November 16, 2017

CCRC brings Canadian cancer researchers together

A view of Vancouver's skyline

The 4th Canadian Cancer Research Conference, held at the beginning of November in Vancouver, was a major success. OICR was proud to support and participate in the conference, which brought together over 1,000 cancer researchers from across Canada.

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November 2, 2017

Novel approach yields four robust biomarkers for breast cancer drug response

Dr. Benjamin Haibe-Kains and Zhaleh Safikhani pose for a photo

Biomarkers that can help predict a patient’s response to a given drug are central to testing new therapies in clinical trials as well as selecting which drugs to use in the clinic. Some of the biomarkers in use today rely on the overall expression of a given gene to predict if a drug will be of benefit. While these types of biomarkers have aided cancer research and treatment, a group led by Dr. Benjamin Haibe-Kains recently published research that is ushering in a new class of biomarkers – those based on gene isoforms (the different expression of the same gene within an individual). This work opens the door to more precise biomarkers.

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October 24, 2017

Researchers discover genes behind the spread of lung cancer to the brain

Mohini Singh works in the lab

Brain tumours resulting from the spread of cancer from its primary location, known as brain metastases (BM), are the most common form of brain tumours in adults. A team of Ontario-based researchers recently identified two genes that seem to play a central role in BM in lung cancer patients – findings that could lead to improved biomarkers and treatments for BM.

In a study published in the journal Acta Neuropatologica, Mohini Singh and her collaborators focused on a class of cells they have termed Brain Metastases Initiating Cells (BMICs), which leave the primary site of cancer and migrate to the brain.

Singh, a biochemistry PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Sheila Singh at McMaster University, explains the approach the team took to study these cells. “There was a lack of preclinical models that we could use to comprehensively study BMICs and understand the mechanisms behind them. To conduct our study we used brain metastases from lung cancer patients, which we cultured in conditions to enrich for BMICs, and then transplanted them into mice. This method allowed us to study BMICs within a living host, which provides a more accurate representation of the development of brain metastasis in humans.”

The researchers performed in vitro and in vivo RNA interference screens utilizing their unique BM models, and found two genes that were essential to the regulation of BMICs: SPOCK1 and TWIST2. “We discovered that SPOCK1 is a regulator of self-renewal in BMICs, playing a role in the initiation of lung tumours and their metastasis to the brain,” explains Singh. Furthermore, the results were clinically relevant. “Increased SPOCK1 expression was seen in lung cancer biopsies of patients with known brain metastases, and was correlated with poor survival.” Through protein-protein interaction mapping the researchers also identified new pathway interactors of the two genes that could be used as novel targets in treatment of BM in lung cancer patients.

“Identifying these two genes could be of great use in improving the treatment of lung cancer. In the future we could predict those patients who are most at risk of developing a brain metastasis and use drugs to target BMIC regulatory genes such as SPOCK1 and TWIST2 to destroy the initiating cells and to block the spread,” says Singh. “This would result in keeping the lung cancer locally controlled and therefore more treatable.”

OICR funding was used to establish this study with further significant funding coming from the Canadian Cancer Society and the Brain Canada Studentship.

October 23, 2017

Pathology Matters 2017 unites and informs Ontario’s pathology community

Pathology Matters attendees take part in a group discussion.

In this post, Monique Johnson shares how the Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network’s (OMPRN) 2017 Pathology Matters Meeting provided her with new insights into the field and introduced her to Ontario’s molecular pathology community.

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October 23, 2017

Boost your bioinformatics knowledge at TorBUG

Torbug - Lecture illustration

The Toronto Bioinformatics User Group’s (TorBUG) 2017-2018 season continues this Wednesday, October 23 with two presentations that promise to be of interest to anyone involved in bioinformatics. Dr. Quaid Morris, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto (U of T) will present “The Genetic Archaeology of Individual Cancers”. Brendan Innes, a PhD Candidate in the Bader Lab at U of T will cover “Cell types in single-cell RNAseq.”

