B.C. invests $32M to expand cancer diagnostics, research

The British Columbia government is spending $32 million in advancement of nuclear medicine, to operate imaging equipment for cancer diagnosis and to expand research. Monika Gul reports.

People in B.C. are going to have greater access to cancer diagnostics and care, the Ministry of Health says, as construction of a new production laboratory gets underway.

In an announcement Tuesday, Minister of Health Adrian Dix said the government is investing $21 million for the cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratory, which will increase the production of clinical radiotracers — the radioactive isotopes used in medical imaging — that help to detect and monitor cancer.

Dix said Tuesday that while one in two people in B.C. will face cancer during their lifetime, the number of those affected by the disease is much greater.

“Most of us do, or will know, someone who’s touched by cancer at some point. And with a growing and aging population, we know that demand for cancer care is increasing,” he said.

“By 2034, for example, we’ll go from 30,000 diagnoses of cancer a year to 44,000. An almost 50 per cent increase in 10 years of cancer diagnoses in B.C.”

Dix says this will expand the province’s capacity for PET/CT scans from 16,000 a year currently, to 41,000.

“Ensuring people in B.C. have access to PET/CT scans and world-class cancer care is a critical part of our province’s 10-year cancer-care action plan, and we are committed to investing in these lifesaving technologies and research,” said Dix.

“By expanding clinical and research radioisotope production, this new facility will improve access to critical diagnostic tests for patients in the coming years while furthering the ground-breaking research that will transform care and scientific knowledge for generations to come.”

PET/CT scans look at the body’s organs and tissues at a molecular level, identifying abnormalities, and can show whether tumours have grown, shrunk, or come back. They also help doctors determine treatment options and measure treatment success rates.

The province also says TRIUMF — Canada’s particle accelerator centre located at UBC — will receive $10 million in funding to expand its laboratory capacity to support research in the sector.

“The isotopes developed with IAMI’s new laboratories will be used as clinical radiotracers to detect early stage diseases and also develop novel cancer therapies, areas which we are a global leader,” said Nigel Smith, Executive Director & CEO, TRIUMF.

“Researchers and staff with TRIUMF and BC Cancer will use the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes’ (IAMI) new cyclotron and radiopharmacy laboratories, along with the facilities’ existing cyclotron and laboratories, to produce clinical radiotracers and advance B.C. as a leader in the fast-growing field of nuclear medicine,” the ministry explained.

In total, the province is investing $32 million – with another $3.5 million coming from the BC Cancer Foundation.

The B.C. government has been facing growing pressure to improve cancer care, with cancer patients coming forward with stories about delays and gaps.

Dr. Don Wilson, provincial medical lead in molecular Imaging and therapy with BC Cancer, says when you’re awaiting a cancer diagnosis or to find out if a treatment is working, everyday stress and anxiety can be amplified.

“Better access means simply more compassionate care and better outcomes,” Wilson said.

The province says it expects the facility to be up and running in 2026. 

“With a growing and aging population we know demands for cancer services are increasing,” Dix added.

-With files from Pippa Norman and Monika Gul

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