capabilities and growing genetic testing capabilities together with the Princess Margaret's expertise as Canada's leading developer of novel cancer genomic assays to make this [genomic profiling of cancer specimens] a reality."

This collaborative investment ensures a common governance, and consistent cross-communication between all parties.

"We're excited to be working together on such an important project," says Rosetta Belcastro, Manager for Clinical Research and Client Services, and GAPP Project Manager for LMP. "We have a tight, comprehensive timeline and we all have a lot of work to do. I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone achieves their deliverables and works toward a common goal."

The Genomics Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) is provided by not-for-profit organization, Genome Canada, and is designed to move genomics-based solutions to the marketplace through industry partnerships.

"We are delighted to see so many genomics 'users' eager to work in partnership with the research community to translate genomics research into practical applications," says Dr. Pierre Meulien, President and CEO of Genome Canada. "Genomics offers great potential for new ideas and innovations to be applied to multiple sectors of vital importance to Canada."

"This program is going to ensure that more patients have access to genomic information, and will give physicians comprehensive data they can use, to provide the most effective patient care," says Dr. Kamel-Reid. "We're excited to see how this project helps patients across Canada, as there is always more we can do to improve the quality of life and healthcare options for all Canadians."

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