March 8, 2018

Collaborating to bring new treatment options to children with brain cancer

Medulloblastoma cells as seen under a microscope

OICR’s Brain Cancer Translational Research Initiative (TRI) and the Terry Fox Precision Oncology for Young People Program (PROFYLE) are partnering to share data and deliver improved treatment options to young brain cancer patients.

Continue reading – Collaborating to bring new treatment options to children with brain cancer

March 6, 2018

Canadian pancreatic cancer research team provides personalized medicine, new hope to patients

VANCOUVER – Canadian pancreatic cancer researchers are joining forces under a Terry Fox initiative bringing new hope for patients with this deadly disease.

“For many years it’s been hopeless from a patient perspective, and we are hoping to help shift this,” says Dr. Daniel Renouf (BC Cancer, University of British Columbia) who, along with Dr. David Schaeffer (UBC, Vancouver General Hospital), is leading a $5-million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative recently funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute.

A lack of early detection tests. Few known symptoms. Very limited treatment options. No known biomarkers that can be used to direct therapy.  These are among the clinical challenges team EPPIC, short for Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care, is tackling over the next five years to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a disease with just a nine per cent five-year survival rate.

“Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often,” says Dr. Schaeffer, noting a priority is to discern if the metastatic and primary tumour differ in their genetic make-up. Four out of five patients have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis and most will succumb within a year.

Patients are very keen to participate in the research study. “My push is to keep the support coming for the research, and to bring hope to other pancreatic cancer patients. This is a disease that needs more hope,” says Susan Stewart, 57, a North Vancouver resident who was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer in January 2017. She was enrolled immediately in EPPIC as well as a clinical trial where she received an experimental therapy. Although it is early days yet, her results today are promising.  Her pancreatic cancer tumour is no longer visible on CT scans, and the metastatic cancer on her liver has shrunk considerably. Her doctors are using the EPPIC results to try and understand why her tumour has had such an incredible response to the experimental treatment.

The EPPIC team aims to sequence metastatic pancreatic tumours of 400 patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.  They hope to improve understanding of pancreatic cancer biology to individualize treatment strategies, and to facilitate the development of new treatment options.

This project is currently under way in Toronto and Vancouver, through two clinical trials (COMPASS and PanGen), and will be expanded shortly to include eligible patients in Kingston, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Montreal site opens this week. Genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of patient tumours will be conducted at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the BC Cancer Genome Sciences Centre.

“This funding will allow us to bring leading-edge pancreatic cancer research to more Canadian patients and further advance our understanding how to best treat advanced pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Steven Gallinger, Leader of OICR’s PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative, which supports the COMPASS trial. “Collaborating with the other research groups will more rapidly result in more robust findings that can help us accelerate the development of new treatment options.”

The team will also store and analyze the genomic and clinical data collected in a knowledge bank that will be shared by Canadian and international researchers seeking ways to improve treatment.  The bank will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director, is thrilled TFRI is funding this high-calibre precision medicine team to tackle such a hard-to-treat cancer. “Pancreatic cancer research has been historically underfunded, and we are very excited to be expanding such a successful personalized medicine project to patients across Canada.  We hope precision medicine may hold the key to finding better treatments for this incurable disease.”

EPPIC’s multidisciplinary team comprises clinicians and scientists from BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, OICR, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Research Institute of MUHC, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Queen’s University and the Ottawa Hospital.

In addition to Drs. Renouf and Schaeffer, other principal investigators of EPPIC and the COMPASS and PanGen trials are: Dr. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre/UHN/ OICR), Dr. George Zogopoulos (MUHC/Research Institute of MUHC/McGill University), and Dr. Oliver Bathe (Tom Baker Cancer Center, University of Calgary). Many of the team’s investigators are members of PancOne™, an initiative of Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC).

TFRI’s investment in EPPIC also builds on funding from BC Cancer Foundation, OICR, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, PCC and VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation. 

About The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)

Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the brainchild of The Terry Fox Foundation and today functions as its research arm. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with more than 80 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, B.C. For more information please visit and follow us on Twitter (@tfri_research).

Media Contacts

Katelyn Verstraten, 604-675-8000 ext. 7630; 604-358-8898 (cell)

Kelly Curwin, 604-675-8223; 778-237-8158 (cell)

EPICC Backgrounder

March 6, 2018

Study shows that environmental exposures such as air pollution are more determinant of respiratory health than inherited genetics

Toronto (March 6, 2018) – Researchers have found strong evidence that environmental exposures, including air pollution, affect gene expressions associated with respiratory diseases much more than genetic ancestry. The study, published today in Nature Communications, analyzed more than 1.6 million data points from biological specimens, health questionnaires and environmental datasets, making this study one of the largest ever to examine the relationship between gene expression and environmental stimuli. These findings represent a groundbreaking use of big data to uncover the environmental factors that are behind diseases and inform strategies for prevention, an approach that would apply to a number of diseases, including cancer.

