Collaboration + Expertise = Impact

National network is a powerful engine for brain tumour research

In the late 1990s, global biotech and drug companies were seeking to partner with Canadian hospitals and research institutes to support clinical trials of treatments for brain tumours. With no national organization in this arena, an opportunity emerged.

Established in 1998, the Canadian Brain Tumour Consortium is a not-for-profit corporation. It comprises 150 clinicians and investigators who treat pediatric and adult patients with brain tumours at 25 sites across the country.

Dr. James Perry

The Canadian Brain Tumour Consortium organizes multi-site clinical trials for patients with brain tumours; at the helm is neurologist Dr. James Perry.

Photo: Doug Nicholson

Dr. James Perry, a neuro-oncologist at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre and researcher at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), is the chair of the consortium. His idea to form a network came to life with seed funding from a donor, Tony Crolla, after Perry pitched the idea to him.

“We created the network so that every brain tumour group interested in clinical trials had an opportunity to hear about, participate in and lead these trials,” he says.

The consortium develops and promotes multicentre research in collaboration with public and private sector partners. It evaluates and executes clinical trials of promising agents quickly and cost-effectively. It also holds scientific meetings.

Over the past 16 years, the consortium has conducted many high-impact trials. Its capacity to accrue vast patient pools allows the network to carry out large-scale, independent research studies not easily conducted by a single centre.

Perry notes Canada’s productivity in this area is high. “We always punch way above our weight. Given the population of Canada, we do way more than our expected share of the heavy lifting for metrics like the number of patients in a clinical trial,” says Perry, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

One notable success story is that of RESCUE, which generated new global standards of care.

The RESCUE study had its origins in an idea of Perry and his colleagues at the Odette Cancer Centre and SRI. They decided to treat a patient whose tumour had recurred using metronomic chemotherapy, the daily, low-dose administration of a drug. “We treated one patient with a daily dose of temozolomide and her brain tumour disappeared,” he says. “She had complete response to the treatment, and we said, ‘This doesn’t happen very often.’”

Perry and colleagues then did a small trial of about 80 patients at Sunnybrook, and found the drug appeared to be safe and effective.

“We were able to take that idea and write the protocol for the RESCUE trial, and we ran it through the consortium centres,” he says. The trial’s results showed it had the highest clinical response rate of any drug used for recurrent brain tumours at that time.

“The so-called ‘RESCUE regimen’ is used worldwide as a standard of care. It's in many of the national guidelines in different countries as a treatment option, and has become a standard option in Canadian centres," he says.

Perry highlights as one of the network’s strengths its quality of data, which is population-based—but notes it owes its success to a superlative team effort.

“The quality of our data is fantastic, and our performance is simply the best in the world,” he says. “Because we had the vehicle to drive, everyone could get onboard. We have financial partnerships to put in the gas, and we load it up with patients and investigators—it’s a virtual bus that we drive for global impact.”

— Eleni Kanavas

Perry holds the Tony Crolla Chair in Brain Tumour Research.

Dr. James Perry