A new world-class hub for clinical research and precision medicine

October 26, 2021

Reaching nearly $17.5 million, this initiative launched as part of the first FACS program call for proposals is supported by the Ministry of Economy and Innovation (MEI) with a $6.45 million grant and is co-funded by private partners, including Quebec-based DalCor Pharmaceuticals, world-class biopharmas AstraZeneca, Bayer Inc. et Pharmascience as well as the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation.

Headed by Jean-Claude Tardif, Director of the Research Centre at the Montreal Heart Institute, this initiative builds on a network of nearly 100 multidisciplinary experts from industry and academia, as well as a multi-centre network of Quebec hospitals. Its goal is to create a world-class hub for clinical research and precision medicine in the cardiovascular field, and to subsequently broaden its scope to other disciplines such as oncology and neurology.

The project has delivered several innovative technologies since its launch in 2018. Among them is a federated data platform integrating results from more than 90 clinical trials, which includes genomic and clinical data from 675,000 patients. It also produced artificial intelligence-based (AI) analytical and statistical tools designed to support the development of clinical trials in precision medicine by making it possible to confirm the potential of therapeutic targets, predict their outcome, and target the groups of individuals most likely to benefit from a treatment, including:

  • ExPheWas: A bioinformatics tool that provides access to over 24 million test results in order to conduct an association study of genes and clinical indicators, as well as tools for interpreting the results.
  • PheWeb: A web-based tool that quickly displays genome-wide association results queried from the platform datasets.
  • An artificial intelligence with a neural network: A genomics discovery tool that is more sensitive than tests using classical statistics.

These cutting-edge tools, now available to the scientific community at large, are already drawing interest from academic groups and the private sector that are now using similar tools to revisit data from large population-based clinical studies to optimize the time and resources invested in drug discovery programs.

Attracted by the expertise and innovations developed by the network, world-class pharmaceutical groups are now choosing to conduct their clinical studies in Quebec. More than $20.5 million in additional public and private funding has been invested since the project was initiated and four new clinical trials in precision medicine have been launched.

The COLCOT (COLchicine Cardiovascular Outcomes Trial) study, coordinated by the Montreal Health Innovations Coordinating Center (MHICC) exemplifies this success by demonstrating the benefits of colchicine in patients with myocardial infarction. In August 2021, colchicine was approved by Health Canada for the treatment of patients with existing coronary heart disease. The drug has since been included in the guidelines of the European Society of Cardiology for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. This achievement demonstrates the successful repurposing of a readily available and inexpensive generic drug previously prescribed for the treatment of gout and pericarditis.

According to Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, “This initiative allowed our team of academic and commercial partners to test personalized treatments, thereby adding a repurposed drug to the treatment options for cardiovascular disease. By finding new therapeutic uses for well-known drugs, we can improve the health of Canadians in a timely and cost-effective manner. The cardiovascular indication for colchicine that has been approved by Health Canada will foster changes in medical care, help patients with coronary heart disease and save costs for the health care system. The COLCOT academic clinical study could not have been accomplished without the financial support of the Government of Quebec’s FPQIS and FACS programs. We are very proud of this remarkable achievement resulting from the efforts of Quebec researchers, institutions and funders.”

Pharmacogenomic studies, led by Professor Marie-Pierre Dubé, Director of the Pharmacogenomics Center of Université de Montréal, are underway as part of the FACS initiative. They have already uncovered genetic markers that influence the efficacy and safety of drugs. Study results have also identified new therapeutic targets for cardiovascular diseases.

As an added bonus for Quebec, the network attracts world-class experts in science and health. The Quebec ecosystem promotes knowledge transfer and talent mobility, which attracts the next generation of health professionals and “hybrid” profiles. The FACS initiative will have trained talented individuals who can readily harness the significant innovation potential of artificial intelligence and the challenges of health research. As a result, Quebec benefits from the tremendous added value of experts who can apply their dual expertise to drug discovery and development.