Ontario to announce $115-million in health-care research projects

TheGlobeandMail.com -Ontario – Personalized medicine – targeted treatments that halt the growth of cancer and other diseases – gets bulk of the funding
Published on Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010.   Lisa Priest

Personalized medicine – targeted treatments that halt the growth of cancer and other diseases – will get an $86-million infusion from Ontario on Thursday, part of a massive $115-million package being rolled out across the province.

The funding, a government source said, will pay for 14 new research projects that help reduce the impact on the environment and contribute to new diagnostic therapies that, among other things, decrease the health-care burden of an aging population.

In making the announcement, Minister of Research and Innovation John Milloy will address two main planks in the provincial budget: the need to curb health-care costs and the desire to drive innovation through scientific discovery that goes from bench to bedside.

“Ontario is committed to research and innovation,” said the government source who knew details of the announcement. “Supporting not just the research itself but commercialization.”

A decade ago, personalized medicine was considered a scientific frill, a costly curiosity. Governments are now recognizing it makes for good business: By using genetic and molecular data to drive research, it will translate into more effective, less toxic treatments for patients and potentially lead to the creation of tests that can be commercialized.

A molecular test called Oncotype DX, for instance, can tell breast-cancer patients whether they can safely skip chemotherapy – and save the health-care system an estimated $10,000 per patient in unnecessary treatment. Only Ontario funds the personalized medicine test, available through a California company where it retails for $3,975 (U.S.) a patient.

In another example, Herceptin is a targeted therapy that specifically zeroes in on the receptor of HER-2, present in 20 to 25 per cent of breast cancer patients. Unlike chemotherapy, which destroys rapidly growing cells, including healthy ones, Herceptin stops or slows the growth of HER-2 cells.

The research will put scientists in the same room as business leaders and health economists – people who have not worked together before. The goal would be new tests or targeted treatments that are not only good for patients and could save the health-care system money, but possibly lead to new commercial ventures.

Cancer is a particularly hot area: The International Cancer Genome Consortium, of which the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is a founding member and houses the data centre, is working to catalogue the genetic changes of the 50 most common cancers – 500 genomes from each cancer type – making it the most ambitious biomedical research effort since the Human Genome Project.

The government source would not detail the specifics of research projects being announced Thursday at the University of Toronto’s Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories as part of Ontario’s Innovation Agenda, except to say several more funding announcements will roll out over the next few weeks for a total of $114.6-million.

Last week, as part of the same innovation package, McMaster University in Hamilton received $11.5-million for Mick Bhatia and his team of researchers, who are developing stem-cell-based therapies that one day could be used as a “tool kit” to repair damage caused by cancer and other serious diseases.

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