Project ACTT - Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment in Response to COVID-19
Expanding less-invasive cancer testing through AI and technology.
Project Budget* - $2.6M
Partner Co-investment* - $1M
Supercluster Co-investment* - $1.6M
During the COVID-19 pandemic, treatment of other health conditions and diseases has been severely impacted by limits placed on non-COVID care and by individuals steering clear of care of hospitals because of fear.
Cancer patients are in a race against time, and their disease will keep progressing. During the pandemic, cancer tissue biopsies have been put off, which delays diagnosis and treatments for patients. In Ontario alone it is estimated that cancer surgeries dropped 40% in late March and early April compared to the year before, impacting at least 1,700 patients. Delays will continue even post-pandemic as health systems deal with the backlog in addition to new cases.
Project ACTT – Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment in Response to COVID-19 is aiming to speed up testing during the pandemic through a minimally invasive DNA test available for cancer patients – an alternative to surgical tissue biopsies.
The project is led by Canexia Health (formerly Contextual Genomics) in partnership with Queen’s University, AstraZeneca Canada, the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, Genolife, Semaphore Solutions, emtelligent, Xtract AI, Novateur, and Illumina.
The minimally invasive circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) solution requires only a blood sample from the patient, which is then analyzed by powerful machine learning and AI technology to detect fragments of DNA shed by cancer tumors. The current solution will be initially used to detect lung, breast, and colon cancers. Project ACTT will make it possible to detect a broader range of cancer types, increasing the reach from 40,000 to 70,000 Canadian cancer patients each year.
Project ACTT will also test 2,000 patients to generate the data required to determine if the life-saving testing could be delivered under provincial health coverage. That will make it possible to conduct tests in-house at Canadian hospitals and labs, instead of using the more expensive and less efficient process of sending samples to laboratories outside of Canada.
Further, through this program, health care workers and highly-susceptible cancer patients can be protected from COVID-19 exposure because the tests can be delivered remotely. The new tests will become more available to people living in rural and remote areas.
In the long term, ctDNA testing in a post-pandemic world will be a more accessible option to match cancer patients with targeted treatments that improve outcomes and to help deliver more efficient care.