Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network tackles rare cancers in its Roadmap to Cure Cancer

Two multi-disciplinary research teams will come together for the first time to tackle two forms of rare cancer thanks to new funding from the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network.

Vancouver, BC, Canada – April 17, 2024 –Darrin Park, 56, knows how lucky he is to be alive. In 2011, he became the third person in Alberta to be diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma that had spread to his brain and was told that he only had a few months to live.  

Over a decade later, the retired teacher from Edmonton continues to thrive despite still having two tumours in his brain and is giving back to cancer research by supporting pan-Canadian scientists who are working to tackle rare cancers for the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (the Network), named after Terry Fox’s 1980 run for cancer research.  

“As a patient who was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer and who is alive thanks to the impact of cancer research, I know first-hand that uniting cancer experts from across the country is extremely important to accelerate research for rare cancers,” he says.

By definition, a cancer is deemed rare when it affects a small portion of the population (less than 6 in 100,000 people). But when taken as a whole, these cancers are not rare at all: they make up 20 per cent of all cancer diagnoses and a quarter of all cancer related deaths in Canada every year. Despite their collective prevalence and mortality, very little is understood about individual rare cancers.

That is why Darrin Park is pleased that the Network is supporting two multi-disciplinary teams of pan-Canadian experts who will each tackle a different form of rare cancer. Funded through the Network’s pan-Canadian Project Program, the teams will collect specimens and share clinical and genomic data from patients treated across the country in search for better ways to personalize treatments for patients with metaplastic breast cancer and rare gynecological cancers.

Dr. André Veillette, Executive Director, Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, noted: “In funding these teams, the Network is building and strengthening collaborations among our research and clinical experts. In both cases, no single cancer centre has enough data and patients to have a big impact on research and care, but by generating and sharing high-quality clinical and genomic data collected at centres across the country, these teams will be able to make discoveries that will impact the lives of cancer patients now and into the future.”

Dr. Morag Park, Director of the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute in Montreal, will lead a multi-disciplinary team of experts in Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario focused on rare metaplastic breast cancers. She said: “Rare cancers like metaplastic breast cancers disproportionally contribute to death from cancer because they are so poorly understood. That is why we are joining forces with researchers and clinicians from across Canada to work together to understand these aggressive cancers so we can improve outcomes for patients diagnosed with them. In the process, we will also create one of the largest cancer case resources for metaplastic breast cancer in the world, which will not only help fuel discoveries for the benefit of cancer patients, but will also help position Canada as a hub for research in this area.”

Dr. Mark Carey, a BC Cancer gynecological oncologist, will lead the pan-Canadian team of researchers focused on rare gynecological cancers.  He said: “Often, only a few people with one of these rare gynecologic cancer types will be seen annually at a single Canadian cancer institution, making it very challenging for any one centre to gain medical expertise in this area and to collect enough clinical data and biological samples for further investigation. The national collaboration we are creating through this project will be critical to make discoveries that improve outcomes for patients with these rare cancers.”

Pan-Canadian collaborations such as these are helping to establish an unprecedented level of connectivity within the Canadian cancer research community and are the foundation of the Network’s approach to accelerating precision medicine for cancer in Canada, known as the Roadmap to Cure CancerTM. Ultimately, this translates to more and better data being available for researchers to detect, diagnose and treat cancers, including rare cancers, with precision medicine. The goal is to provide the right treatment at the right time to a patient and their particular cancer, no matter where they live and how rare their cancer is.

For Darrin Park, who now helps guide Network research policy and priorities along with 30 patients and survivors from across Canada who are part of the Patient Working Group, this investment highlights the transformative potential of the Network. “Investment in pan-Canadian research teams tackling rare cancers is key to ensuring that more patients with rare cancers such as myself can survive their diagnosis,” he says.

About The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network: The Network is a bold collaboration inspired by Terry Fox that aims to improve outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients across Canada through the acceleration of precision medicine for cancer. Led by the Terry Fox Research Institute and the Terry Fox Foundation and made possible with support from the Government of Canada, the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is beginning to transform cancer research and treatment by uniting Canadians under a single vision, “The Roadmap to Cure Cancer.” Today, the Network includes over 600 researchers, clinicians and patients and 34 institutional members, including academic and health care institutions from all 10 Canadian provinces.


About The Terry Fox Research Institute: Established in 2007, TFRI invests in world-class, collaborative cancer research teams and partnerships. Together with its research and funding partners, TFRI is working to inspire the transformation of cancer research in Canada by bringing together leading cancer research and treatment organizations from coast to coast and empowering them under the framework of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network. Inspired by Terry Fox, we invest in highly collaborative, world-class scientific teams to drive research discoveries that improve and save the lives of cancer patients.

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“Investment in pan-Canadian research teams tackling rare cancers is key to ensuring that more patients with rare cancers such as myself can survive their diagnosis.”