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Strands of Hope for Breast Cancer Patients

International Clinical Trial with Sudbury roots shows promise for improving care

Strands of Hope for Breast Cancer Patients

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

RNA Diagnostics, a Sudbury-based cancer diagnostics company housed at the Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI), with ties to Laurentian University and NOSM University, has wrapped up Phase I of an international breast cancer clinical trial with promising results.


BREVITY, or Breast Cancer Response Evaluation for Individualized TherapY, is 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.


RNA, which stands for 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 tumour cells is being destroyed in response to chemotherapy treatment.


Using RDATM, 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. 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.


BREVITY is an international trial conducted in 55 cancer centers 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.


The study now moves to Phase II, seeking to both validate the results of Phase I and to demonstrate that high levels of tumour RNA breakdown during treatment predict improved patient survival after treatment. Dr. Amadeo Parissenti is Chief Scientific Officer for RNA Diagnostics, a senior scientist with HSNRI, where the RNA Diagnostics lab is based, and a full professor at both Laurentian University and NOSM University.


“If RDATM is used widely to track the effectiveness of cancer treatment, there could be significant benefits for cancer patients worldwide,” said Dr. Parissenti.


He adds that, “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. Chemotherapy has toxic side effects on the body, and switching patients with unresponsive tumours to alternative treatments earlier could reduce toxicity and potentially improve patient survival.”


Medical Oncologist Dr. Lacey Pitre of HSN and HSNRI, who served as local principal investigator for the BREVITY trial in Sudbury, shared that, “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.” Dr. Pitre is also a co-author of the published trial results.


The initial discovery concerning RNA disruption was made by Dr. Parissenti and Dr. Guo back in 2007 and subsequently patented by Laurentian University. The rights to the patent were licensed to Rna Diagnostics in 2010 and BREVITY launched in 2018. Throughout the years, this research has been supported by numerous grants, investors, and donors, including the Northern Cancer Foundation, which has contributed over half a million dollars with funds raised in the community.


“Supporting the development of world-class clinical trials and making them accessible to patients at the Health Sciences North, is one of the pillars of the Northern Cancer Foundation. Our community plays a key role in supporting the innovation happening at our facilities that impacts patients across Northeastern Ontario.” said Anthony Keating, President of the Foundations at Health Sciences North.


“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 David McNeil, President and CEO of HSN and HSNRI.


Tammy Eger, Vice President of Research for Laurentian University, commented that “Laurentian is thrilled to see the outcome of this study.  The research team and their partners at RNA Diagnostics are one step closer to getting an important technology into the hands of oncologists to improve outcomes for cancer patients globally.  The scale of the research and its potential impact should make everyone involved very proud of the innovation taking place here in Sudbury.”