Genetic technique gets results against cancer

Premier Christy Clark announces $3 million boost to DNA project that offers new hope for cancer patients

The B.C. government is investing an extra $3 million to expand a program that tailors cancer treatment to the genetic makeup of individual patients.

The B.C. Cancer Agency is ramping up its Personalized Onco-Genomics (POG) project after seeing encouraging results, including reversal of some cancers thought to be all but untreatable. Researchers cautioned that the technique isn’t a cure for cancer, but it has been effective in identifying drugs that can reduce a life-threatening condition to a manageable chronic illness.

Dr. Janessa Laskin, the cancer specialist in charge of the POG program, said three quarters of the oncologists in B.C. are now participating in the program, selecting and referring patients from all over the province. The technique is “the future of oncology,” and the goal is to keep expanding it until every cancer patient can be assessed, Laskin said.

Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake announced the additional funds at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver Tuesday. Clark said the intent is to increase funding further in the coming years for a program that is attracting international interest and financial support.

The agency highlighted patients helped by the technique. A 41-year-old non-smoker, Jennifer Strack described her shock at being diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer 18 months ago. Strack underwent five rounds of conventional chemotherapy with little effect, as tumours grew in her lungs and spread to her liver.

The POG program identified one drug that was not effective, but Strack began taking another one that halted the growth and reduced the tumours. Laskin said the genetic testing identifies drug that would otherwise never be considered.

Zuri Scrivens was treated at age 33 for breast cancer, and when it reappeared two years later she was enrolled in the POG program. Her cancer went into remission after a diabetes drug was used in combination with a breast cancer drug.

Since clinical trials began in 2012, more than 350 patients with 50 different types of cancer have had their genetic material studied in the program. With private donations through the B.C. Cancer Foundation, the new government funds and international grant support, the target for POG is to enrol 2,000 patients in the next five years

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