February 26, 2019

Meet the researchers – Rosita Bajari

Find out what a Technical Business Analyst does and why this job is so important in helping researchers and software engineers work together.

February 25, 2019

Europe and Canada build secure and efficient network to share genomic and health data

Dr. Lincoln Stein, Head, Adaptive Oncology, OICR.
Dr. Lincoln Stein, Head, Adaptive Oncology, OICR.

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health introduces the European-CANadian Cancer network as one of seven new global Driver Projects

The rapid realization of precision medicine in oncology depends on the cancer research community’s ability to collaborate effectively. For genomics researchers, this means having the necessary computational tools and infrastructure to generate and share data.

Now, a new international initiative called The European-CANadian Cancer network (EUCANCan) has set out to align infrastructure across continents for the efficient analysis, management and sharing of cancer genomic and clinical data. On February 4, The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) announced that EUCANCan has been named one of seven new GA4GH Driver Projects. 

“Our goal is to enable clinicians and researchers to exchange cancer data in a way that promotes effective analysis of this data while protecting patient privacy,” says Dr. Lincoln Stein, Head of Adaptive Oncology at OICR and leader of EUCANCan’s Toronto node. “With this network, we will be able to accelerate cancer genomics research on a global scale, and in turn, drive cancer discoveries that will lead to improved diagnostics and therapies.”

EUCANCan will realize its mission by uniting groups from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Canada into a federated network. The network will help define community standards for data formats, harmonize methods to interpret genomic data, and generate strategies to manage, store and distribute data across national borders.

As one of GA4GH’s new Driver Projects, EUCANCan aims to enrich collaborations between Canadian and European genomics groups while serving the greater global research community. The Toronto node, based at OICR, will be leading the development of an open and accessible data portal to allow the research community to search, download, and analyze EUCANCan data locally and in the compute cloud.

“Together, the new Driver Projects significantly expand GA4GH’s global representation, strengthening our collaborations across Africa and Europe, as well as in Japan, and adding connections in 31 countries for a total global reach across more than 100 countries worldwide,” says GA4GH CEO Peter Goodhand.

 “The new Driver Projects join a community that is building the standards and frameworks that will guide the field for years to come,” says Dr. David Altshuler, Founding Chair of GA4GH.

Read more about the 2019 Driver Projects here.

February 21, 2019

OICR supports cancer drug discovery in Ontario with new funding for four promising early-stage projects

Toronto (February 21, 2019) – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced that four Early Accelerator projects from across Ontario will each receive $100,000 for one year as part of OICR’s Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline (CTIP) initiative. The funding will be used to validate cancer targets and support experiments to screen molecules against these targets, finding those that can bind to them successfully and have potential to be developed into medicines.

Continue reading – OICR supports cancer drug discovery in Ontario with new funding for four promising early-stage projects

February 21, 2019

New step-by-step protocol for common omics analyses fills 10-year gap in training resources

Juri Reimand

Expert group develops comprehensive guide for the interpretation and visualization of gene lists, replacing outdated, decade-old protocols

The importance of understanding biological pathways – or how our genes work together – is becoming increasingly evident, but pathway analysis remains a major challenge for many basic and biomedical researchers. Current computational tools can help simplify this analysis, but there is no established guide or standard for using these tools in practice.

To fill this gap, a team of experts from OICR and the Bader Lab at the University of Toronto recently published a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to pathway enrichment analysis that brings together their highly-recommended tools into one protocol. The complete protocol, which is now published in Nature Protocols, can be performed in less than five hours and can be used by researchers with no prior training in bioinformatics or computational biology.

“These days, almost every omics study needs to include pathway enrichment analysis, but it has been over a decade since a comprehensive protocol for these analyses has been published,” says Dr. Jüri Reimand, Principal Investigator at OICR and co-lead author of the protocol. “Our new methods are designed to guide researchers through their analyses and serve as a practical resource for their studies.”

Each step of the protocol is supported with detailed instructions and valuable troubleshooting information, which were designed in large part by Ruth Isserlin, co-lead author and Senior Bioinformatics Analyst in the Bader Lab.

Recently, the methods were used to identify a therapeutic target for ependymoma, a prevalent type of childhood brain cancer that is notoriously difficult to treat. The pathway analysis, as described in Nature, led to a better understanding of why most ependymoma treatments are not effective and revealed a new treatment option that could stop the progression of the disease.

“Future cancer research discoveries rely on our understanding of biological pathways,” says Reimand. “This protocol provides a resource from which we can build our understanding and explore previously uncharted relationships between our genes.”

February 12, 2019

Sometimes the simpler, the better: bringing personalized treatment selection for bladder cancer closer to the clinic 

Pathology slides sit in a tray on a lab bench top.

Pathology experts review challenges and opportunities in treatment selection for muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC), propose traditional pathology method to achieve same results as molecular profiling at lower cost

Research has shown that some types of bladder cancer respond well to treatment and other types are resistant, yet molecular subtyping, which can help better define a patient’s cancer and direct them to a more targeted treatment, is not performed in the clinic. This means that patients are often treated with a one-size-fits-all approach. Despite recent research progress, the movement of MIBC subtyping to the clinic has stagnated.

