At the beginning of this year, Quebec’s life sciences sector made headlines with its commitment to create a cross-sector partnership devoted to personalizing cancer treatment.
The Personalized Medicine Partnership for Cancer (PMPC) was established to develop and implement clinical biomarkers and other personalized healthcare solutions in Quebec’s healthcare system.
The not-for-profit partnership is also aiming to position Quebec as a global leader in the field of personalized medicine. Officially announced in February, the PMPC emerged from a call for proposals under a Government of Quebec initiative called the Strategie quebecoise de la recherché et de l’innovation (SQRI). The initiative’s aim was to advance knowledge and speed up the process of getting personalized medicine solutions deployed in the province’s healthcare system.
Led by Caprion Proteomics, a Montreal-based company developing proteomic biomarkers, discussions started about the possibility of creating a major partnership for cancer research.
“One of the main objectives of the PMPC is to establish a network and an infrastructure that will bring together the forces at play in the personalized medicine field in Quebec,” says Martin LeBlanc, president and CEO of Caprion. “Achieving this will allow us to position this network and Quebec as a credible integrated solution for discovering, validating and deploying biomarkers in the healthcare setting.”
The PMPC, in collaboration with the Ministere de la sante et des services sociaux (MSSS), was also created to strengthen the relationship between the private and public research sectors. Caprion and a number of other major industry partners joined forces with the Quebec–Clinical Research Organization in Cancer (Q-CROC), which as a hospital and university network would provide the private partners with access to public research.
Under the leadership of Caprion, the PMPC forged partnerships with industry partners Oncozyme Pharma Inc., Pfizer Canada Inc., Sanofi Canada Inc., Amgen and TELUS Health.
At its inception, the PMPC received $21.1 million in total funding, with $10 million from the Quebec government and $11.1 million from private partners, to carry out a four-year project devoted to bringing personalized medicine solutions from concept to concrete.
A new healthcare model
With personalized medicine, it’s possible to map out a patient’s disease path and select the most effective treatment option. By using the information obtained from a patient’s blood, tumour or other specimens, one can tailor medical decisions and treatments specifically to each patient.
This holds great promise for developing more effective drugs and biomarkers, especially in the realm of cancer. The underlying molecular mechanisms in cancer are influenced by genetic, epigenomic and environmental factors. A better understanding of these factors will help researchers develop more effective biomarkers and drugs that are, as the organization describes, ‘the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time.’ This type of treatment will also save the healthcare industry millions of dollars in diagnostic tests.
The projects supported by the PMPC will use genomic, proteomic, bioinformatics and information technology platforms to develop and install these biomarkers and targeted therapies in Quebec. The main targets are biomarkers and therapies for lung, colon and breast cancers.
Currently, the PMPC has eight or nine projects on the go. Some of those projects involve developing entirely new biomarkers. Others involve taking initial biomarkers and developing them further, or validating and commercializing biomarkers already at an advanced stage. The rest involve taking existing drugs that have a companion diagnostic or are approved in the U.S. but not yet fully in Canada, and deploying them and conducting real-world health economic assessments of these biomarker-enabled drugs in the Quebec healthcare system.
One of the major projects is being led and performed by Caprion and involves biomarkers for the detection of lung cancer nodules that were developed in collaboration with a Seattle-based company called Indi Dx(formerly Integrated Diagnostics). Indi is planning to initiate commercialization of the diagnostic test in the U.S. later this year, while Caprion will be Indi’s partner for development and commercial deployment of the test in Quebec and Canada.
Private-public sector working together
In carrying out these projects, the PMPC brings together a broad network of public and private partners from various fields including molecular biology, genomics, proteomics, medical imaging, clinical management, pharmacoeconomics, ethics, bioinformatics and information technology. This model has succeeded in attracting funding from both private sector and the government.
“We are the living proof that it is possible to attract significant amount of private sector funding, and that industry and academia can work very together in a synergistic manner,” says LeBlanc. “The consensus was that together, we combine all of the necessary technology, research and clinical components of an integrated personalized medicine solution that no single partner can offer on its own.”
Not only has getting academia, biotechs and pharma to work together resulted in critical funding; it has helped the PMPC tap into a greater integrated network.
“By combining over 10 leading university research hospitals into a single clinical network, we are able to tap into a population of over five or six million people,” says LeBlanc. “That allows you to be as credible or powerful as some of the biggest university hospitals or research centres in the United States. If we can harmonize our procedures, and make it such that all these hospitals are working in an integrated manner to conduct personalized medicine clinical studies, we can more rapidly and effectively conduct a biomarker-enabled trial on a subset of the overall patient population than can be achieved anywhere else.”
New role of pharma in Québec
With its public-private partnership model, and access to many of Quebec’s academic and healthcare institutions, the PMPC hopes to demonstrate to pharma that Quebec is an attractive choice for clinical biomarker research, says LeBlanc: “We can offer to pharma, a credible platform and environment for them to conduct externalized biomarker research, because we’ve figured out how to get academic and clinical researchers to work together with private sector biotechs and contract research organizations in a manner that successfully delivers on the expectations and standards of pharmaceutical industry partners with regard to project management processes, delivery of quality results within predicted timelines and budgets.”
Another goal of the PMPC is that by developing an integrated clinical and biomarker platform for personalized medicine, Quebec will make itself more attractive to global pharma companies looking for sites to conduct their clinical trials.
“The vision here is that we’ve got the key opinion leaders and clinicians representing all major cancers across more than 10 major hospitals in Quebec,” says LeBlanc. “They’ve all pledged to work together to recruit patients, to deploy personalized medicine solutions in clinical trials, to monitor patient outcomes and share data under one common umbrella, in a way that should allow pharmaceutical companies who are developing companion diagnostics and biomarker-enabled drug programs to conduct their trials in a more rapid and coordinated manner in Quebec.”
Positioning Québec as a world leader
In terms of Quebec becoming a leader in personalized medicine, LeBlanc is optimistic: “This is a new emerging field where we still have an opportunity to be world leaders. It’s not like this game has been won by any particular jurisdiction, so Canada and Quebec can still be leaders.”
Critically, for Quebec to be a global leader, it first has to position its healthcare system in the province to be able to receive and implement these personalized medicine solutions. Over these next four years, LeBlanc hopes that the PMPC will be able to complete the projects currently on the docket, and help prepare the province’s healthcare system for broader-scale innovation and deployment of personalized medicine.
“I definitely believe that we will execute on our mission successfully complete the projects of the PMPC with the funding that we’ve already secured.” says LeBlanc. “But we would like to go further, and see the role of the PMPC be expanded to perform many other projects with pharma. We’d like to see other pharma partners join the PMPC, and to have the government further support it for a few more years in order to broaden the network, bring in more hospitals and broaden the number of drugs we’re working on.”