May 7, 2021

With astonishing speed, OICR team creates national COVID-19 genomic data portal

The Canadian VirusSeq Data Portal is critical to sharing information to better understand the virus

Adaptation has been key to living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agility of OICR’s software engineering team was recently on full display when they built a COVID-19 data portal in just four weeks – a record time for the group. The freshly launched Canadian VirusSeq Data Portal, part of Genome Canada’s CanCOGeN COVID-19 research initiative, provides a vital link between Canada’s public health units and researchers tracking the evolution of the virus and variants of concern.

“When you are building something this complex in such little time there really is no roadmap. Luckily our team was able to draw on our deep experience in building similar platforms, which helped us get this urgent project done on time,” says Dr. Christina Yung, Director, Genome Informatics, OICR. “This experience, incredible teamwork and a deep desire to assist in Canada’s response to the pandemic fueled our sprint to complete this project.”

Having created data portals for many major research projects, including the International Cancer Genome Consortium, Yung’s team was well prepared to meet the challenge and create this vital resource for Canada’s fight against COVID-19. Over the past several years the team has worked to package their software tools into a modular system called Overture.

“Overture provided us with a robust framework from which to start building the VirusSeq portal. From there we were able to customize the portal to meet the specific needs of users,” explains Yung. “By making it as easy to use as possible we hope to attract the participation of many public health units and researchers.”

The Canadian VirusSeq Data Portal allows public health units to easily submit genomic sequencing data of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The deidentified data is then validated and quickly released into the data portal where it can be used by experts such as virologists and epidemiologists. The data available through the portal will aid in better understanding the virus and provide increased surveillance for variants of concern.

“Our next steps will be to make updates and improvements to the portal as more users come onboard and provide feedback,” says Yung. “I encourage public health units and researchers to take advantage of this tool to deepen collaboration in our efforts against COVID-19.”

The following individuals at OICR contributed to the development of the Canadian VirusSeq Data Portal: Yelizar Alturmessov, Dusan Andric, Rosita Bajari, Jared Baker, Kim Cullion, Henrich Feher, Atul Kachru, Alexandru Lepsa, Justin Richardsson, Jaser Uddin, Linda Xiang.

Read Genome Canada’s news release.

May 6, 2021

Canadian Remote Access Framework for Clinical Trials brings new opportunities for cancer patients residing in rural and remote communities

The Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network (3CTN), has launched the proof-of-concept phase of the Canadian Remote Access Framework for Clinical Trials (CRAFT), which aims to broaden trial options for eligible cancer patients, regardless of where they live in Canada. Clinical trials are an important part of the cancer care system, particularly for those who have exhausted standard treatment options. Those who are far from a regional cancer centre where a trial may be available often face immense hurdles to participating, such as travel cost and time. CRAFT employs a hub and spoke, ‘trial cluster’ model, wherein the trial centre provides oversight for a patient’s community health centre to serve as a satellite site.

With funding support received from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, CRAFT was created by a collaborative group of patient partners, clinical researchers, trial sponsors, healthcare institutions, research ethicists and representatives from Health Canada who were united in a common vision to promote equity in the cancer system through improved opportunities for clinical trial participation for all eligible Canadian patients. When fully implemented, CRAFT aims to address many of the regulatory, ethical, legal and practical barriers that can impede the conduct of clinical trials in rural and remote communities.

Through CRAFT, centres interested in collaborating on a given trial can draw from resources created to support setup and oversight that assures patients receive the same level of quality and safety regardless of where they are seen. Funding provided by 3CTN will support proof-of-concept of CRAFT at three locations across Canada over the coming year:

Primary centre: Health Sciences Centre, Eastern Health: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
EXCITE Corporation/Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre (Grand Falls – Windsor)
Western Memorial Regional Hospital (Corner Brook)
Leader: Dr. John Thoms

Primary centre: Health Sciences North: Sudbury, Ontario
Sault Area Hospital
Timmins District Hospital
Leader: Dr. Lacey Pitre

Primary centre: BC Cancer: Prince George, British Columbia
Mills Memorial Hospital (Terrace)
Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (Trail)
Leader: Dr. Robert Olson

“I am thrilled that through the CRAFT initiative we can start eliminating the barriers that exist for cancer patients in rural and remote communities in Canada,” says Dr. Janet Dancey, Scientific Director of 3CTN. “Thank you to all of our partners who came together to create a truly innovative solution that will move us closer to achieving equity in access to cancer clinical trials. We are confident that this proof-of-concept project will show that CRAFT is an effective approach and provide a springboard to expand the initiative.”

