Rob Ford pursues precision treatment in battle against rare cancer

A new cancer treatment procedure being adopted by Toronto Coun. Rob Ford has saved lives in the past and could help identify the chemotherapy that would work best to eliminate his rare and aggressive form of cancer.

'He's in a real battle, so I'm just not leaving any stone unturned,' Doug Ford says of his brother

Rob Ford's brother Doug says 12 mice have been injected with the former mayor's cancerous biopsy to determine what chemotherapies work best in beating the disease. (CBC)

The brother of Toronto Coun. Rob Ford says the former mayor is pursuing a targeted therapy in his fight against a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer.

Doug Ford told CBC News Monday the family is doing whatever it takes to find an effective treatment to rid the 46-year-old of pleomorphic liposarcoma.

"He's in a real battle so I'm just not leaving any stone unturned," Doug Ford said. "It's such a rare disease."

The former mayor is being treated at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto where the Panov program, named after Yaron Panov, is being made available to help individualize cancer care. It uses a treatment called precision chemotherapy. 

Doug Ford says learning about precision chemotherapy is the the best thing that's ever happened during his brother's battle with cancer. (CBC)
Doug Ford said he learned of the therapy after hearing from Panov and his wife, Dr. Rochelle Schwartz, who live in Vaughan, Ont. Panov was diagnosed with an abdominal sarcoma in 2010 and was only given a few months to live. 

Dr. David Sidransky, an American physician and researcher who teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, spoke to CBC News via Skype from Israel. He said that many cancer patients have undergone the therapy in the U.S.

"What we do is we take a piece of tissue from the patient's tumour, we put it in the skin of the mouse and we let it grow. When it grows, we then transfer it to more mice until there's a colony of mice that we can then test for the specific drug for the patient," said Sidransky, who is the founder of a firm called Champions Oncology.

The mice have been bred without immune systems. Once injected, the cancer takes about three months to grow in the animals. Researchers then test different chemotherapy treatments on the rodents to see which drugs are most effective in decreasing the size of the tumours.  

An '80 to 90%' chance

Sidransky acknowledged precision therapy hasn't been approved by U.S. regulatory agencies and is not yet covered by health insurance companies. 

"About 80 per cent of the tumours that we implant actually work, that is they take on the mouse and the mouse colony can be formed and then the next step is actually testing the drugs," he explained.

"When we test drugs, the prediction is between 80 and 90 per cent, so then we find a drug that works on the mouse colony, [there's a] 80 to 90 per cent [chance] it works on the patient, as well."

Doug Ford said 12 mice have been given his brother's cancer and now they're waiting to see which treatment will work best .

Panov says the therapy has given him a new lease on life.

Panov and his wife, Dr. Rochelle Schwartz, discuss benefits of precision therapy. Panov was diagnosed with an abdominal sarcoma in 2010 and was only given a few months to live. 0:27

"My cancer always comes back, but from the patient's point of view, I know if that chemo was tested on the mice, I know it will work. That's huge," Panov said. "Because usually people get chemo without knowing what will be the end result."

More than $1 million has been raised on the hospital's website in support of the Panov program.

Rob Ford was first diagnosed with cancer in September 2014. The married father of two underwent chemotherapy and radiation before having surgery to revove an abdominal a tumour last May. In October, he said the cancer had returned and two growths on his bladder were discovered.

"It's the type of cancer that does spread. I just have to deal with it," he said last fall.

With files from Trevor Dunn, Chantal Da Silva


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