VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, July 15, 2020 – A consortium led by Vancouver-based Canexia Health (formerly Contextual Genomics) will enable access to critical testing and treatment options for Canadian cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supported by the Digital Technology Supercluster, the CAD $2,590,000 initiative, named Project ACTT – Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment, will deploy and enhance a liquid biopsy solution that requires only a simple blood draw for cancer treatment selection, thereby eliminating the need for many patients to travel to hospital for surgical biopsies.
The consortium’s goal is to limit patient exposure to COVID-19 while increasing health system capacity initially for patients with recurrent or metastatic lung, breast, or colon cancer. The digital liquid biopsy solution uses advanced software technology including machine learning to identify circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) in plasma and matches patients with targeted treatments shown to improve outcomes. In addition to Canexia Health, the consortium includes AstraZeneca Canada, Queen’s University, the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, Genolife, emtelligent, Novateur, Semaphore Solutions, Xtract AI, and Illumina.
Cancer patients have an estimated two-fold increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and a three-fold risk of dying compared to the general population. A comprehensive approach is required to address the needs of this high-risk group to limit their exposure and minimize hospital visits. Since early March, COVID-19 has delayed or postponed at least 100,000 surgeries in Canada including cancer tissue biopsies.
“Tackling the backlog of medical procedures and treatments due to COVID-19 is a challenge across Canada. The Canexia Health project team has an innovative and pragmatic solution to protecting cancer patients while providing much-needed treatment quickly and effectively,” stated Bill Tam, COO of the Digital Technology Supercluster.
“The precision oncology solution offered and further developed with our project partners will both increase patient safety and remove geographic barriers that can impede cancer care,” said Michael Ball, CEO of Canexia Health. “We are fortunate to have access to this cross-disciplinary group of project partners who, together, will bring these goals to fruition with the support of the Digital Technology Supercluster.”
“The early identification of biomarkers, including gene mutations, is critical to helping ensure patients with cancer have quick access to the most effective treatments available for their disease,” said Gaby Bourbara, VP-Oncology at AstraZeneca Canada. “As a key partner in this COVID-19 initiative, we hope to not only improve health outcomes for Canadian cancer patients during the pandemic, but to contribute to a lasting solution that will further strengthen health care capabilities in the area of early cancer screening and diagnoses.”
Canexia Health and AstraZeneca Canada will support testing and oncologist education, while Queen’s University, EORLA, Genolife, and LifeLabs will extend patient access initially in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan – with the longer-term objective of increasing access across Canada. Canexia Health will use emtelligent’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to broaden the population of cancer patients who could benefit to those with all solid tumour types. Semaphore Solutions will work on laboratory process management and remote access to test results. Xtract AI will develop, train, and deploy NLP models to assist in the management, understanding, and integration of semi-structured information from a mutation and cancer-type database. Sequencing will be conducted on Illumina platforms. Novateur will partner on a health economics study to further establish the cost-effectiveness of liquid biopsy. Canexia Health also will lead technical transfer for hospitals and labs to run liquid biopsy testing in-house, bringing greater resilience to the Canadian health system.
“We’re excited to participate in this project on several levels, including as a proof of concept for technology transfer. We hope to provide the necessary evidence to accelerate provincial laboratory evaluation and adoption of ctDNA testing, which would ultimately benefit patients and oncologists across Canada,” said Dr. Harriet Feilotter, Queen’s University.
About Canexia Health
Canexia Health (formerly Contextual Genomics) makes high-quality cancer genomic information accessible and affordable with our clinically-validated assays, informatics, and support. Our suite of genomics-based cancer tests is clinically actionable and cost-effective, designed to improve cancer prevention, treatment, and monitoring. With our extensive scientific experience, specialized genomics-based tests, and support from pharmaceutical and diagnostic partners, we are leading the shift towards precision oncology.
About Digital Technology Supercluster
The Digital Technology Supercluster solves some of industry’s and society’s biggest problems through Canadian-made technologies. We bring together private and public sector organizations of all sizes to address challenges facing Canada’s economic sectors including healthcare, natural resources, manufacturing, and transportation. Through this ‘collaborative innovation’ the Supercluster helps to drive solutions better than any single organization could on its own. The Digital Technology Supercluster is led by industry leaders such as D-Wave, LifeLabs, LlamaZOO, Lululemon, MDA, Microsoft, Mosaic Forest Management, Sanctuary AI, Teck Resources Limited, TELUS, Terramera, and 1Qbit. Together, we work to position Canada as a global hub for digital innovation. A full list of Members can be found here.
About the COVID-19 Program
The COVID-19 Program aims to improve the health and safety of Canadians and support Canada’s ability to address issues created by the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, the program will build expertise and capacity to anticipate and address issues that may arise in future health crises, from healthcare to a return to work and community. More information can be found here.
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