“As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we have all experienced challenges with regards to access to healthcare. Our beautiful province can act as a major barrier when considering accessibility to clinical trials for cancer patients living outside of the metro region. Everyone deserves access to the best possible level of care, despite geographic location,” says Stephanie Mayne of Newfoundland and Labrador, a patient partner and CRAFT working group contributor. “CRAFT provides us the opportunity to overcome these barriers and improve access to clinical trials. I am extremely proud to say that patients played a key role in shaping the framework and look forward to seeing its success.”

“We are excited to partner with local health authorities in B.C., including Northern Health and Interior Health, to facilitate clinical trial follow-up in patients’ home communities,” says Dr. Robert Olson, of BC Cancer in Prince George, B.C. “General practitioners in partner communities will undergo clinical trial training and help with patient follow-up, physical exams, and adverse event reporting, enabling patients from more remote communities, including First Nations, to commit to the multi-year follow-up programs needed for clinical trials.”

“Conducting clinical trials is a complex undertaking as there are many factors that must be considered such as regulations, trial requirements and the patient’s needs. CRAFT provides us with a comprehensive approach to conducting clinical trials in community hospitals by giving us the tools and resources we need to reach patients in remote communities,” says Christopher Lavoie, Clinical Research Supervisor at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Ontario. “Our team is excited to be one of the first to implement CRAFT and we can’t wait to see the positive impact it has on patients in our communities and beyond.”

About the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network

Established at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) in 2014, the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network (3CTN) is a not-for-profit, pan-Canadian initiative aimed at supporting and improving the efficient delivery of academic cancer clinical trials through funding, resources and advocacy to improve the clinical trial environment and increase patient access to cancer clinical trials. Clinical trials are a vital component of Canada’s cancer care system and are essential to advancing cancer research to bring new solutions to patients. Funding for 3CTN operations is provided by OICR and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Core funding for 3CTN member cancer centres is provided by provincial cancer agencies.

May 3, 2021

Remembering Joe Lebovic

Joesph Lebovic and the fellows

A statement from Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR, on the recent death of Mr. Joseph Lebovic.

Joe Lebovic was a great supporter of many important causes throughout his life, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is grateful to have worked closely with him to develop the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program, a joint initiative between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and OICR. Through this program he supported research fellows working on collaborative, translational cancer research projects that brought together trainees in Ontario and Israel to solve significant challenges in cancer research. In its first round, this program supported the development of a new potential cancer-killing virus and a new drug candidate for leukemia; current fellows are working on projects focused on the interaction between tumours and the immune system, with a goal of developing effective therapeutic strategies for cancer. On behalf of all of OICR, I send my deepest condolences to Joe’s family, friends and loved ones. His death is an immense loss to the entire province, but his vision and generosity will continue to have impact for many years to come. 


Joe Lebovic and OICR

April 26, 2021

OICR Genomics achieves CAP laboratory accreditation

Accreditation will strengthen the group’s ability to bridge the gap between research and improved healthcare

The OICR Genomics Program (OICR Genomics) has successfully gained accreditation from the College of American Pathologists (CAP), one of the most well-respected laboratory standards programs in the world. This accreditation will bring benefits not only to the research group but to the cancer researchers, clinicians, and the patients they serve.

Many of today’s large, cutting-edge cancer clinical trials require that participating laboratories hold some form of accreditation, which establishes that they meet the standards to conduct clinical-grade testing. By achieving CAP accreditation OICR Genomics will have increased opportunities for collaboration with partners both in industry and academia who require this accreditation, which confirms the Program’s strong commitment to quality. There is already great interest from collaborators in the group’s clinical whole genome and whole transcriptome sequencing package.

“Achieving this accreditation is a massive leap forward for our group. It will open new avenues to use our capabilities and increase and improve the services we offer to cancer researchers and clinicians,” says Dr. Trevor Pugh, Senior Investigator and Director of the Joint Genomics Program at OICR and the University Health Network. “CAP accreditation would not have been possible without the amazing efforts of our entire team. I thank them and all who have helped us along the way and look forward to continuing to build our program together.”

The requirements for CAP accreditation are rigorous and include effective documentation and training protocols, a strong track record of good lab practices, continuous sharing and monitoring of technical results, appropriate validation and uncertainty correction methods, an extensive array of standard operating procedures, and more.

