Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network and Canadian Cancer Trials Group partner on three pan-Canadian projects aimed at making immunotherapy more effective for cancer patients

Digital illustration of cancer cells

A new partnership between the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (MOHCCN) and the Canadian Clinical Trials Group (CCTG) will support three pan-Canadian research teams aiming to better understand how immunotherapies can best be used to increase survival, reduce toxicities and improve quality of life for cancer patients in Canada.

“We are very happy about this collaboration with CCTG, and the potential impact of the projects announced today,” says Dr. André Veillette, executive director of the MOHCCN. “We all know that immunotherapy is an exciting type of cancer treatment, but we often don’t know why some patients respond to it and other don’t. By partnering with CCTG on these projects, we can not only ensure that we collect the data needed to start answering this and other important questions, but also have ways to turn that knowledge around quickly for the benefit of cancer patients.”

“This is an exciting partnership that will open doors to new discoveries and increase access for our trial patients to high-quality genomic and transcriptomic sequencing of their tumours,” says Dr. Janet Dancey, CCTG Director. “The knowledge created through these three initiatives may help us understand who benefits from therapy and allow us to more accurately connect patients to clinical trials that are testing potentially life-prolonging immunotherapies tailored to the individual’s type of cancer.”

The teams will receive funding through the MOHCCN’s Pan-Canadian Projects program, which unites researchers and clinicians from multiple provinces to work on projects that accelerate precision medicine for cancer in Canada. Each project lasts three years. In their first year, the groups will receive a total of $684k from the Network, with additional funds from partner institutions adding up to a total investment of $1,698,000, of which the CCTG will be providing $282k. Further funding will be determined based on the number of cases that each group is able to contribute to the MOHCCN Gold Cohort.

The first project, led by Dr. Philippe Bedard (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network), brings together clinician-scientists from Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia to identify biomarkers that can predict which patients are most likely to benefit from specific immunotherapy treatments. The partnership with the CCTG will allow the researchers to enroll patients who are currently participating in clinical trials and will facilitate better matching of patients to specific clinical trials testing treatments from which they are more likely to benefit. Learn more.

The second project has aims complementary to the first project and will also include patients who receive immunotherapy. Led by Dr. Anna Spreafico (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network), the study will focus on patients whose tumours either did not respond to immunotherapy at all or did not have a durable response. The team, which also includes Dr. Dancey and Dr. Janessa Laskin (BC Cancer), aims to help identify patients who are likely to develop resistance to this treatment and could help spur the development of novel therapies and approaches that can avoid or overcome this resistance. Learn more. 

The third project grows from a phase III clinical trial that is testing the optimal duration of immunotherapy treatments for metastatic melanoma patients. The team is led by Drs. Ian Watson (McGill University’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre), Janet Dancey (CCTG), Tara Baetz (Kingston Health Sciences Centre) and Xinni Song (Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre) and includes additional investigators from institutions across Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. The project is uniting multidisciplinary experts to identify biomarkers that can predict how melanoma patients will respond to immunotherapy and whether their treatment duration can be safely shortened to reduce toxicity and improve quality of life without impacting survival. Learn more.

Today’s announcement raises the number of announced projects funded through the MOHCCN’s Pan-Canadian Project program to 15. In total, the Network will fund 20 such groups, representing a multi-million-dollar investment over the next three years that will contribute roughly 6,000 cases to the MOHCCN Gold Cohort, the largest and most complete cancer case resource in Canada. Remaining projects will be announced over the next few months as Network agreements are signed.

"Immunotherapy is an exciting type of cancer treatment, but we often don’t know why some patients respond to it and other don’t. By partnering with CCTG, we can collect the data needed to start answering this and other important questions."