On March 18, 2019, the Federal Government tabled its budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Amongst the many important investments announced that day was one nearly a decade in the making:
“To help give more cancer patients and their families help and hope, we’ll provide the Terry Fox Research Institute with up to $150 million to establish a national Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau to Canadians in Parliament and Canadians watching on TV.
The announcement marked a pivotal moment in the creation of our Network. It meant that a country-wide precision medicine initiative led by the Terry Fox Research Institute in collaboration with research, clinical and funding partners across the country, had the green light and government support to start working together to help transform cancer research and care in Canada.
“Our goal is to create the Team Canada of Cancer Research so we can work together to improve the lives of our cancer patients,” said Dr. Victor Ling, Founding President and Scientific Director of the TFRI when the budget was announced. “We thank the Government of Canada for its investment in this vision and for its vote of confidence.”
Two years later the federal government’s investment was cemented with the signing of a formal contract, called a Contribution Agreement, between the Terry Fox Research Institute and Health Canada. This contract outlines the Network’s key deliverables and describes an important aspect of its funding model today: to receive the full $150 million, the research institutes, cancer centres and philanthropic organizations that are members of the Network must match the government’s investment dollar-for-dollar. Significantly, it set the stage for the creation of an unprecedented collaboration worth $300- million in new funds for cancer research.
The Network’s main purpose is to improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients by accelerating precision medicine for cancer.
Precision medicine involves using the genetic make-up of each patient’s cancer as well as their individual characteristics to personalize cancer treatments, allowing doctors to provide the right treatment at the right time for each patient.
Today, a small but growing number of patients benefit from this approach, but we want to make it a reality for more Canadians. That’s why we’re investing in key areas that will help accelerate precision medicine for cancer and position Canada as a world leader in this growing field.
Our funding priorities include:
Creating the 15K MOHCCN Gold Cohort: To make precision medicine a reality, clinicians and researchers need access to large data sets – more than any single cancer centre in Canada currently generates. These large data sets match clinical histories to genetic information to treatment outcomes, providing researchers with enough information to start understanding how and why certain patients responds to treatment or not, and to use new technologies such as AI to pinpoint the vulnerabilities of each person’s cancer and match them to new or existing treatments that selectively target them. The MOHCCN Gold Cohort is this data set. It will be the largest, and most complete, cancer case resource in the country and will include clinical and genomic data from 15,000 patients with diverse genetic and ethnic backgrounds and different types of cancer treated in health care centres across Canada. Through an agreement with TFRI, the MOHCCN and its partners contribute joint funds for each case in a pre-identified cohort which undergoes genomic testing (whole transcriptome and whole genome analysis) as well as the deposition of clinical and genomic data to the network. Each case is budgeted at $12,000 to complete.
Creating innovative infrastructure for data sharing: Funding from the MOHCCN is helping to develop the technological platform used to ingest Network data into a federated data ecosystem, meaning that the clinical and genomic data that enters the Network never leaves its site of origin. MOHCCN researchers can use these tools to see what data is in the Network and obtain permission to use it in new precision medicine studies, thus accessing large data sets of genomic and clinical information from Canadian patients that can be used to accelerate the pace of discovery for finding new and more efficient ways to detect, diagnose and treat cancer that are specific to our population’s genetic and clinical data.
Training the next generation of experts in precision medicine: We believe that precision medicine is the way of the future, and that for Canada to be a world leader in this field we must invest in the next generation of experts. That is why we are allocating funds through annual competitions to train and support future leaders. The MOHCCN Clinician-Scientist Awards and the MOHCCN Health Informatics & Data Scientist Awards support early-career professionals as they specialize in different fields within precision oncology.
Special initiatives and projects: We are also funding special initiatives to ensure representativity and equity from coast to coast in our Network. By investing in precision medicine initiatives in areas that are generally underserved, such as rural, remote and Northern regions, we are working to bring life changing research to more Canadians. As the Network continues to grow, we are also funding projects that pilot new techniques and technologies that allow us to look at scientific questions from new perspectives.
To allocate these resources, the MOHCCN uses experts to review projects and determine their potential for impact. This funding rigour ensures that every dollar goes towards initiatives that are rooted in the best scientific and clinical practices and that are aligned with the goals of the Network.
As outlined in the Contribution Agreement, a key component of the MOHCCN funding structure is a requirement that each dollar invested by the federal government is matched to a minimum for a dollar-for-dollar by member institutions, including the Terry Fox Research Institute. These new cash-match funds must come from non-federal sources and help support eligible expenses incurred by the growing number of member institutions in our Network.
To create these partnerships and contribute to the Network goals, institutions sign Network Master Agreements with TFRI and annual Research Project Grant Agreements are executed with each institution member to describe their annual targets and funding requests. These documents outline obligations and responsibilities for all parties, and also provide taxpayers and donors with an accounting of how their dollars are invested.
A key component of this federally funded program is a requirement that researchers work with member institutions to obtain and spend Cash Match funding to a minimum 1:1 ratio to the TFRI-Health Canada funds. In other words, to get Health Canada funding, institutions must provide match funding. The Terry Fox Foundation is working with foundations from member institutions across the country to jointly fundraise and help institutions provide this match commitment. This unprecedented level of collaboration marks a new benchmark for collaborative fundraising for cancer in Canada.
The Network would not be feasible without the generous support of partnering institutions, donors and supporters. Funds raised through the Terry Fox Foundation annual run will also help support this initiative.
More information about eligible funding and reporting can be found here.
Academic and cancer centres across Canada are eligible to join the MOHCCN Network. If you’re interested in joining the Network, please contact: email@example.com
Institutions that don’t lead their consortiums still have a responsibility to raise matching dollars. Fundraising leads can connect with the Terry Fox Foundation and their institutional leader to help co-ordinate fundraising efforts.