CTO co-hosts session on rare disease and genomics at BIO 2019

Rafi Hofstein, Susan Marlin, Bettina Hamelin, and the Honourable Todd Smith

FROM LEFT: Rafi Hofstein, President and CEO of MaRS Innovation in Toronto and the Chair of the Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO) Board of Directors; Susan Marlin, President and CEO of CTO; Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO of Ontario Genomics, and; the Honourable Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade

Bringing new genomic advances to patients who urgently need them was a hot topic at the 2019 BIO International Convention in Philadelphia on June 3. Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO) co-hosted a morning session on Rare Disease and Genomics, in partnership with Ontario Genomics, Montreal InVivo and Génome Québec, and in collaboration with Biogen, Pfizer Canada and Takeda.

More than 170 representatives from academia, the Ontario and Québec governments, multi-national pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, and contract research organizations attended the session, titled “Rare Disease and Genomics in 3D: From Diagnostics to Data to Drug Discovery and Development.”

“Clinical trials give patients hope that they might not otherwise have,” said the Honourable Todd Smith, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade for the Government of Ontario, who shared opening remarks before a lively panel discussion. “Every day, more than 61,000 people in Ontario get up and work on delivering life-saving therapies,” continued Minister Smith. He spoke enthusiastically about Ontario’s open-for-business philosophy, its vibrant life sciences sector, and the valued partnerships that lead to better health and a stronger economy.

Advances in genomics research

Marc LePage, President and CEO of Genome Canada, drew attention to the lightning speed by which genomic advances are occurring. He mentioned that by Christmas 2019, access to genomic testing may be available to approximately 50% of Canadians and to all by summer of 2020.

Dr. Jacques Michaud, director of CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre and Scientific Director of CHU Sainte-Justine and Génome Québec’s Integrated Centre for Pediatric Clinical Genomics, talked about the exciting impact of genomics on the development of individualized therapies. He noted that Genome Quebec helped establish St. Justine as a major sequence centre for all of Québec molecular diagnostic labs (cancer, rare disease, pharmacogenetics; pediatric and adult), which has led to faster results for patients. 

Fellow panelist Dr. Rae Young, professor of pediatrics, immunology and medical science at the University of Toronto and senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, expressed a need to improve delivery of pediatric precision medicine. She commented that we often can’t get precision therapy drugs until children fail other drugs, and that there is a need to reduce the red tape for this.

Joining Dr. Jacques Michaud and Dr. Rae Young on the Rare Disease and Genomics panel were Nicolas Garnier from Pfizer Canada, Madhu Natarajan from Takeda and Marina Vasiliou from Biogen Canada.

Promoting faster, more efficient clinical trials

CTO is playing a critical role in helping to remove red tape by streamlining processes to make clinical trials more timely and efficient. With CTO Stream and QuickStart, researchers and industry sponsors can get trials off the ground in less than 90 days, including receiving Research Ethics Board approval in less than one month while maintaining the highest ethical standards. This is one of the ways the organization is fulfilling its mandate to strengthen, promote and capitalize on Ontario’s competitive advantages to conduct high-quality clinical trials. Other ways include facilitating patient and public engagement with clinical trials, and supporting companies in conducting clinical trials in Ontario.  

The annual BIO convention represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions and related organizations across the U.S., as well as more than 30 other countries.

“We are thrilled to take part in BIO each year to showcase the incredible work underway in Ontario,” said Susan Marlin, CEO of CTO. “As the seventh largest clinical trials jurisdiction in North America, we have the researchers, the resources and the expertise to support industry in conducting high quality clinical trials that will ultimately help deliver better medicines to patients more quickly.”

Update: CTO looks forward to working with Minister Victor Fedeli as he transitions into the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

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