7 ways Canadians will benefit from the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network

Professor showing students scientific diagram on classroom projector

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (MOHCCN) is a bold vision led by the Terry Fox Research Institute and the Terry Fox Foundation, with support from the Government of Canada and research and fundraising partners across the country. Inspired by Terry Fox, its goal is to unite leading cancer experts across the country to accelerate precision medicine for cancer and improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients. 

Since its inception in 2019, the Network has brought together cancer researchers, clinicians, patients, and other partners from across Canada to work towards this common goal. It has also created new policies and technological infrastructure to facilitate and implement the work being done. Here are seven ways Canadians are already benefiting from the growing Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network.  

1. Improved outcomes and quality of life for Canadians facing cancer 

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network aims to accelerate the development and implementation of new treatments that are tailored to the features of individual patients' cancers – an approach called precision medicine for cancer, or precision oncology. By providing cancer patients with the right treatment at the right time, this new framework will help patients live longer and healthier, reducing unwanted side-effects related to treatment. 

Although precision oncology is still in its early days, some exciting developments have been made, including by MOHCCN members. For example, we now know that some gene mutations make individuals more likely to develop cancer and that people with these mutations can benefit from increased screening to catch cancers early, when they are usually more treatable. 

Research into precision oncology approaches has also led to the discovery of new or repurposed treatments and is helping to pinpoint the population in which specific treatments are most likely to be effective. These types of insights can help patients avoid treatments that are unlikely to improve their condition or that may have intolerable side effects or toxicity. While these and other examples have already brought benefits to some patients, unfortunately precision medicine is not currently available to all patients. The MOHCCN is uniting cancer researchers, clinicians, and patients across the country under a vision of making precision oncology a reality for all Canadians. 

2. Generating a made-in-Canada solution for our population 

Canada’s diverse demographic gives us access to a unique wealth of information that could help us create datasets with the potential to yield improvements for all Canadians living with cancer. These datasets could also help unlock cancer solutions for people all over the world, providing us with a great opportunity to export solutions to other countries. 

One of the MOHCCN’s goals is to assemble the largest and most complete cancer case resource in Canada – the MOHCCN Gold Cohort – that will present unparalleled opportunities for precision oncology research. To truly learn from Canada’s diverse population and enable solutions that are inclusive, representative, and fair for all Canadians, datasets generated through the MOHCCN will reflect this diversity.

To help ensure this, the Network has convened a Canadian Spectrum working group that is tasked with developing inclusion strategies for under-represented populations, including patients with rare cancers, rural and remote populations, Indigenous peoples, immigrant and refugee populations, and low-income patients. Through these efforts, the goal is that research generated through the MOHCCN will help catalyze the creation of preventative, diagnostic, and treatment approaches that will allow Canadians from coast to coast to coast to receive personalized care based on their own unique circumstances. 

3. Uniting Canada’s brightest minds and resources 

By bringing together Canada’s leading cancer experts, state-of-the-the art resources, and technological advances in areas such as artificial intelligence and big data, the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is creating the “Team Canada of Cancer Research” to capitalize on local expertise and build Canadian capacity. 

As of April 2024, the MOHCCN is composed of five regional consortia and 34 member institutions representing all ten Canadian provinces. Twelve working groups composed of experts and stakeholders from across the country are working together to develop policies and guide Network activities, ensuring widespread engagement. Projects funded by the MOHCCN promote collaboration between researchers from different institutions and jurisdictions, helping to build capacity and cooperation across the country. 

4. Training a new generation of Canadian scientists and creating jobs for the future 

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is helping to accelerate innovation in the fields of cancer research, data science, and precision oncology, providing a platform for young professionals to train in these growing sectors. The network will also contribute to the creation of high-quality jobs for these professionals by propelling our understanding of cancer care and providing exciting opportunities for the future of healthcare and data science. 

As of December 2023, the MOHCCN has funded eight early-career clinician scientists carrying out cutting-edge, high-quality research in precision oncology, as well as eight health informatics & data science trainees who will use MOHCCN data to perform research poised to inform on innovative cancer prevention, diagnosis, and/or treatment approaches. In addition to providing financial support to promising young researchers developing their careers, these awards deliver valuable opportunities for close collaboration and mentorship with Network-funded teams, helping to build capacity and cooperation in the Canadian cancer research environment. A new round of awards was announced for both competitions in November 2023, extending these valuable opportunities to even more exceptional young researchers. 

5. Incorporating patient perspectives at all levels of research and care 

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is incorporating patients and caregivers as integral members of the “Team Canada of Cancer Research”. Their voices are centred within the Network, ensuring that research into and implementation of precision oncology approaches are guided by patient priorities. 

The MOHCCN has assembled a patient working group currently composed of 29 enthusiastic and dedicated patient advocates. In November 2023, members of the working group met in person and virtually for the group's first-ever working and learning exchange event. Through conversations with Network clinicians and researchers, and with several members sharing their own stories and experiences, the group set key priorities for the further integration of patients, caregivers, and survivors in Network activities. 

6. Streamlining of costs for cancer research, detection, and treatment 

Today, 80 per cent of cancer care dollars are spent in the last year of life. This model is unsustainable and often does not lead to the best results for cancer patients. The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network will help accelerate the pace of innovation, allowing new treatments to translate more quickly from the lab to the clinic and helping to reduce costs for the healthcare system while improving outcomes for cancer patients. 

Since precision oncology research is moving at such a rapid pace and the gap between research and clinical care is shrinking, one challenge encountered by the healthcare system is its ability to properly evaluate new technologies and approaches and make evidence-based decisions about whether they should be adopted more widely in clinical care. The MOHCCN’s health technology assessment (HTA) working group is bringing together multidisciplinary experts, such as health economists and health services researchers, to develop strategies for rapid and effective evaluation of new technologies and methods in precision oncology. By considering the economic, social, and ethical impact of new advances, research done by this group in collaboration with other working groups and with the wider Network will help guide the adoption of new methods that are most likely to benefit Canadians while also reducing costs to the healthcare system. 

7. Positioning Canada as a global leader in precision medicine 

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network will leverage Canada’s public healthcare system and diverse population to position us as global leaders in precision medicine. This will allow us to attract top talent from around the world, export medical solutions to other countries, and provide the best care possible to our citizens. 

Establishing the roadmap to cure cancer 

Forty years ago, Terry Fox set out on his Marathon of Hope with the goal of raising money and awareness so that one day, we could find cures for all cancers. 

While there is still a long way to go to reach that goal, we are convinced that precision medicine is a key part of the roadmap to cure cancer. This roadmap is based on the understanding that each cancer, and each patient, is unique. By using “big data” comprised of genetic and clinical data from thousands of patients, we will be able to better understand the biological characteristics of each patient’s cancer and find the best treatments for them. This new framework of precision oncology lies at the heart of our plan to provide new hope to patients across Canada. By working together towards this goal, our network will help make significant progress towards Terry’s dream to end cancer.

Accelerating precision oncology lies at the heart of our plan to provide new hope to patients across Canada. By working together towards this goal, our network will help make significant progress towards Terry’s dream to end cancer.