It is being touted as the “Team Canada of cancer research.”
Exactly 39 years after Terry Fox dipped his artificial leg in St. John’s harbour to begin his Marathon of Hope, the research institute that bears his name launched a new, national network that – for the first time – brings together Canada’s leading cancer hospitals and research universities.
The announcement Friday in St. John’s, at the spot where Fox started his run, also provided a poignant reminder that his ambitious bid to raise money for cancer research was barely noticed when it began on April 12, 1980. But his gritty determination to run across Canada inspired a nation.
“Terry said the Marathon of Hope must continue without him and he would be very proud to see this happening in this highly collaborative and inspired way,” Darrell Fox, Terry’s younger brother, said in a statement.
The Terry Fox Research Institute says the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres network, which it describes as a “powerful collaborative platform,” will help accelerate so-called precision medicine.
The network will help close the gap between research in the lab and patient care in the clinic, the institute said.
Dr. Victor Ling, the institute’s president and scientific director, says this “Team Canada of cancer research” will use genomics, advanced imaging and artificial intelligence to ensure cancer patients across the country gain access to the care they need.
“There is no other country that has the potential that we have in Canada to link up all of our cancer centres to share information,” Ling said in an interview from St. John’s.
“This is really big.”
Ling says advanced cancer research and treatments have become more focused on finding harmful genetic mutations. And one of the best ways to sort harmful mutations from benign ones is to compile data from as many patients as possible.
That’s where the network comes in.
“By comparing many different people and their genetics, we will be able to home in on the important mutations, where drugs can be effective,” Ling said.
“What we learn in precision medicine – or genetic medicine – will have an impact worldwide because our diverse population represents the population of the world.”
In the past, this kind of information sharing was limited by the fact that the provinces were reluctant to transmit sensitive health information across borders.
The new network will provide a secure platform.
Cancer research and care institutions in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies and Atlantic Canada are expected to participate in the network.
The federal government will be spending up to $150 million over five years to support the network. The funding was announced in the March 19 federal budget.
The federal investment will be matched by the network partners, their foundations and the Terry Fox Foundation.
William Pristanski, chairman of the foundation, said the network will bring researchers closer to achieving Terry Fox’s dream of a world without cancer.
“We are delighted with the federal government’s momentous decision to invest in world-class cancer research by collaborating with the Terry Fox Research Institute and the major cancer centres across Canada,” he said in a statement.
Under the guidance of the foundation, the annual Terry Fox Run and other fundraising initiatives have raised more than $750 million for cancer research.