Genome research at the University of British Columbia receives $101m in funding

Three projects involving the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences awarded $23.7m 

Adapted from UBC Research & Innovation

Ten projects being led and co-led by UBC researchers have been awarded $101m through Genome Canada and Genome BC in collaboration with Canadian Institutes of Health Research, provincial government and project co-funding partners, through the Large Scale Applied Research and the Genomics Technology Platforms competitions.

2017 LARGE SCALE APPLIED RESEARCH PROJECT COMPETITION: GENOMICS AND PRECISION HEALTH

The LSARP program is dedicated to bringing precision health research to the clinic where it will improve outcomes for Canadian patients. Eight of the fifteen funded projects are led by researchers at UBC and its affiliated teaching hospitals, receiving $80.3m. Two of those projects involve members of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Drs. Colin Ross and Larry Lynd.

GENOMIC AND OUTCOMES DATABASE FOR PHARMACOGENOMICS AND IMPLEMENTATION STUDIES (GOPGX)

Project leaders: Bruce C. Carleton and Colin J. Ross (University of British Columbia)
Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia
Total funding: $9.9 million

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are a major problem in modern medicine, leading to withdrawal of treatment, non-compliance with medication, permanent disability and death. This is particularly true for cancer treatment, with its potent medications. The vision of Go-PGx is to save lives and improve the quality of life of children with cancer, by using genomics-based precision health strategies to reduce the most common and serious ADRs in these children.

It is increasingly evident that genetic differences in patients can affect the likelihood of their developing an ADR. Drs. Bruce C. Carleton and Colin J. Ross, both of the University of British Columbia, are working to prevent these ADRs by developing lab tests to predict the likelihood of a childhood cancer patient developing an ADR and tools to incorporate these tests into clinical practice. Through Go-PGx, they will analyze more than 6,125 DNA samples and corresponding medication use and ADR outcome data to discover biomarkers that will reveal genetic susceptibility to ADRs and develop tools to educate and inform physicians and patients, beginning with five of the most severe ADRs in childhood cancer. They will also develop a comprehensive database linking clinical and genetic data as an accessible resource for researchers throughout the world. With the data they generate, they will begin providing testing at 10 pediatric cancer centres across Canada, while studying barriers and facilitators to the uptake of ADR screening in the health-care system, as well as the economic implications of introducing this kind of testing into clinical practice. The team will also develop peer-reviewed clinical practice guidelines before the project’s end and publish them within a year post-project.

GENCOUNSEL: OPTIMIZATION OF GENETIC COUNSELLING FOR CLINICAL IMPLEMENTATION OF GENOMEWIDE SEQUENCING

Project leaders: Alison M. Elliott (BC Provincial Health Services Authority), Bartha Knoppers (McGill University), Larry Lynd (University of British Columbia), Jehannine Austin (University of British Columbia)
Genome Centres: Genome British Columbia (administrative lead), Génome Québec
Total funding: $4.2 million

Genome-wide sequencing (GWS; whole genome or exome sequencing) is a powerful new genetic test that analyzes a person’s entire genetic make-up. While valuable, it can be problematic, by revealing disorders or disease risk factors unrelated to the original reason for testing, or by generating complex findings that are difficult for non-expert health providers to interpret. While not currently routinely available, genome-wide sequencing will soon be in more widespread use for patients who need it – increasing demand for genetic counselling, to which access is already limited in Canada.

Genetic counsellors provide education and emotional and decisional support to patients and families, helping them to make informed decisions about genetic testing and its results. Because of lack of legal recognition of genetic counsellors in Canada, most of them are found in academic centres rather than in the community.

GenCOUNSEL, which brings together experts in genetic counselling, genomics, ethics, health services implementation and health economics research, is the first project to examine the genetic counselling issues associated with clinical implementation of GWS. It will determine the most efficient socioeconomic, clinical, legal and economic methods of providing genetic counselling once GWS is available in the clinic. It will create an understanding of current and future needs for genetic counselling, develop 5 best practices for the delivery of genetic counselling, improve access to the counselling, particularly for underserved patient populations, and study the feasibility of different models of legal recognition of genetic counsellors. The result will be increased access, patient satisfaction and cost-efficiency while helping to make genetic counselling available to all Canadians who need it. 

GENOMICS TECHNOLOGY PLATFORMS 2016 COMPETITION FOR OPERATIONS SUPPORT AND TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT FUNDS

The genomics technology platforms funding funding will enable the platforms to develop new and improved genomics technologies, and provide researchers across Canada and internationally with access to leading-edge genomics tools, technologies and services, which improve the quality of research.

Two of the ten funded projects are led by researchers at UBC and its affiliated teaching hospitals received $20.7m in funding. Dr. Corey Nislow, from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is involved in one of those projects.

BC CANCER AGENCY GENOME SCIENCES CENTRE GENOMICS TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM

Platform leaders: Marco Marra, Steven Jones (BC Cancer Agency and University of British Columbia) Corey Nislow, Martin Hirst (University of British Columbia)
Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia
Total funding: $9.6 million

The sequencing and bioinformatics analysis platforms at Canada’s Michael Smith Genomic Sciences Centre have operated as a Genome Canada platform since 2001. In that time, its technical ability to deliver successful collaborations and service arrangements has led to its involvement in 705 grants and contracts totaling more than $875 million, and supporting the work of more than 1,500 researchers, both nationally and internationally. Among its contributions are reference genomes for bovine, spruce, poplar, Atlantic salmon and Chardonnay grape; human reference epigenomes; and human, mouse and zebrafish cDNA reference transcriptomes. Its whole-genome analysis is being used to inform personalized treatment planning for cancer patients. The platform also provides training to technical and support staff, as well as graduate and postdoctoral research trainees.

With this Genome Canada funding, the platform will expand both its personnel and its service offerings, including both new technology development and assessment and data processing and bioinformatics analysis. It will also develop a bioinformatics virtual machine to provide researchers with the computational tools they need to interact with, visualize and analyze data. This funding will also enable the GSC to grow its capacity for genomics services through the collaborative partnership with University of British Columbia. 

“This funding is fantastic news for the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and for UBC as a whole,” says Dean Michael Coughtrie. “It is testament to the world-leading research being carried out in this Faculty and I warmly congratulate Drs Lynd, Nislow and Ross for their success in these major competitions. We look forward to collaborating with our partners on these extremely important and exciting projects, and to seeing the resulting benefits for patients in BC, Canada and beyond.”

Learn about the other projects funded at UBC

Read the Genome Canada news release