MONTREAL — A move toward personalized, genetics-based treatment of cancer and other diseases took a major step forward with the launch last week of the $9-million Dubrovsky Molecular Pathology Centre (MPC) at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), key players said.
The centre represents the cutting-edge future of medicine and, unique to Quebec, is integrating pathology, oncology, research and education within one entity as its “pillars,” its director Dr. Alan Spatz told The CJN.
“That is the key,” Spatz repeated to invitees attending the centre’s official opening Nov. 26 on the sixth floor of the hospital’s Pavilion E.
“It is a vital pillar in our fight to conquer cancer. There’s a revolution taking place and we are part of it.”
Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, JGH’s executive director, said the centre “represents the promise of better treatment, a promise that’s being fulfilled.”
Molecular pathology, according to the hospital, is “reinventing” cancer treatment by examining tumours at the molecular level and customizing treatment to individuals by identifying their specific “biomarkers,” or genetic signatures.
So instead of “broad” treatments such as chemotherapy, therapy can be targeted to the specific tumour’s molecular identity – its DNA – as opposed to its location in the body, and be vastly more effective.
Some of the greatest advances over the last decade, those attending the launch were told, have been made in cancers often considered an automatic death sentence including lung cancer or advanced melanoma skin cancer.
Spatz, who is the hospital’s chief of pathology, said the new centre will also be used to treat other conditions, such as heart and neurologic disease.
“The patients don’t have to come here – the tumours do,” Dr. Gerald Batist, director of the hospital’s Segal Cancer Centre, told The CJN. Research at the Segal cancer and molecular pathology centres will be fully integrated, involving multi-disciplinary collaboration between researchers, pathologists and clinicians.
The MPC, which is already operational, occupies 12,000-square feet of space previously set aside for “strategic” projects. Funding is coming entirely from private sources through the JGH Foundation, chiefly the Dubrovsky family, the Adelis Foundation and Banque Nationale (last week, the bank publicly announced that its share was $2 million). TD Banking Group was also a donor.
Banque Nationale’s Diane Giard said its contribution was meant to “strengthen its long-standing commitment to the Jewish General Hospital.”
A media backgrounder issued by the hospital said the pathology centre will have multiple “partnership” roles to play in the Quebec health-care network and internationally, including with pharmaceutical companies, to bolster jobs in both that industry and the academic sector. The Segal Cancer Centre has previously established such partnerships, and the MPC will “significantly increase their number and scope,” the backgrounder said.
In addition, the centre will be a part of the McGill University Integrated Cancer Research Training Program, which trains close to 120 students each year. The pathology centre will have 20 employees and 20 students its first two years, which will expand to 30 of each in its third.
Already, Spatz said, the molecular centre is drawing extraordinary interest from medical clinicians, students and researchers from outside Quebec. And that’s the whole point.
“This centre will show the world the connection between the hospital and Quebec society, and will be a magnet to others,” he said.
According to Roderick McInnes, director of the hospital’s Lady Davis research institute, Batist and Spatz were the first to see the need for a molecular centre at the hospital.
Michel Slakmon, a cancer patient treated at JGH who spoke at the launch, agreed. “My experience here has been nothing short of exceptional,” he said.