“I congratulate the entire OICR Genomics team on this incredible achievement which will allow us to pursue new avenues in our research and further expand the cancer genomics resources available in Ontario,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director, OICR. “This accreditation will strengthen our bridge between research and our drive to put innovations into testing and implementation into the health system for our cancer patients.”

OICR Genomics is also continuing to pursue accreditation by the Institute for Quality Management in Healthcare, an Ontario-based organization. OICR Genomics is also ISO 15189 compliant.

Interested in collaborating? Contact:

Dr. Carolyn Ptak
Program Manager and QA Lead, OICR Genomics
Carolyn.Ptak@oicr.on.ca

Dr. Paul Krzyzanowski
Director, Genome Research Platform and Institute Scientist
Paul.Krzyzanowski@oicr.on.ca

April 15, 2021

Ban on menthol cigarettes in Canada leads to more smokers quitting

A new study has looked at the effects of bans on menthol cigarettes after two years across seven Canadian provinces and found that once in place, 58.7 per cent of menthol smokers attempted to quit compared to 49 per cent in non-menthol smokers. The study was conducted by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (the ITC Project), which is led by Dr. Geoff Fong, OICR Senior Investigator and Professor at the University of Waterloo.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, also found that those who smoke menthols daily were nearly twice as likely to attempt to quit as daily non-menthol smokers – 21 vs. 11.6 per cent. Also, menthol smokers who had quit before the ban were much less likely than non-menthol smokers to relapse. The study used a national sample of 1,098 non-menthol and 138 menthol smokers participating in the ITC Canada Smoking and Vaping Survey, who were surveyed both before the menthol ban (in 2016) and after the menthol ban (in 2018).

Menthol flavoured cigarettes create a cooling effect that numbs the harshness of cigarette smoke, which helps draw in and keep new smokers, especially young people. They are also of concern to public health experts in the U.S., where 85 per cent of menthol cigarette smokers are African American. As a result, that community has felt much greater harms from menthol cigarette use. Fong and other experts have continued to call for a ban in the U.S.

“Our study demonstrates the substantial benefits of banning menthol cigarettes,” says Fong. “The enormous success of the Canadian menthol ban makes it even clearer now that the U.S. should finally ban menthol, which the tobacco industry has used for decades to attract new smokers and to keep many of them as customers, especially among the African American community.”

“The positive effects of the Canada menthol ban suggest that a U.S. menthol ban would lead to greater benefits since menthol cigarettes are much more popular in the U.S. From our findings, we estimate that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African American smokers.”

April 8, 2021

OICR to contribute to new Canadian COVID-19 data portal

Genome Canada has announced the launch of a new, Canadian SARS-CoV-2 Data Portal that will manage and facilitate data sharing of viral genome sequences among Canadian public health labs, researchers and other groups interested in accessing the data for research purposes.

McGill University’s, Dr. Guillaume Bourque and his team will lead the project in collaboration with the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) and a number of world-leading genomics scientists specializing in data science, including Dr. Christina Yung, Director of Genome Informatics, OICR, and Dr. Lincoln Stein, Head, Adaptive Oncology, OICR.

The team will also collaborate with DNA Stack, a CanCOGeN industry partner led by OICR Associate Dr. Marc Fiume. The Data Portal will make use of DNA Stack’s COVID Cloud platform to develop and provide real-time analytical dashboards, data exploration and standards-compliant data interfaces.

Read the news release

April 7, 2021

OICR congratulates Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer on receiving the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award

Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been named the winner of the 2021 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award. The award is given to a Canadian scientist recognized for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science throughout their career. Eisenhauer is receiving the award for her transformational research in cancer clinical trials and cancer drug delivery and the impact of her work for patients around the world.

Eisenhauer is Professor Emerita, Departments of Oncology and Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Oncology, Queen’s University and Innovation Lead, Kingston Health Sciences Centre. She is a current member of OICR’s Therapeutics Pipeline Advisory Committee, past Co-chair of OICR’s Scientific Advisory Board and was a founding member of OICR’s Board of Directors.

Eisenhauer has made fundamental contributions to the clinical evaluation of new cancer therapies, research strategy and clinical trials development that have been essential in the development of new treatments for ovarian cancer, malignant melanoma and brain tumours.

OICR congratulates Eisenhauer on this very well-deserved honour and thanks her for her past and current contributions to OICR and leadership in the cancer research community.