Continue reading – Sometimes the simpler, the better: bringing personalized treatment selection for bladder cancer closer to the clinic 

February 12, 2019

The power of one, benefiting the many

Close up of a person using a laptop.

When the first volunteer signed up for the Ontario Health Study (OHS), carefully filling out a detailed online health questionnaire, they no doubt hoped their efforts would do some good. They could never have predicted that, 10 years on, their de-identified health data is now pooled with those of nine million other altruists, from across four continents, in addition to being part of a Canadian national database.

Continue reading – The power of one, benefiting the many

February 7, 2019

Op-ed in The Globe and Mail hails innovation strategy that resulted in record-breaking investment by Celgene

Rima Al-awar showing the structure of WDR5 at podium.

In a contribution to The Globe and Mail titled “For Innovation, open science means business”, E. Richard Gold and Max Morgan point to the recent investment by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Celgene into a potential treatment for leukemia developed by OICR researchers, as an example of how Canada can successfully commercialize its scientific discoveries. The authors note that the uniquely Canadian approach employed by FACIT and OICR working together will, unlike other strategies, keep the intellectual property (IP) in Canada longer and see research and development, clinical trials and other outcomes, benefit Canada and Ontario.

Gold and Morgan point out that it was an open science collaboration between OICR and the University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) that allowed for the initial scientific discovery behind the new potential drug to take place rapidly, since traditional concerns around IP weren’t a factor. This approach allowed FACIT and OICR to move towards targeted drug development much earlier than possible under other models, enabling them to create a patented drug candidate. Gold and Morgan call on Canadian governments to replicate the open science to IP model, which Celgene’s investment shows is a viable path to commercialization in Canada. 

E. Richard Gold is James McGill professor, McGill Faculty of Law; senior fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation; former technology lawyer. Max Morgan is chief policy officer and senior counsel, SGC; corporate secretary and legal consultant, M4K Pharma Inc. OICR has provided funding to M4K Pharma Inc. through its Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline initiative. SGC and OICR are long-term partners.

From the Globe and Mail (subscription required): For Innovation, open science means business

February 4, 2019

Dockstore: Sharing tools for large-scale genomics research

Denis Yuen, Senior Software Developer at OICR

OICR’s Adaptive Oncology team has been granted $875,000 from Genome Canada to expand Dockstore – a framework for generating and sharing portable computational biology workflows.

Cancer genomics research depends on the ability to analyze massive datasets in a standardized and coordinated manner. This involves creating and managing workflows – a series of processes and computational tools – that are often long, complex and difficult to share between research groups.

Continue reading – Dockstore: Sharing tools for large-scale genomics research

January 29, 2019

FACIT and Triphase Accelerator Announce New Partnership with Celgene for First-in-class WDR5 Leukemia Therapy

Largest transaction to date for Canadian-discovered preclinical asset arises from Ontario collaborators 

TORONTO, ON (January 29, 2019) – Triphase Accelerator, together with its majority shareholder FACIT, today announced a new strategic collaboration with Celgene for a first-in-class preclinical therapeutic targeting the WDR5 protein for the treatment of blood cancers including leukemia. Triphase is a drug development company advancing novel compounds through Phase 2 proof-of-concept, including the WDR5 program. 

Continue reading – FACIT and Triphase Accelerator Announce New Partnership with Celgene for First-in-class WDR5 Leukemia Therapy

January 29, 2019

First-in-class drug for blood cancers discovered by Ontario researchers receives record-setting industry investment

Years of hard work by OICR’s Drug Discovery group and Ontario partners moves potential new treatment for leukemia towards clinical trials

On January 29, 2019, Celgene Corporation made an investment of up to US$1 billion that will facilitate further research and development of the potential drug and support clinical trials in Ontario. The potential drug was designed to exploit a weakness in leukemia centred on the protein WDR5 that was discovered by Ontario researchers. If all options under the investment are exercised, the deal will be the largest transaction to date for a preclinical asset discovered in Canada.

“The progress of this pre-clinical drug towards the clinic is an example of how OICR, working with its partners, is accelerating cancer research in Ontario and increasing investment so that new innovations can help patients as soon as possible,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “This announcement shows how OICR and FACIT’s unique model for research and commercialization can generate long-term impact for the province of Ontario.” FACIT is OICR’s strategic commercialization partner.

The WDR5 project’s development demonstrates the unique expertise of OICR DD, the advantages to the OICR-FACIT model, and how OICR effectively harnesses the strengths of Ontario’s diverse cancer research ecosystem by collaborating with groups such as the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), the group that initially identified the potential of targeting WDR5 as a treatment for cancer.