Genetic, health and disease data of participants from Montreal, Quebec City and Saguenay were linked with environmental information such as air pollution, walkability and access to food to see how these factors impact gene expression. Participants were enrolled in the Quebec arm (CARTaGENE) of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP), which supports research into environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors related to the development and progression of cancer and chronic diseases. More than 300,000 Canadians, 1 per cent of the population, have enrolled in CPTP since its launch in 2008.

The study used deep characterization of gene expression signatures from participants and linked that data with environmental information. “We were surprised to find that we were able to stratify genetic ancestry within Quebec, identifying individuals whose descendants were from Montreal versus Saguenay for example,” explains Dr. Philip Awadalla, the study’s senior author. “This helped us to show how most gene expression is not derived by ancestry, and that environmental exposures associated with living in a particular city or region are more impactful on gene expression associated with disease traits than heritable variation.”

One of the main findings of the study was that exposure to higher levels of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide in the Saguenay area affected the expression of genes associated with oxygen pathways and respiratory function. This resulted in higher rates of respiratory ailments such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study also revealed that there are genetic variants that control how a person’s gene expression responds when exposed to environmental stimuli.

“This study demonstrates Ontario’s leadership in research and in particular, the importance of big data,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Today, with quantities of data never before available, we are able to make important discoveries that will help us fight and overcome disease.”

“Our study shows how one can use the large scope and scale of data in Canada’s largest health cohort to better understand how our genes interact with environmental exposures and shape individual health,” says Awadalla. “I encourage all those engaged in this type of research, both in Canada and around the world, to take advantage of this resource.”

Awadalla is Director and Sr. Principal Investigator, Computational Biology, OICR, the Executive Scientific Director of the Ontario Health Study (Ontario’s CPTP cohort), Director of the Genome Canada, Canadian Data Integration Centre and Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.

Controlled access to cohort data and biological samples is available to researchers through the CPTP Data Portal and CARTaGENE.

About OICR

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute focused on accelerating the translation of new cancer research discoveries to patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. Funding for OICR is provided by the Government of Ontario.

For more information, please contact:

Hal Costie
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

February 21, 2018

FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies


Investment supports emerging entrepreneurial scientists and critical proof-of-principle studies

TORONTO, ON (February 20, 2018) – FACIT, a business accelerator, announced four new recipients of funding through its Prospects oncology investment competition: Dalriada Therapeutics Inc. (“Dalriada”), 16-Bit Inc. (“16-Bit”), a cancer biomarker study at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”), and a virus-based therapeutic under development at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa. FACIT’s investments are imperative in bridging the capital gap often experienced by early-stage Ontario companies, helping corporations establish jobs and build roots in the province. The wide ranging scope of the innovations, which span therapeutics, machine learning and biomarker development, reflect the rich talent pool within the Ontario oncology research community.

Continue reading – FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies

February 14, 2018

What can we do to better support women in science?

Women in science - using a robot.

At OICR and FACIT, women play a vital role in both ground-breaking cancer research and leading innovations from the lab to the marketplace – benefitting patients and the Ontario economy. In the first part of this two part series, female executives, leaders, directors, and scientists from OICR and FACIT shared their perspectives on challenges facing women in science. Now they discuss what can be done to address these challenges.

Despite the advances made in recent years, achieving equality and parity in science remains a significant challenge for policy-makers, organizations and the scientific community at large. We spoke with a panel of women from OICR and FACIT about the approaches to parity in science, discussing strategies and changes to better represent and support women.

Continue reading – What can we do to better support women in science?

February 12, 2018

Where are all the women in science?

At OICR and FACIT, women play a vital role in both ground-breaking cancer research and leading innovations from the lab to the marketplace – benefitting patients and the Ontario economy. These women also acknowledge the challenges and barriers for women within the field of science. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, on February 11, calls for greater commitment to end bias, increased investment in STEM for all women and girls and opportunities for their long-term professional advancement. In the first part of this two-part story, female executives, leaders, directors, and scientists from OICR and FACIT share their perspectives on the challenges faced by women in science.

Continue reading – Where are all the women in science?

