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Canadian Consortium Launches C$2.6M Liquid Biopsy Initiative to Improve Targeted Cancer Treatment

NEW YORK- A consortium led by Vancouver, Canada-based Canexia Health (formerly Contextual Genomics) has launched a C$2,590,500 (US$1.9 million) initiative that aims to improve access to testing and treatment options for Canadian cancer patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative, named Project ACTT (Access to Cancer Testing and Treatment), will deploy a liquid biopsy test that only requires a blood draw for cancer treatment selection, eliminating the need for most patients to travel to a hospital for biopsies.

Supported in part by the Digital Technology SuperCluster, the team aims to minimize cancer patient exposure to COVID-19 while improving the health system's capacity initially for patients with recurrent or metastatic lung, breast, or colon cancer. The digital liquid biopsy tool applies software technology including machine learning to spot circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in plasma samples and matches patients with targeted treatments shown to improve outcomes.

"Tacking the backlog of medical procedures and treatments due to COVID-19 is a challenge across Canada," Bill Tam, chief operating officer of the Digital Technology Supercluster, said in a statement. "The Canexia Health project has an innovative and pragmatic solution to protecting cancer patients while providing much-needed treatment quickly and effectively." 

The consortium also includes AstraZeneca Canada, Queen's University, the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, Genolife, Emtelligent, Novateur, Semaphore Solutions, Xtract AI, and Illumina. A consortium spokesperson noted in an email that the Digital Technology SuperCluster has invested $1.6 million in the project, while member co-investment is $1.0 million.

"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," Gaby Bourbara, VP of oncology at AstraZeneca Canada, said in a statement. "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."

While Canexia Health and AstraZeneca Canada will support testing and oncologist education, Queen's University, EORLA, Genolife, and LifeLabs will initially increase patient access in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan before expanding access across Canada. Canexia Health will apply Emtelligent's natural language processing technology to help broaden testing access to cancer patients with all solid tumor types.

Semaphore will work on laboratory process management and remote access to test results. Xtract AI will develop, train, and launch NLP models to help manage, understand, and combine semi-structured information from a mutation and cancer-type database.

The consortium will sequence samples on Illumina instruments, while Novateur will partner on a health economics study to further build the cost-effectiveness of liquid biopsy.

Canexia Health also aims to lead technical transfer for Canadian hospitals and labs to perform in-house liquid biopsy testing.