Atlantic Cancer Research Institute

Challenge: Standing apart from the competition in an emerging medical field
Solution: Developing a transformative process unique in the marketplace

Atlantic Cancer Research Institute

Innovation is central to New Brunswick’s only hospital-based biomedical research centre. Recently, the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute (ACRI), a private, not-for-profit research organization located in the Dr. Georges L. Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, shared its innovative thinking with the world. It introduced its liquid biopsy technology.

The technologies and tests developed at ACRI enable DNA, RNA, proteins, and other biomarkers to be analyzed in patient plasma, urine, and saliva. "By looking in these minimally invasive samples you can see if there are diseased cells somewhere in the patient," explains Dr. Rodney Ouellette, the Institute’s president and scientific director.

Ideally suited for the diagnosis and monitoring of cancer, Dr. Ouellette reveals that the technology can be used for many other types of disease, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and ALS. Liquid biopsy may also show if a treatment is working since the test can measure decreases or increases in disease markers that show a response to treatment - or relapse.

"This approach has the potential to transform how we monitor patients in real time, which in turn can influence treatment decisions," says Dr. Ouellette. He notes that the end user is often the clinician, the doctor, or health professional who is ordering the test. "In the near future, we will look to liquid biopsy like we do with a CT scan today; only liquid biopsy will provide much more information and help guide our next steps in patient care."

ACRI’s patented technology is not the only test being developed in this market, but it is unique. "Our process gives greater sensitivity compared to other methods," says Dr. Ouellette. "When you’re looking for very rare events in diagnosis and treatment response, this added sensitivity is critical."

The market for the technology, which falls under the umbrella of precision medicine, includes hospitals, medical clinics, and companies that run clinical trials to test new drugs. ACRI began developing its technology nine years ago, and according to Dr. Ouellette, being patient has paid off. "In other sectors there may be opportunities for quick wins, but transformational discoveries in health and medicine take time and involve a higher risk of failure. Only the best solutions make it to the patient."

"ACOA’s investment helped us build the expertise and capabilities that make these discoveries possible," he adds. "Without this support we would not have been able to make these breakthroughs in Atlantic Canada."

Partnerships focused on innovation and developing new technology, such as the one with the Government of Canada, are key to ACRI’s continued success. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government is helping ACRI’s team of over 60 researchers develop their liquid biopsy technology and other ground-breaking research, which has the potential to revolutionize current medical practice. Thanks to an investment of $3 million from ACOA, ACRI is developing a novel approach to detect and monitor cancer, thus reducing the need for invasive biopsy procedures. The same technology could potentially be applied to many other diseases and help reduce the health care burden on society.

ACRI is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.

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In other sectors there may be opportunities for quick wins, but transformational discoveries in health and medicine take time.
Dr. Rodney Ouellette, president and scientific director, Atlantic Cancer Research Institute
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