February 9, 2018

Global Alliance for Genomics and Health launches 2018 Strategic Roadmap

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has laid out its plans for the next five years as it continues to align its activities with meeting the key needs of the genomics data community. The Strategic Roadmap encompasses the standards and frameworks that will be developed by GA4GH and will be updated with new deliverables annually. OICR is a GA4GH Host Institution.

Continue reading – Global Alliance for Genomics and Health launches 2018 Strategic Roadmap

January 30, 2018

Early results from COMPASS trial demonstrate benefits of using genomic sequencing to guide treatment for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer and compass icon

Genomic profiling has allowed physicians to customize treatments for patients with many types of cancer, but bringing this technology to bear against advanced pancreatic cancer has proven to be extremely difficult. OICR’s pancreatic cancer Translational Research Initiative, called PanCuRx, has been conducting a first-of-its-kind clinical trial called COMPASS to evaluate the feasibility of using real time genomic sequencing in pancreatic cancer care. The research team recently reported early results from the trial, which show how they overcame the challenges of genomic profiling specific to pancreatic cancer and gained new insights about the disease.

PanCuRx is focused on improving treatment for pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Canada. The group’s approach centres around understanding the genetics and biology of PDAC to inform the selection of therapies, as well as the development of new treatments.

Continue reading – Early results from COMPASS trial demonstrate benefits of using genomic sequencing to guide treatment for pancreatic cancer

January 29, 2018

Breakthrough leads to sequencing of a human genome using a pocket-sized device  

Jared Simpson with MinION sequencer

A new nanopore technology for direct sequencing of long strands of DNA has resulted in the most complete human genome ever assembled with a single technology, scientists have revealed.

The research, published today in Nature Biotechnology, involved scientists from the University of Nottingham, University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia in the UK; UC Santa Cruz at the University of California, Genome Informatics Section of the NIH and the University of Salt Lake City in the USA; and the University of British Columbia and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Canada.

Using an emerging technology – a pocket sized, portable DNA sequencer – the scientists sequenced a complete human genome, in fragments hundreds of times larger than usual, enabling new biological insights.

Continue reading – Breakthrough leads to sequencing of a human genome using a pocket-sized device  

January 25, 2018

The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

CDI - LogoToronto (January 25, 2018) – The Canadian Data Integration Centre (CDIC) has received $6.4 million in funding from Genome Canada to help the research community translate the biological insights gained from genomics research into tangible improvements for cancer patients.

CDIC is a “one-stop shop” service delivery platform for cancer researchers, helping streamline research by providing coordinated expertise on a broad range of services, including data integration, genomics, pathology, biospecimen handling and advanced sequencing technologies. It is an international leader in genomics, bioinformatics and translational research, supporting some of the world’s largest programs in genomic data analysis, genomic and clinical data hosting, cancer data analyses and access, and the development of algorithms for advanced sequencing technology.

Continue reading – The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

January 24, 2018

Ontario Health Study calls on participants to complete follow-up questionnaire before March 31

Illustration of four arms holding up surveys

If you are an Ontario Health Study participant, time is running out to complete the Study’s first Follow-up Questionnaire before it closes March 31. By taking part in the questionnaire, which takes 30 minutes to complete, participants provide an update on their health that can be compared against data from the Study’s initial questionnaire. Scientists will be able to use the data that is gathered and compare data between the two questionnaires to study how lifestyle, environment and family history affect health over time and to develop strategies for the prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases.

The OHS is part a nationwide research platform called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project that has obtained health data from more than 300,000 Canadians — nearly one in every 50 individuals between the ages of 35-69.

Since the Follow-up Questionnaire was launched in November of 2016, more than 40,000 Study participants have competed or begun the process of completing it. The questionnaire seeks information about a person’s health that may have changed since the first time the provided information about to the Study such as height and weight. Participants can also expect to see some new questions, which seek data on mental health, eCigarette and marijuana use, and the use of over-the-counter drugs.

Participants can complete the Follow-Up Questionnaire by logging into their account and can learn more by reading a set of frequently asked questions. Don’t miss this opportunity to help advance health research with just 30 minutes of your time.

January 19, 2018

Scientists create method to sensitize triple-negative breast cancer to common immunotherapy

Drs. Marie-Claude Bourgeois-Daigneault and John Bell

Immunotherapy, which boosts the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells, has shown remarkable promise in treating many types of cancer. Now researchers have found a way to use immunotherapy against triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), one of the most lethal forms of breast cancer. Previously, TNBC was resistant to immune checkpoint inhibitors, a common class of immunotherapies. Using a new strategy, the scientists achieved a cure rate of up to 90 per cent in mouse models.

Continue reading – Scientists create method to sensitize triple-negative breast cancer to common immunotherapy