Cancer patients have been heavily impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With thousands of tissue biopsies delayed and patients postponing clinic visits across Canada, increasing access to circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) testing for targeted treatment selection has offered another option for oncologists.


Canexia Health and Illumina recently co-hosted a virtual discussion with Canadian oncology experts:

  • David Huntsman, MD, FRCPC, FCCMG | Chief Medical Officer, Canexia Health
  • Harriet Feilotter, PhD, FCCMG | Professor, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Queen’s UniversityDirector, Molecular Genetics, Kingston Health Sciences Center
  • Sandeep Sehdev, MD, FRCPC | Assistant Professor, Medical Oncologist, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre
  • Xiaofu Zhu, MD, FRCPC | Medical Oncologist, Cross Cancer Institute


The panelists discussed the impacts of delayed cancer testing and late stage diagnosis, how liquid biopsy can alleviate the need for tissue biopsy and hospital visits, the value of bringing testing in-house vs. sending out of country, and how to continue driving ctDNA adoption in Canada beyond the pandemic.       

They noted that while the pandemic catapulted ctDNA testing forward in some respects and patients are more aware than ever of this testing and options for targeted treatment, reimbursement remains one of the biggest challenges — especially given how quickly the landscape is changing.   

“At ASCO, one of the most interesting talks was an educational session on ‘druggable targets’ and how there are now so many. And, almost every interesting clinical trial in Canada now requires this type of molecular characterization to be eligible,”said Dr. Sehdev. “We can’t be caught behind the rest of the world.”

“People have seen what’s possible through initiatives like Project ACTT, for instance, which offered ctDNA testing for 2,000 samples from across Canada. That wouldn’t have happened without COVID-earmarked funding actually looking for solutions. There is a much greater appetite to move this forward,” said Dr. Feilotter.

“For me the opportunity comes back to availability. I want this test available for all my patients, at my facility. I don’t like the idea of sending it out, out of country, for instance, to a large group where the data just all gets sort of stuck someplace else and what you get back is a report but you never get to get the data back. I think it’s really critical that Canada looks at this carefully. Moving this to a standard of care tool should be a priority,” said Dr. Zhu.



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