Cancer patients have an estimated two-fold increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and a three-fold risk of dying compared to the general population. Since early March, COVID-19 has delayed or postponed at least 100,000 surgeries in Canada including cancer tissue biopsies.

A comprehensive approach is required to address the needs of this high-risk group to limit their exposure and minimize hospital visits.

A consortium led by Vancouver’s Canexia Health (formerly Contextual Genomics) will soon offer critical testing and treatment options for Canadian cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supported by the Digital Technology Supercluster, the $2.6 million initiative named Project ACTT – Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment will deploy and enhance a liquid biopsy solution that requires only a simple blood draw for cancer treatment selection, thereby eliminating the need for many patients to travel to hospital for surgical biopsies.

The consortium’s goal is to limit patient exposure to COVID-19 while increasing health system capacity initially for patients with recurrent or metastatic lung, breast, or colon cancer.

The digital liquid biopsy solution uses advanced software technology including machine learning to identify circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) in plasma and matches patients with targeted treatments shown to improve outcomes.

In addition to Canexia Health, the consortium includes AstraZeneca Canada, Queen’s University, the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, Genolife, emtelligent, Novateur, Semaphore Solutions, Xtract AI, and Illumina.

“The precision oncology solution offered and further developed with our project partners will both increase patient safety and remove geographic barriers that can impede cancer care,” said Michael Ball, CEO of Canexia Health. “We are fortunate to have access to this cross-disciplinary group of project partners who, together, will bring these goals to fruition with the support of the Digital Technology Supercluster.”

Canexia Health and AstraZeneca Canada will support testing and oncologist education, while Queen’s University, EORLA, Genolife, and LifeLabs will extend patient access initially in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan – with the longer-term objective of increasing access across Canada.