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Cracking Cancer

Six years ago Zuri Scrivens, the mother of a toddler, was very ill with incurable breast cancer that had spread to her liver and lymph nodes. Today Zuri has no signs of cancer, not because of a miraculous new cancer drug, but thanks to a diabetes medication.

CRACKING CANCER follows a group of patients with incurable cancer on a heartbreaking journey through a highly experimental clinical trial at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver called POG — Personalized OncoGenomics.

The trial compares patients' normal DNA — each cell's complete set of instructions -- with that of their tumors, to find the genetic mutations causing their cancer. Zuri's cancer driver was a mutation that caused a very high growth factor. The team plowed through decades of data to isolate which drug in all of medicine, not just cancer, might block that growth factor. They zeroed in on a diabetes medication. Zuri received the drug and standard hormone treatment. Within 5 months, her cancer became undetectable.

POG offers a radical new way of treating cancer, not according to where it originates in the body, but rather as a disease of genetic mutations. Thousands more will join the trial, all hoping for their own salvation, all helping science to crack the cancer code.

'The documentary provides a well-balanced view of the challenges and opportunities of genomic medicine, as shown by the lives of patients enrolled in a pioneering clinical trial. The intersect of computing and the biology of cancer is sure to fundamentally alter the approach to cancer therapy, and Cracking Cancer captures the excitement of this future.' Dr. Adrian Lee, Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, Director, Women's Cancer Research Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

'In an unobtrusive 'observational' style we are privy to the intimate medical lives of several participants at various stages of the POG program, illustrating their diversity of outcomes, but also the day-to-day disruption, anxiety, and drama of experiencing cancer diagnosis and treatment...In presenting an accessible, detailed, and balanced look at the work of the POG team, The Nature of Things is doing valuable public engagement work at the cutting edge of cancer research.' Catherine Lucas, The Lancet Oncology

'Cracking cancer is an important, high quality film with hope and full of potential educational value to help health care leaders, students and patients understand the critical issues accentuated in this age of personalized medicine...A classroom viewing might include discussions of important considerations like how to view opportunity costs, the relative value of different methods for knowledge dissemination and why evidence review is more than just an exercise in quantification.' Dr. Jeffrey S. Hoch, Professor and Chief, Division of Health Policy and Management, Associate Director, Center for Healthcare Policy and Research, University of California-Davis

'The sea change in cancer treatment can bring genetics to life for students of any age. Cancer is a genetic disease, not because most risk is inherited, but because the genes that normally control basic cellular functions at the tissue level have been damaged. Novel cancer treatments block the harmful effects of these mutations.' Dr. Michael Thun, Emeritus Vice President of Epidemiological Research, American Cancer Society

'Cancer will touch everyone in their lifetime, either directly or indirectly. This documentary puts a very personal side on personalized medicine. Although much more research is needed, these compelling patient stories give hope for future treatments. I thank them for sharing their stories and praise the bold researchers that are striving to better understand cancer and identify new therapies.' Dr. John D. McPherson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, UC Davis School of Medicine, Co-Director of Advanced Translational Genomics Center, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center


Main credits

Pyke, Judith (film director)
Pyke, Judith (screenwriter)
Slinger, Helen (screenwriter)
Ridout, Sue (film producer)
Suzuki, David T. (host)

Other credits

Director of photography, Todd Craddock; editor, Alan Flett; original music, Ben Mink.

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

Cancer Research
Death And Dying
Life Science
Patient Education
Personalized Medicine
Science, Technology, Society


clinical trial, oncogenomics, British Columbia, future of cancer care, Zuri Scrivens, incurable breast cancer, liver, lymph nodes, cancer drugs, diabetes medication, diabetes, incurable cancer, BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver, POG, personalized oncogenomics, DNA, tumors, genetic mutations, cancer driver, high growth factor, decades of data, drug blocking growth factor, hormone treatment, fighting caner with genomics, cancer treatment, terminal cancer, pharmacology, health policy, personalized medicine, gene fusion, Sagar Dutt, Marcy Johnson, Trish Keating, Sarah MacKenzie, Katya Mycyk, Laura Startup, Jen Strack; "Cracking Cancer"; Bullfrog Films