'Humbled' trucking magnate donates $3M to help fight cancer

His family-owned trucking company has been a fixture on Southwestern Ontario highways for years, hauling freight to power area business including the auto industry.

Delhi native Archie Verspeeten, founder of Ingersoll's Verspeeten Cartage, is donating $3 million to create the Archie and Irene Verspeeten Clinical Genome Centre at London Health Sciences Centre in honour of his late wife and son. (Supplied)

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His family-owned trucking company has been a fixture on Southwestern Ontario highways for years, hauling freight to power area business including the auto industry.

Now, trucking entrepreneur Archie Verspeeten is giving cancer a run for its money, donating $3 million to London Health Sciences Foundation for a new genetic research clinic in honour of his late wife and son.

The founder of Ingersoll-based Verspeeten Cartage is funding the new treatment and research hub at London Health Sciences Centre that will help doctors tailor treatments to patients, especially ones with cancer, based on their genes.

Verspeeten of Delhi said Wednesday he’s “humbled” to support the first-of-its-kind clinical genome centre in Canada and hopes the help will one day lead to a cure for cancer.

“This means more than words can ever express. My wife and I have been passionate about finding a cure for cancer because, unfortunately, my family has been no stranger to the deathly grip of the disease and I want nothing more than to end cancer completely,” he said.

“I hope this centre will get us one step closer to that goal.”

The donation to create the Archie and Irene Verspeeten Clinical Genome Centre at LHSC is a standout that will combine research with patient care, a hospital official said.

“What’s new here, what’s first in Canada, is having that translational research being driven right in a clinical setting,” said Mike Kadour, director of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine lab, a joint venture of London’s hospitals.

The centre will help treat patients with diseases or conditions linked to their genes. The centre is taking an early focus on cancer, but also will conduct clinical research on epilepsy, neuromuscular disorders and other developmental disabilities.

Instead of cancer genomics being relegated to research labs, apart from patient care, the London research hub will be fully integrated with LHSC’s clinics.

By using the latest genetic testing and sequencing, doctors and researchers will be able to predict more accurately how a disease will progress and develop a personal medicine plan for a patient to target the condition.

Instead of just treating one patient’s lung cancer like every other lung cancer,  for example, genetically profiling a cancer tumour lets doctors “look under the hood” and pinpoint exactly what makes the cancer tick, said Stephen Welch, a medical oncologist at LHSC.

“We know increasingly that everyone’s cancer is unique. It is as unique as your fingerprint,” Welch said. “What we’re trying to leverage . . . is with each individual cancer, to look at the mutation profile, the presence or absence of different mutations in the cancer, those mutations that are driving the growth of the cancer.”

The goal of cancer genomics is to learn more about a patient’s cancer in real time, find its Achilles’ heel and use that knowledge to target the disease, Welch said.

The Verspeeten family has endured tough blows from cancer. Archie’s wife of 66 years, Irene, died in June 2017. His son, Alan, died in October 2015 at age 56.

In honour of both, the new centre will start with a heightened focus on genomic sequencing for pancreatic cancer in partnership with the Baker Centre for Pancreatic Cancer. The clinical and research hub at LHSC was opened last year with a $1.5-million donation by Shelley and the late Rick Baker, who died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer last month.

The London Health Sciences Foundation, members of the Lawson Health Research Institute — the medical research arm of London’s hospitals — and the Verspeeten family were on hand for Wednesday’s online announcement. The unveiling had been set for March 26, which would have been Archie and Irene’s 69th wedding anniversary, but was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family-owned and operated since 1953, Verspeeten Cartage looms large in the auto industry’s just-in-time supply system, in which parts are delivered straight to assembly lines, bypassing the need for warehousing on site. The company operates from a sprawling site on Highway 401.

In a recorded message played Wednesday, Archie’s son, Ron Verspeeten, said his family is honoured to support the game-changing work of London scientists and doctors.

“This centre means more to my family than words can ever convey. We understand the pain that goes along with a cancer diagnosis,” he said.

“My brothers and I have always been proud of our parents, but today we are especially proud.”

In 2018, the Verspeetens donated $1.5 million to the $3 million expansion of the Delhi Community Health Centre. The newest section of the facility has been named the Archie and Irene Verspeeten Family Wing.