Continue reading – Boost your bioinformatics knowledge at TorBUG

October 20, 2017

Old drug, new trick: study finds common diabetes drug could help fight leukemia

Researchers have discovered a new potential treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). They found that boosting fat cells (adipocytes) within bone marrow with the use of a common diabetes drug slowed the growth of cancerous cells and promoted the regeneration of healthy blood cells.

Continue reading – Old drug, new trick: study finds common diabetes drug could help fight leukemia

October 18, 2017

GA4GH Strikes Formal Collaborations with 15 International Genomic Data Initiatives

Orlando, Florida (October 17, 2017) – The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has struck formal collaborations with 15 international genomic data initiatives as 2017 Driver Projects, including Genomics England, Australian Genomics and the U.S. All of Us Research Program. The announcement, made at the GA4GH 5th Plenary Meeting, comes as part of the launch of GA4GH Connect: A 5-year Strategic Plan. GA4GH Connect aims to drive uptake of standards and frameworks for genomic data sharing within the research and healthcare communities in order to enable responsible sharing of clinical-grade genomic data by 2022.

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October 17, 2017

Global Alliance for Genomics and Health charts path to the future of genomic data sharing

Technology and DNA

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has launched a new five-year strategic plan to develop international standards that will enable the responsible and secure sharing of genomic data for both scientific and clinical purposes. The plan, known as GA4GH Connect, was launched at the organization’s 5th Plenary Meeting in Orlando, Florida.  

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October 11, 2017

Ontario start-up makes major deal to develop cancer-fighting viruses

Partners congratulate Turnstone Biologics

Canadian academic institutions and research organizations are congratulating Turnstone Biologics on a new partnership with AbbVie to develop cancer-fighting viruses (also called oncolytic viral immunotherapies).

Turnstone was founded in Ottawa based on research led by Dr. John Bell (from The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa), Dr. Brian Lichty (from McMaster University) and Dr. David Stojdl (from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and uOttawa). The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and BioCanRx have also played a key role in advancing the technology.

Quick Facts and Links

  • Turnstone was recently recognized as one of the top 15 biotech start-ups in the world.
  • In 2016, Turnstone secured US$41 million in venture capital (VC) funding. This is believed to be the largest VC deal in Ottawa since 2013 and the second largest biotech VC deal in Canada in 2016.
  • As of October 2017, Turnstone had 25 employees in Ottawa, Hamilton and New York. It expects to approximately double its employees by the end of next year.
  • Turnstone’s most advanced product is called Ad-MG1-MAGEA3. It is produced in The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre.
  • Top journal Science called cancer immunotherapy the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013.
  • Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 is currently being tested in clinical trials at several hospitals across Canada. People who are interested in participating in these trials can read these frequently asked questions.
  • While public funding is crucial for cancer research discoveries, private investment is almost always necessary to advance the development of new therapies, as this can cost more than US$2.5 billion.
  • Turnstone was co-founded by FACIT, The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s commercialization partner, which provided initial management, seed financing, intellectual property consolidation and hiring of initial employees including the CEO.
  • Numerous organizations have supported the research team, including the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Angels of Hope, BioCanRx, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CHEO Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Research Institute.

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October 4, 2017

FACIT Portfolio Company Fusion Pharmaceuticals Closes US$46M Oversubscribed Series A

Addition of new investors builds on Ontario’s next-gen radiotherapies and cancer innovations

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October 4, 2017

New software uses machine learning to identify mutations in tumours without reference tissue samples 

DNA sequence

One of the main steps in analyzing cancer genomic data is to find somatic mutations, which are non-hereditary changes in DNA that may give rise to cancer. To identify these mutations, researchers will often sequence the genome of a patient’s tumour as well as the genome of their normal tissue and compare the results. But what if normal tissue samples aren’t available?

Continue reading – New software uses machine learning to identify mutations in tumours without reference tissue samples 

September 29, 2017

OICR 2016/17 Annual Report

OICR Annual Report 2016/17

We are pleased to share the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) Annual Report for 2016/17.

We are living in an era of unprecedented innovation in cancer research. Recent advances have helped us to better understand cancer and allowed for collaboration on a scale that was previously not possible. This work is happening now and it is happening right here in Ontario.

Continue reading – OICR 2016/17 Annual Report