The Princess Margaret and Terry Fox Research Institute bring new hope for pancreatic cancer patients


Princess Margaret Cancer Centre experts are teaming up with other Canadian researchers under a Terry Fox initiative to bring new hope for patients with pancreatic cancer. 

Drs. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger are among the principal investigators taking part in the $5 million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)

With few known symptoms, limited treatment options and a lack of tests for early detection, pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The EPPIC (Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care) team is working to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) over the next five years. Currently, the disease has just a nine per cent five-year survival rate. 

“Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often,” says David Schaeffer (UBC, Vancouver General Hospital), who is helping to lead the study. 

UHN researchers explain the COMPASS trial, which is giving pancreatic cancer patients the ability to have their tumour genomes sequenced very rapidly. (Video: UHN)

Schaeffer hopes they can determine whether metastatic and primary tumours differ in the genetic makeup as four out of five patients are diagnosed with the former type and most don’t live beyond a year. With 400 patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia enrolled in the study, the team will aim to sequence metastatic pancreatic tumours to better understand treatment strategies and develop new treatment options.

Vancouver’s Susan Stewart, 57, who was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer in January 2017, was enrolled in EPPIC as well as a clinical trial where she received experimental therapy after her diagnosis. She is already seeing promising results with pancreatic tumours no longer visible on CT scans and the metastatic cancer on her liver having shrunk a considerable amount. The EPPIC team are looking at her results to try and see why she has responded so well to the experimental treatment. 

“My push is to keep the support coming for the research, and to bring hope to other pancreatic cancer patients. This is a disease that needs more hope,” she said.

So far, over 100 patients have participated in the COMPASS trial from the McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer at The Princess Margaret. The early results of the trial were published in late 2017.

"Only with national collaboration can we move forward at pace with global understanding of this disease and make a significant contribution," says Dr. Knox, Principal Investigator of COMPASS and co-Director of the McCain Centre.

The genomic and clinical data will also be stored in a knowledge bank, the first of its kind in Canada, that will be shared with Canadian and international researchers looking to improve treatment. 

The EPPIC team is made up of clinicians and scientists from BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, OICR, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Research Institute of MUHC, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Queen’s University and the Ottawa Hospital.

The funding from TFRI builds on funding from The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, BC Cancer Foundation, OICR, PCC and VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation.

Read the origional story on UHN.