June 11, 2020

Community-driven initiative finds new potential avenue of ovarian cancer treatment

Dr. Trevor Shepherd

OICR-funded researchers identify promising targets to shut down the spread of ovarian cancer

Despite new targeted therapies, ovarian cancers often spread to other organs in the body and become resistant to drugs, leading to nearly 2,000 deaths in Canada each year according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Dr. Trevor Shepherd is committed to finding new solutions for women with this disease.

In an initiative supported by local ovarian cancer survivors and philanthropic donors, Shepherd and collaborators have discovered a new way to shut down the spread of ovarian cancer. In their recent study published in Cancers, they found a molecular pathway that ovarian tumours require to spread to other organs. The study pinpoints two key proteins along this pathway – LKB1 and NUAK1 – as potential drug targets.

“Even with aggressive surgery and chemotherapy, ovarian cancers have the ability to spread to other organs – and that’s what we wanted to understand,” says Shepherd, who is a Translational Oncology Scientist in the London Regional Cancer Program. “Our findings have encouraged us to focus on LKB1 and NUAK1 and develop drugs to interfere with them. We are advancing towards our ultimate goal of developing new long-lasting solutions for patients with ovarian cancer.”

We are advancing towards our ultimate goal of developing new long-lasting solutions for patients with ovarian cancer.

Dr. Trevor Shepherd

Shepherd’s research focuses on the unique way that ovarian cancer spreads to other organs in small clusters of cells called spheroids. His expertise in spheroid experimental models has allowed him to home in on the LKB1-related pathways and identify the most promising proteins to target.

His recent progress was enabled by a collaboration with Dr. Rob Rottapel at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, who leads OICR’s Ovarian Cancer Translational Research Initiative.

Now, Shepherd and collaborators have teamed up with OICR’s Drug Discovery team to design drugs against the proteins they’ve discovered. Together, their combined expertise in kinase drug development, proteomics and advanced experimental models will allow them to accelerate their progress towards new therapies for ovarian cancer patients.

“We’re motivated by the patients, their families and the community, and we’re very grateful for their contributions to research,” says Shepherd, who was recruited to London in large part thanks to the London Run for Ovarian Cancer. “Because of our donors and funders, this initiative gained momentum and became a multi-institutional collaboration – allowing us to make advances that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Learn more about OICR’s Ovarian Cancer Translational Research Initiative or the London Health Sciences Centre’s Translational Ovarian Cancer Research Group.