Cancer testing for all

Carla Van Wyck-MacDonald was losing hope before she took a circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) liquid biopsy test. Her breast cancer had progressed to an advanced stage, chemotherapy had caused complications, and pandemic travel restrictions and hospital outbreaks were making it difficult to explore new treatment options. “I made a promise to be here as long as possible to raise my kids,” says the mother of four from Shallow Lake, Ontario. “So, I kept praying and pushing my doctors for other options. What can we do to prolong my life? What else can I try?”

That’s when the Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment in Response to COVID-19 (ACTT) project changed everything. Like thousands of other cancer patients across Canada, Carla’s access to targeted therapy owes much to the work of a consortium led by Vancouver-based Canexia Health. COVID-19 has delayed tissue biopsies for thousands of cancer patients. Canexia’s technology, however, requires only a simple blood draw to search for the genetic biomarkers of cancer – data that can be used to identify treatment options.

The results of Carla’s ctDNA test revealed a mutation known as PIK3CA, which led to her being enrolled in clinical trials for two drugs. According to Dr. Phillipe Bedard at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, “Carla’s story illustrates how it’s helpful to have a blood test available that can be collected close to a patient’s home. It’s particularly helpful for patients who live outside of urban areas and who may not have access to specialized testing in academic research hospitals.”

Carla’s new treatment soon started “turning my situation around,” she says, adding that “I’m sure there are many other people who would benefit from this.”

Indeed, more than 1,500 cancer patients across Canada received ctDNA testing through Project ACTT, with approximately 50 per cent of tests revealing reportable results. Through the consortium’s educational outreach, 245 oncologists from more than 70 institutions have ordered a test, representing more than 30 per cent of oncologists in Canada.

At the same time, the Digital Supercluster’s framework has been instrumental in generating data, allowing health authorities to evaluate incorporating ctDNA testing into cancer care. “Rather than just one company trying to solve this problem on its own, the Supercluster has been instrumental in building our project team quickly and efficiently,” says Canexia CEO Michael Ball. “Cancer patients can’t afford to wait.”

Learn more about Project ACTT and watch their Digital Demo Day presentation below