Public-scientist partnership taking precise aim at cancer in Atlantic Canada

May 9th, 2024

Aaron Curtis and Dr. Sevtap Savas

Our team in the Faculty of Medicine is supporting cancer research and public engagement with our new public-scientist partnership.

Three people stand close together on a mezzanine with glass behind them.
From left are patient partner Jennifer Coish, project co-ordinator Aaron Curtis and project lead Dr. Sevtap Savas.

Our partnership, the Patient Advisory Committee of the Atlantic Cancer Consortium, was created in January 2024. Our committee has 15 members, including 12 public members.

We take pride in our committee’s diversity.

It currently represents all four Atlantic Canadian provinces, the main age groups, people with several types of cancer and various under-served communities including Indigenous and LGBTQ communities, people living in rural areas and individuals with disabilities.

Through its activities, our committee not only identifies new opportunities to work together but also bridges new collaborations, strengthens regional advocacy, creates momentum toward positive change and connects researchers with the broader community in the region.

Our committee focuses on precision medicine.

What is precision medicine?

Diseases that may seem the same or similar between people may follow different paths.

This may be because of the currently unknown differences between individuals or differences in the details of their diseases.

Research can identify these differences, which can change disease management (such as treatment). The use of this specialized information is known as precision medicine.

As researchers find out more and more about the genetics of cancer and people with cancer, and as medical technology advances to take advantage of the information gained, it is hoped that outcomes for cancer patients will be improved.

Tremendous interest has inspired research on precision medicine in cancer globally and nationally.

Canadian precision medicine initiatives

One of the significant Canada-wide precision medicine projects is led by the Terry Fox Research Institute. This project, called the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, aims to bring together cancer researchers, physicians and trainees across Canada to progress precision medicine in cancer.

The Atlantic Cancer Consortium is a part of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centers Network. Started a few years ago and currently including around 60 researchers, physicians and trainees from Atlantic Canada, the consortium has built biobanks and research teams across the region.

It is also recruiting participants affected by various cancers, establishing and using sophisticated research and data collection methods, creating new knowledge on cancer and building cancer research capacity in the region.

“There seem to be provincial differences in terms of coverage for precision medicine drugs in cancer.”

How does our committee contribute to precision medicine in Atlantic Canada?

Patient and public partners have an important role in this consortium.

The Patient Advisory Committee was created to advise researchers in cancer-related research and public engagement activities.

The committee has met every month since its inception. Our work includes identifying the priorities of cancer-affected individuals, families and communities in the region.

For example, there seem to be provincial differences in terms of coverage for precision medicine drugs in cancer.

This creates an equity and accessibility issue.

“We are confident our activities will inspire further public partnerships in Atlantic Canada.”

Hence, addressing issues like these and improving the overall health-care system is one of the priorities we identified.

More examples include access to information and access to clinical trials.

In addition, the committee is organizing a public conference on cancer for Atlantic Canada residents. Our work will also be presented in academic conferences, starting in May. You can find a summary of our activities here.

Proud of our work

Together, members of the committee exchange knowledge, experience and perspectives and find ways to support others who are affected by cancer and living in Atlantic Canada.

The Patient Advisory Committee is an amazing example of a public-scientist partnership.

We are confident our activities will inspire further public partnerships in Atlantic Canada.

We sincerely thank this great group of Atlantic Canadians for their enthusiasm, insight and interest in helping future cancer patients.

We gratefully acknowledge the funders and the provincial leads. This project is funded as part of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, led by the Terry Fox Research Institute and the Terry Fox Foundation, and made possible with support from the Government of Canada and more than 30 member institutions across the country. Specific funders can be found here under the Atlantic Cancer Consortium.