Continue reading – First-in-class drug for blood cancers discovered by Ontario researchers receives record-setting industry investment

January 29, 2019

New potential treatment for leukemia discovered by OICR scientists draws major industry investment

Image for announcement

TORONTO (January 29, 2019) – A first-of-its-kind therapy for leukemia discovered by researchers in the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s (OICR) Drug Discovery Program, and under preclinical development, has attracted investment from Celgene Corporation that could exceed US$1 billion – which would make it the largest transaction to date for a preclinical asset discovered in Canada.

This investment will allow for clinical trials based in Ontario, and will further research and development of the drug and other cancer research innovations developed in the province. The commercialization of this technology was conducted by OICR’s strategic partner FACIT and demonstrates the realization of the two partners’ long-term vision of creating a sustainable pathway for therapeutic innovation in Ontario.

“The progress of this pre-clinical drug towards the clinic is an example of how OICR, working with its partners, is accelerating cancer research in Ontario and increasing investment so that new innovations can help patients as soon as possible,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “Today’s announcement shows how OICR and FACIT’s unique model for research and commercialization can generate long-term impact for the province of Ontario.”

The project is built on the observation that a protein known as MLL-1 plays an important role in promoting the development of leukemia. It does this through binding with a partner protein called WDR5. This new therapy works by disrupting the MLL-1/WDR5 protein-protein interaction, therefore inhibiting the cancer-promoting activity of the MLL-1 protein.

The possibility of targeting WDR5 to disrupt the cancer-driving activity of MLL-1 was first suggested by one of OICR’s partners, the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) at the University of Toronto, where researchers saw its potential and proposed a collaboration with OICR’s Drug Discovery (DD) program. OICR DD and SGC researchers worked together to develop an active and selective WDR5 “chemical probe” that could be used to test the anti-leukemia hypothesis. After OICR and SGC scientists demonstrated this probe could disrupt the interaction of WDR5 and MLL-1 in cells, they shared the compound with academic investigators in Ontario and around the world, who showed the probe could stop the growth of leukemia and other cancer cells.

Once the probe was in the public domain, the OICR DD group seized the opportunity to leverage its expertise to improve the drug-like properties and potency of the probe, while creating novel intellectual property, in order to fully realize its therapeutic and commercial potential. This subsequent development of the pre-clinical drug by OICR DD was made possible by their extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry and academia, a unique model that has helped to develop assets that are solid candidates for investment and further development by industry partners. OICR DD is one of the only industry-academic hybrid drug discovery teams in Ontario.

Continue reading – New potential treatment for leukemia discovered by OICR scientists draws major industry investment

January 25, 2019

Study reveals mechanism driving spread of advanced pancreatic cancer

Rob Denroche, bioinformatician and Project Leader of PanCuRx.

Large-scale pancreatic cancer study distinguishes primary from metastatic tumours, uncovering new genomic biomarkers that could help guide treatment selection

Over the next decade, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) – the most common type of pancreatic cancer – is projected to become the second leading cause of all cancer mortality. A better understanding of how PDAC changes when it metastasizes – or spreads from the pancreas to other organs – may help researchers find ways to treat the disease more effectively.

A study by OICR researchers and collaborators, published today in Cancer Cell, showed that the cells in advanced pancreatic tumours grow – or cycle – faster than those in early tumours, revealing one of the key reasons that the disease can advance so quickly.  OICR’s Pancreatic Cancer Translational Research Initiative, PanCuRx, investigated the whole genomes and transcriptomes of more than 300 PDAC tumours, contrasting cells from primary tumours and cells from metastatic tumours. This distinction may help clinicians advise patients about treatment, whether it be surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

“Often, a patient’s primary pancreatic cancer recurs after surgery and chemotherapy, and there is limited knowledge of metastases to guide the next course of action. In less common ‘metachronous’ cases, treatment depends on whether the second tumour is new, or if it grew from remnants of a previous tumour,” says Dr. Ashton Connor, chief resident in the General Surgery training program at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study. “In this study, we explored differences between primary and metastatic tumours in the hopes of better understanding the mechanisms of cancer cell spread from the pancreas, and to ultimately inform their treatment.”

Over the last decade, PanCuRx has assembled the largest collection of genomic and transcriptomic data on primary and metastatic PDAC tumours. The initiative continues to collect samples through the COMPASS clinical trial today.

“There have been very few studies of advanced PDAC, so our rich dataset is very valuable to the future of pancreatic cancer research,” says Rob Denroche, bioinformatician, Project Leader of PanCuRx and co-author of the study. “Research groups from Germany, Brazil, Japan and across North America have been interested in the data that we’ve collected and we’re happy to enable their discoveries.”

PanCuRx collaborations span four continents, largely due to their enriched dataset on metastatic PDAC.

Through COMPASS, PanCuRx will continue to build on these findings and test if cell progression could be used to inform treatment selection in the clinic.

“This work is foundational to our understanding of advanced pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Steven Gallinger, PanCuRx Director and Head of the Hepatobiliary/Pancreatic Surgical Oncology Program at UHN and Mount Sinai Hospital. “We look forward to building on this understanding to better inform treatment selection for those with this terrible disease.”

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