Read the full announcement from the Gairdner Foundation

March 30, 2021

Patient reflections from the 2021 OICR Translational Research Conference

Antonia Palmer, Chair of OICR’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, shares her thoughts from the Conference

Day 1

OICR recently established a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC). The PFAC will be the chief patient-focused advisory body for the Institute and will have a critical role in helping it become a patient-partnered organization. PFAC members are an engaged and impressive group of patients and patient representatives from across Ontario. I have the great honour of taking the role of the first Chair of the PFAC and look forward to what our group will be able to accomplish as the group becomes established within OICR.

The first day of the OICR Translational Research Conference has been extremely interesting and illuminating. We applaud the future vision for OICR that Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, the Institute’s President and Scientific Director, described in his opening remarks – placing an important focus on the early detection of cancer and on the development of precision tailored treatments leading to the cure of different cancer types and improved monitoring.

We are seeing research that is extending across different cancer types. Research into early detection that is simultaneously effective, minimally invasive, and cost effective. The creative design of clinical trials such as the Window of Opportunity (WOO) clinical trials, also known as phase 0 clinical trials, that evaluate new treatment strategies in between the time of a patient’s cancer diagnosis and their surgery. During the sessions we were informed about research into molecular signalling and how disruptions into signalling pathways contribute to disease, how radiopharmaceuticals are used for targeted therapies and imaging – working to improve the dynamic monitoring of disease and for early detection and diagnosis, and research into methods of cell protection and how to override checkpoints to disrupt inhibition. In the keynote address from Dr. Sylvia Plevritis, we learned more about the tumour microenvironment interactome.

When patient partners involved in the Conference had a debrief earlier today, we talked about the significant importance of collaboration between researchers, research institutions, within Ontario, other provinces and across Canada. Sharing findings and information in conferences like this one is absolutely critical but we must develop more regular, accepted and seamless ways of sharing research and patient information within provinces and across the country.  Data sharing is critical for moving the science forward and an example of this was specifically highlighted in the talk earlier today on hereditary cancers and being able to share information about patients in one family who live in different locations. We must continue to work to address communication and data sharing silos to create more opportunities for data sharing. The pandemic has also been a spotlight for this important issue.

Patient partners involved in the Conference greatly appreciate the lay summaries for presentations, the ability to ask questions, and to be a part of better understanding the immense breadth of work that is being done in the world of cancer and how OICR is a part of making a difference in oncology.

To all the researchers providing formal presentations, presenting posters, asking questions, and immersing themselves in science – patient partners see you, your work, passion and dedication.  We are pleased to be able to learn from you and hope that we can create more pathways where you can learn from us.  Your work gives us hope, and for that, we thank you.

The involvement of patient partners in research provides for some rich interactions and learnings that can occur in the design, execution and communication of findings. Patient partners are different from research participants – they are people with lived experience who can bring patient focused learnings and experience as involved members of research teams.  For researchers who are a part of this Conference, how are you including patient partners in the research that you are doing? If you were to include patient partners in your research, how would you do that? If this is something that you are doing already or something that you would like to start to do, I would like to encourage you to reach out to OICR to share your experiences or begin a discussion about how the OICR PFAC can help to bring the patient partner voice to your work.

Thank you for this opportunity to be able to share some patient reflections from Day 1 of the Conference. You can also read patient reflections from Day 2 below.

Day 2

Day 2 opened with Dr. David O’Neill, President of FACIT, described the need for establishing Ontario in a position of strength in the area of oncology research and the importance of initiatives such as Ontario First commercialization. As patient partners, we absolutely agree that we need to work diligently to ensure that patients are getting early access to experimental diagnostics, imaging and treatments. Building pathways for translating health intellectual property will create a positive feedback loop – encouraging even more research and research commercialization here in Ontario to continuously grow the promising pipeline of high-quality oncology innovations. It is about a positive impact on research, health systems, and the economy.

In our Patient Partner debrief today, we talked about the breadth and quality of research presented today, and at the Conference overall. We can hear the excitement and enthusiasm as presenters talk about their research and the science. This enthusiasm is palpable and in turn excites patients.

We see great examples of collaboration that is happening provincially, nationally and internationally. Collaboration is paramount and we applaud the sharing of research and the creation of multi-disciplinary teams to push science forward and provide the right treatments to the right patients at the right time.

Patient partners are excited by what we learned today about research on:

  • The use of novel imaging technologies to investigate cancer from the single cell level to understand different disease sub-groups and possible response to treatment.
  • The production of radiolabelled molecules for imaging and therapy – pushing forward understanding of patient stratification, disease response monitoring, drug development and imaging as predictive biomarkers of disease response.
  • The better understanding of diseases like pancreatic cancer through clinical trials to improve outcomes for patients.

