By Marie Moucarry

Two research teams within McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC) have been selected as this year’s recipients of the newly launched “Omics Data Against Cancer” (ODAC) competition organized jointly by Génome Québec, Oncopole and IVADO. The two teams, one of which is led by  Dr. Amin Emad, and  Dr. Morag Park, and the other by Dr. Ian Watson, Dr. Hamed Najafabadi and Dr. John Stagg, are part  of the four winning McGill-led projects, with a total of $1.5 million funding being awarded to five winners overall.

This funding will essentially enable digital intelligence tools to explore and extract information from large research data sets. Genomics and the study of cancer are two particularly complex fields of life science research where massive quantities of data are generated but are often difficult to interpret. This competition is therefore designed precisely to promote multidisciplinary research linking artificial intelligence, omics, and oncology, supporting the development of AI applications and methodologies to better mine cancer research data sets.

The first winners of the competition, Dr. Morag Park (GCRC) and Dr. Amin Emad (Mila, McGill University), will be developing artificial intelligence models to predict response to drug combinations in poor-outcome cancer patients. The proposed computational models will be made accessible to the community and will result in a versatile “in-silico clinical trial” framework that will be tested experimentally.

The second winners of the competition, Dr. Ian Watson (GCRC), Dr. Hamed S. Najafabadi (Department of Human Genetics, McGill Genome Centre and GCRC) and Dr. John Stagg (Université de Montréal, CHUM Research Centre, Institut du Cancer de Montreal), are developing “MELANO-PREDICT,” a clinically applicable algorithm for predicting immunotherapy response in melanoma. By using artificial intelligence research techniques, they will be able to find signatures in DNA sequencing and gene activity data that will predict a response to these powerful therapies, which work by using the patient’s own immune system against their cancer.

“It’s a real honour for the Goodman Cancer Research Centre to be awarded, it’s a testament to the innovative work being done here. This AI funding will enable us to perform cutting edge research in ways that only powerful technologies can do, ensuring that we get the most information and draw the most accurate conclusions from our big datasets. It will allow us to collaborate on a multi-disciplinary approach that will bring our cancer research to another level and, down the road, impact the lives of millions of people affected by cancer,” says Dr. Morag Park, Director of the GCRC and first award recipient.

The other winners of the competition have also been announced:

  • Jacques Drouin (Université de Montréal, Montréal Clinical Research Institute) and Marc G. Bellemare (McGill University, Mila) are collaborating on decoding the cancer epigenome with novel artificial intelligence discovery tools.
  • Mathieu Blanchette (McGill University, School of Computer Science) and his team are working on deciphering mechanisms of epigenetic alterations in cancer using 3D-genomics-informed deep learning.
  • Sébastien Lemieux (Université de Montréal, IRIC) and his team are seeking to develop novel dimensionality reduction approaches for vector-based representations of expression profiles and chemical compounds to assist in the development of acute myeloid leukemia therapies.

“The competition results announced today are a powerful indicator of Québec’s competitiveness in genomics and artificial intelligence, two focus areas for cutting-edge technology. ‘Omics’ cancer research, which generates a large and complex data set, can only be leveraged to its full potential by combining it with artificial intelligence,” said Daniel Coderre, President and CEO of Génome Québec. He added: “The intersection of these two major fields of excellence will enable Québec to position itself uniquely internationally and, above all, will help accelerate advances in cancer research.

Renaldo Battista, Executive Director, Oncopole, stated: “The ODAC program represents a unique opportunity to bring together multidisciplinary expertise in artificial intelligence, omics science and cancer to advance cancer research. I want to acknowledge the outstanding collaboration between Oncopole, IVADO and Génome Québec behind this initiative.”

And IVADO Chief Executive Officer Gilles Savard said: “Digital intelligence tools and their resulting data-mining methods represent a tremendous opportunity to accelerate research, particularly in the health sector. We are convinced that a better understanding of cancer pathologies can emerge from these collaborations and with it, innovative solutions to better confront them.”



Contact information

Marie Moucarry, Communications Advisor at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, McGill University,, 438-993-6127


Jason Clement, Communications Manager, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, McGill University,


November 5, 2020