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Sudbury medical scientists create new test for cancer treatment

New test on the early effectiveness of chemotherapy could help doctors determine whether to continue chemo treatments or switch to a different therapy
Members of the RNA Diagnostics team, from left to right, Dr. Baoqing Guo, Tunde Onayemi, Dr. Amadeo Parissenti, Dr. Jennifer Lemon, and Dr. Gabriel Theriault.

A clinical trial into breast cancer research carried out by a Sudbury-based diagnostics company has concluded Phase 1 of its study "with promising results,”  said a news release from the Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI).

The work was carried out by RNA Diagnostics along with work from Laurentian University and NOSM University.

The company said it has wrapped up the first phase of its clinical trial called BREVITY -- Breast Cancer Response Evaluation for Individualized TherapY. 

BREVITY is described as a clinical trial that aims to confirm whether a test called the RNA Disruption Assay (RDATM) can be used to effectively predict the outcome of treatment for patients who are receiving pre-operative chemotherapy, said the release.

RNA - which is RiboNucleic Acid - is a single-stranded cell messenger that originates from double-stranded DNA, and is the focus point of the technology being assessed in this trial. More specifically, the RDATM test looks at whether RNA in cancerous tumour cells gets destroyed in response to chemotherapy treatment, said the release.

By using the RDATM tests, the Sudbury scientists are able to tell when chemotherapy is not effectively treating breast cancer. Biopsies of tumours that are not responding to treatment will show little to no RNA breakdown after several weeks of treatment, said the release. 

"With this knowledge, medical teams can quickly determine whether they need to escalate or change course during cancer treatment, with the aim to ultimately improve patient outcomes," said the release.

BREVITY is an international trial conducted in 55 cancer centres across Canada, the United States, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and Poland. The phase I results are complete and have now been published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, an internationally recognized oncology journal, said the release.

The research study now moves to Phase II, which will seek to both validate the results of Phase I and to demonstrate that high levels of tumour RNA breakdown during treatment can predict improved patient survival after treatment, said the release. 

The research could help patients everywhere, said Dr. Amadeo Parissenti, the chief scientific officer for RNA Diagnostics, and a senior scientist with HSNRI.  

“If RDATM is used widely to track the effectiveness of cancer treatment, there could be significant benefits for cancer patients worldwide,” said Parissenti, who is also a full professor at both Laurentian and NOSM universities.

“RDA could improve patient outcomes by reducing the amount of time someone undergoes chemotherapy if the test indicates that the tumour is not responding to treatment," he said.

Parissenti explained that chemotherapy has toxic side effects on the body. He said switching patients with unresponsive tumours to alternative treatments earlier in the process could reduce toxicity and potentially improve patient survival.

Medical Oncologist Dr. Lacey Pitre of HSN and HSNRI served as local principal investigator for the BREVITY trial in Sudbury. She commented on the importance of the study. 

“Oncologists and cancer researchers at HSN are deeply committed to improving care and reducing the risk of recurrence in breast cancer patients. In order to achieve this, it is incredibly important that we have open and accessible breast cancer clinical trials like BREVITY for patients in Northeastern Ontario," said Pitre, who is also a co-author of the published trial results.

HSN and HSNRI president and CEO David McNeil said he was pleased with the work of the research team.

“Congratulations to RNA Diagnostics and everyone involved with this important clinical trial that we hope will allow us to better tailor cancer treatment for each patient. This is another example of the incredible innovative research that’s happening in Northern Ontario to help improve care for patients,” said McNeil.


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