Groundbreaking cancer treatment gets millions in new funding
Published Tuesday, January 12, 2016 6:20PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 12, 2016 7:11PM PST
A lifesaving cancer treatment program is getting a boost from the B.C. government.
Premier Christy Clark has pledged $3 million in funding for the BC Cancer Agency, $2 million of which will go to the agency's Personalized Onco–Genomics program, also known as POG.
The program, which has treated 350 people in the province so far, involves sequencing DNA from the cancer cells of patients. That allows researchers to tailor treatments -- in some cases helping choose medication or therapies that can slow or stop the cancer from spreading or growing.
Chilliwack’s Jen Strack has spent a lot of time at the BC Cancer Agency since the non-smoker was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2013.
After undergoing chemotherapy, her oncologist suggested she might qualify for the POG research program, which is often used in challenging cases involving hard-to-beat types of cancer.
Patients in the program are carefully chosen through a highly selective process. Requirements include having a form of incurable or metastatic cancer, having previously tried chemotherapy, and being otherwise fit and well. All patients must be B.C. residents and be willing to undergo experimental chemotherapy.
After qualifying for the program, Strack had a lung biopsy and bloodwork done, which allowed researchers to sequence her DNA and pick a targeted treatment.
After initially trying a medication that made her too ill to continue, she was prescribed a new drug in July of 2014.
The results were astounding.
“My very first X-Ray a month later showed a dramatic difference in the size of the main tumour that I had. That was shocking,” said Strack.
Strack now takes one pill a day, and the results continue to look promising. Several of her smaller tumours have disappeared.
Dr. Janessa Laskin is an oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency and clinical lead on the POG program. She said Strack’s case is just one of many that have given researchers great hope for the future.
“Cases like Jen’s give us tremendous hope that we’re on the right track. If we can identify these targets and repurpose drugs that already exist, and of course develop new drugs. We may change the face of cancer completely; turn it into a chronic, tolerable disease with good treatments -- and even cure it one day,” said Laskin.
The agency is hoping to treat 2,000 patients under the POG program, which is available throughout the province, over the next five years. The estimated cost for each patient to go through the program is about $27,000. So far, 50 types of cancer have been treated.
“I do think this is the future of cancer medicine is to find what’s driving each person’s cancer to grow and target that specifically. It's been successful when we've been able to do it,” adds Laskin.
Strack said she had nothing to lose when she started the POG program, but now credits it with saving her life. She hopes more and more people will eventually benefit from the personalized treatment.
“It’s the future of where cancer treatment needs to go,” said Strack. “It has saved my life for sure.”
The program is funded primarily by donations. To contribute, visit the BC Cancer Foundation website here.