Trudeau Liberals pledge $150M toward big-data cancer research initiative

OTTAWA — Months after first promising money to a cancer research network bearing Terry Fox’s name, the federal health minister touted the spending at an event Thursday.

The infusion $150 million in federal funding over five years will help build a network of top-tier cancer researchers whose aim will be to advance the science of individually customized cancer treatments, known as precision cancer medicine.

This emerging treatment uses big data, new technologies like genomics, and artificial intelligence to design individual treatments for patients based on the biological and genetic makeup of their cancer.

The federal funding to the Terry Fox Research Institute, first unveiled in this year’s federal budget, will be matched by the network’s partners to develop the $300-million cancer research initiative called the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centre Network.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor highlighted the five-year federal spending at an event in Moncton on Thursday.

In a statement, she said the government is “committed to supporting innovative and collaborative cancer research to improve health outcomes for Canadians who are living with, or may one day be affected by, cancer.”

She called the initiative and its partners “a source of hope to cancer patients and their families and friends.”

A consortium of five regional cancer care and research centres from Atlantic Canada to British Columbia are expected to participate in the initiative.

Although it is designed to help individualize treatment, precision medicine requires vast amounts of data — specifically the genetic information of hundreds of thousands of people — to provide researchers with the tools and knowledge to determine which treatment will deliver the best outcomes.

Researchers expect to build a high-quality, shareable dataset of 15,000 cancer cases by 2023 as part of their work.

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