When Dr. John Lewis was granted an award from the Johnson & Johnson Alberta Health Innovation Partnership (JAHIP) in 2016 and a Kaye Competition award in 2017 to fund his innovative research on prostate cancer screening, he never imagined how far his work would reach. Fast forward to 2020, and he and his team are leading the race to become the first to develop an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, proving how the synergy of philanthropy and innovation has the capacity to make real impact in patients’ lives; often, in unexpected ways.
Lewis credits the funding he received with advancing his now attention-grabbing research in prostate cancer and a COVID vaccine to a new level.
“It came at a perfect time,” he says. “And it’s been a key factor in supporting all our staff on the ground in Edmonton.”
Lewis and his team have created a new blood test that can pinpoint pieces of cells in the blood stream that indicate whether the patient has the aggressive form of prostate cancer or not. In the past, physicians relied solely on the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test that detects elevated levels of PSA.
“A high level of PSA is 80 per cent false positive for prostate cancer, which means 80 per cent of the time, if you have an elevated level of PSA, it’s not prostate cancer. But the doctor has to make this decision based on a family history, other risk factors and this test whether to do a biopsy or not,” says Lewis.
A biopsy involves having numerous needles pressed through the prostate, and that means a significant chance of infection. “There are many bad stories about men who have never had prostate cancer but have had infections from biopsies,” says Lewis, a Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair in Prostate Cancer Research.
Forty per cent of men who get a biopsy opt not to have another one, he says. Not only is there a significant over treatment issue but there is room for men with aggressive cancer to slip through the cracks. ClarityDX Prostate will be paired with the PSA to give physicians a more accurate picture of a patient’s health to help inform next steps. Lewis predicts it will mean 40 per cent fewer biopsies.
The team has since partnered with DynaLife is continuing to recruit 3,000 patients for the validation study — with the goal of gaining world regulatory approval.
“The collaborative nature of Alberta made this all possible. We took this from an idea to a product in a record amount of time. So, physicians, clinical trials folks — everyone — did something that would be really difficult to do,” says Lewis.
Even harder without a timely injection of funding from University Hospital Foundation donors.