Exciting developments were also shared about international data sharing, ICGC-ARGO and platforms for Big Data. And also the longitudinal understanding of cancer through CanPath to support studies focused on early detection.

We also heard about the importance of including health technology assessment early in the research process, especially within the precision medicine landscape, and how we can create a learning healthcare system to generate and apply real world evidence.

During the open session on patient partnership, the discussion was wide ranging. We talked about the importance of integrating patient partners in research. Cancer forces patients to walk a tightrope and helping researchers understand that bigger picture is critical. Patient partners provide a human face to research. 

We also talked about the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion in research and patient partnership and the importance of ensuring that treatments, clinical trials, and research are representative of all Canadian communities.

We discussed how we communicate to patients about science, clinical trials, and research findings. There is an obvious importance of talking about the successes of research; however, it is important to discuss the failures that also occur. The scientific process is not only about the successes. It is critical that we do a better job of helping each other understand where research fails and how we use that knowledge to understand where to go next.

Ideal patient partnership engagement has many forms. It is about ensuring that patients are involved early in the project, that their role is defined and understood, the involvement is built on trust and respect, and that there is a platform for open two-way conversation. If you are unsure with how to integrate patient partners within your research, the most important thing that you can do is try. If you need help with integrating patient partners into your research, please reach out to OICR and the Patient and Family Advisory Council will be happy to help.

Thank you for this opportunity to be able to share some patient reflections from Day 2 of the Conference.

March 24, 2021

OICR, Intensity Therapeutics and The Ottawa Hospital to conduct Window of Opportunity clinical trial in early-stage breast cancer

Dr. Angel Arnaout and Dr. John Bartlett.

OICR, Intensity Therapeutics and The Ottawa Hospital have agreed to collaborate to conduct a Phase II randomized, window of opportunity (WOO) clinical trial evaluating an immunotherapy drug, called INT230-6 vs. the standard of care. Currently there is no treatment available to be given in the gap between the diagnosis of breast cancer and surgery, which is often four weeks long. It is believed the treatment will kill cancer cells and slow the spread of breast cancer prior to surgery.

“WOO trials form a key part of OICR’s new research strategy because they are essential in helping to identify new biomarkers and develop more precise diagnostics and treatments for patients,” said Dr. Christine Williams, Ph.D., Deputy Director, OICR. “This trial is the first in our newly-launched Window of Opportunity Network, and it shows the promise and enthusiasm for WOO trials across the research community. We are proud to be working with proven clinical and industry partners like The Ottawa Hospital and Intensity Therapeutics to determine the effectiveness of INT230-6 in helping early-stage breast cancer patients.”

OICR’s Diagnostic Development group, led by Dr. John Bartlett, will analyze subject immune responses and conduct biomarker analysis. The study’s Principal Investigator is Dr. Angel Arnaout, Professor of Surgery at the University of Ottawa and Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital.

Read the news release

March 9, 2021

OICR-affiliated researchers awarded $6.6 million in funding from CIHR

From top-left: Drs. Courtney Jones, Faiyaz Notta, Rima Al-Awar, Trevor Pugh, Naoto Hirano, Hartland Jackson and Kieran Campbell.

The funding will support projects ranging from drug discovery to cancer stem cells

Seven OICR-affiliated researchers have been awarded $6.6 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) through its Project Grants program, which is designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential to advance health and research. The funded projects will help support key OICR research in drug discovery, pancreatic cancer, immunotherapy, genomics and circulating tumour DNA, and cancer stem cells.

Dr. Rima Al-Awar
Head, Therapeutic Innovation and Drug Discovery, OICR
The Discovery and Optimization of NUAK Inhibitors: A Novel Approach to Target Hippo Pathway Driven Cancers

Dr. Kieran Campbell
OICR Affiliate, Scientist & Principal Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital
Characterizing immune evasion in pancreatic adenocarcinoma: an integrative computational and experimental approach to understanding aberrant antigen presentation

Dr. Naoto Hirano
OICR Clinician Scientist, Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Development of TCR-engineered T cells against novel NY-ESO-1 epitopes for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer

Dr. Hartland Jackson
OICR Investigator, Investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health
Targeting chemotherapy resistant multi-cellular environments in pancreatic cancer

Dr. Courtney Jones
OICR Investigator, Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Characterization and Targeting of SIRT3 in Acute Myeloid Leukemia Stem Cells

Dr. Faiyaz Notta
OICR Associate, Co-Lead, OICR PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative, Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Impact of copy number imbalances in mutant KRAS on pancreatic cancer chemoresistance and metastases

Dr. Trevor Pugh
Senior Investigator and Director, Genomics, OICR
Understanding inevitable relapse of multiple myeloma following highly-effective anti-BCMA treatment

March 9, 2021

OICR research team awarded $2.4 million to facilitate precision medicine for early-stage breast cancer

Partnership between Thermo-Fisher Scientific and OICR Diagnostic Development, led by Dr. John Bartlett, awarded support from Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, has announced $8.6 million in federal support through Ontario Genomics via Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP) to five applied genomics research projects that will improve the well-being of Canadians. As one of the five recipients, OICR’s Diagnostic Development program will receive $2.4 million to develop an epigenomic profiling tool to better understand the progression of breast cancer.

Working with Thermo Fisher Scientific, OICR’s Drs. John Bartlett, Jane Bayani, Melanie Spears and collaborators will investigate the effects of differences in ethnicity on breast cancer treatment and survivorship. Their ultimate goal is to make the delivery of targeted breast cancer treatment more equitable for Black and Asian women.

From left to right: Melanie Spears, John Bartlett, Dan Dion, Jeff Smith, Elaine Wong-Ho, Seth Sadis and Jane Bayani.

“Moving forward we want to understand how the complex relationship between biology and ethnicity can accelerate the delivery of the best treatments to patients, treating everyone as an individual based on the biology of their disease,” says Dr. John Bartlett, Director, Diagnostic Development, OICR.

Breast cancer, which was once considered a homogeneous disease, is now understood to be a variety of different types of cancer that require different types of treatment. Understanding the DNA changes that lead to breast cancer and the downstream effects of DNA changes on the cellular machinery – such as the epigenomics of the disease – helps us match the best treatment for each patient. Through this project, Bartlett, Bayani, Spears and collaborators will develop and validate new and improved tests to subtype and predict the severity of breast cancers. They will focus on comparing results between cancers in Black and Asian minority ethnic groups and other ethnic groups.

“We’re thrilled to continue working with Thermo Fisher to examine the role of ethnicity and develop new tools in the diagnosis of breast cancer,” says Dr. Melanie Spears, Principal Research Scientist, Diagnostic Development.

Genome Canada’s GAPP funds translational research and development projects that address real-world challenges and opportunities identified by industry, government, not-for-profits, and other receptors of genomics knowledge and technology. These targeted investments support outcome-oriented partnerships across sectors to generate Canadian-led solutions.

“This grant will give us the opportunity to bring additional precision medicine tests for breast cancer patients and examine the impact ethnicity has in the biology of these cancers,” says Bayani, co-lead investigator and Principal Research Scientist at OICR. “We’re excited to work with our industry partner and collaborators in moving personalize medicine forward,” says Dr. Jane Bayani, Principal Research Scientist, Diagnostic Development.

“Investing in genomics research with a line of sight to application is critical for the health and well-being of Canadians,” said Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada.  “Genome Canada is proud to work with the Government of Canada to fuel demand-driven genomics research and innovation collaborations among academic, industry, health-care and other partners to shape a better, healthier future for Canadians.”

Learn more about this project: Development of an Epigenomic Profiling Tool to Facilitate Precision Medicine in Early Breast Cancer.

March 4, 2021

New national research platform to accelerate the development of new cell therapies for cancer

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), based in Kingston, Ont., will lead a new initiative called ExCELLirate Canada that will develop and optimize distributed point-of-care manufacturing that will improve efficiency, quality, and capacity to test innovative “made in Canada” cell therapies. Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, today announced $5.1 million in funding through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to launch the platform.

ExCELLirate Canada will help researchers bring new therapies to market and ultimately provide better outcomes for Canadians with cancer. Many patients do not survive the month required to produce CAR T- cells using the current system. Through ExCELLirate Canada, Canadians will have rapid access to innovative cell therapies. OICR is a partner in the initiative along with other leading research organizations across Ontario and Canada.

“ExCELLirate will allow Canada to shift our efforts in cell therapy into high gear and be at the forefront of this game-changing technology while providing patients more access to this cutting-edge therapy,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “I congratulate our friends at CCTG and the ExCELLirate team on the funding announced today. We at OICR are so proud to be part of this important work.”

Read the announcement from the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Group

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