June 21, 2016

Ask an expert: How are new cancer drugs created?

Dr. David Uehling in the Lab.

Cancer drugs help millions of people every year by assisting them in living longer or by reducing side effects or symptoms. In some cases, cancer drugs can even prevent cancers from developing. But cancer drugs take a long time to carefully develop and test, and the process is expensive. We asked Dr. David Uehling, Scientific Advisor and Group Leader, Medicinal Chemistry Group in the Drug Discovery Program at OICR, to help explain the process and its challenges.

Continue reading – Ask an expert: How are new cancer drugs created?

May 1, 2016

OICR invests in early-stage Ontario oncology drug development

OICR is supporting new early stage drug discovery research in Ontario, with a $1.2 million investment from OICR’s Drug Discovery Program into five promising oncology research projects selected through a province-wide call for proposals.

This was a new approach to selecting projects for the Drug Discovery team’s research pipeline and one that aligns well with the strategic direction of the team and the Institute, says Dr. Rima Al-awar, Director of OICR’s Drug Discovery Program.

“Traditionally we have relied on several means to generate interest from the community, including informal outreach to other institutions and word of mouth says Al-awar. She points to the recent success of BCL6, a drug target that OICR’s Drug Discovery team developed from early stage research by Dr. Gil Privé at University Health Network. Collaborating with Privé, the team brought the BCL6 project to the point where it attracted major investment from industry.

Continue reading – OICR invests in early-stage Ontario oncology drug development

January 7, 2016

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $1.2 million to support oncology drug development in Ontario

Five promising early stage research projects that would benefit from OICR’s input and expertise were selected from a province-wide call for proposals.

Toronto (January 7, 2016) – Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) announced today that OICR will invest $1.2 million in funding, plus expertise and in-kind support, to help bring five promising oncology drug development projects closer to the clinic.

Continue reading – Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $1.2 million to support oncology drug development in Ontario

December 29, 2015

OICR partnership with Johnson and Johnson to develop new treatments for haematological cancers

FACIT Logo Development of a set of novel therapeutic compounds identified by OICR’s Drug Discovery Program and researchers at the University Health Network (UHN) will be accelerated thanks to a recently announced collaboration between Johnson & Johnson and the Institute, UHN and Novera Therapeutics, a new company established by the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (FACIT) to enable further development of the compounds.

Novera will receive an upfront payment from Johnson & Johnson and can receive a total of approximately $450 million as well as funds from potential royalties and sales. As part of the deal, Janssen will have an exclusive license option for candidate drugs that are developed through the collaboration. After exercising this option Janssen will undertake all pre-clinical, clinical and commercial development.

“Janssen is an excellent partner for this exciting program and we welcome the opportunity to leverage their distinguished development expertise in haematological cancers.  Patients in Ontario and worldwide will benefit from this collaborative and innovative model for translational research,” says Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of OICR.

Read the announcement

Media coverage

OICR, Novera and Janssen Biotech collaborate to develop haematological cancer drug
From Pharmaceutical Business Review

J&J deepens its Canada ties with $690M in R&D deals
From Fierce Biotech

Cancer Institute Spins-Off Company, Gains Licensing Deal
Science Business

J&J partners with pair of Canadian companies
From BioCentury

December 8, 2015

FACIT Gains Rights to WDR5 Inhibitors for MLL Leukemia

First-in-class epigenetic modifiers discovered by OICR positioned for collaborative development

TORONTO, Dec. 8, 2015 /CNW/ – Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (“FACIT”) announced the acquisition of exclusive rights to a portfolio of first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors for the treatment of mixed lineage leukemia (MLL).  A series of proprietary small molecule inhibitors were optimized based on the discovery of a chemical probe for WDR5.  The original WDR5 probe (OICR-9429) was developed by drug discovery scientists at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”), Structural Genomics Consortium (“SGC”) and other collaborators.  As with other technologies within the portfolio, FACIT will be responsible for stewarding commercialization activities for the assets and leveraging development expertise within the OICR network.

MLL1 deregulation is reported in both acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and is also common in a variety of solid cancers. The WDR5 protein is critical for the formation and epigenetic activities of MLL1-associated methylation complexes. The series of epigenetic modifiers discovered by OICR target protein-protein interactions within the WDR5/MLL1 complex, and thereby disrupts methylation activities.

“Mixed Lineage Leukemia is an aggressive childhood cancer, making the team highly motivated to accelerate the development of these first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors.  We are currently exploring opportunities with strategic pharmaceutical partners, investors and of course, ongoing work with the innovative drug discovery scientists at OICR,” said Jeff Courtney, Chief Commercial Officer of FACIT.

“With the growing recognition of the importance of epigenetic signalling, potent and selective small molecules targeting the WDR5/MLL1 interface present a potential therapeutic intervention in leukemias and some p53/myc-driven cancers.  Upcoming healthcare conferences are a timely opportunity to implement our partnering strategy for this promising set of inhibitors as we seek to leverage private sector investment,” remarked David O’Neill, Vice President of Business Development at FACIT.

About WDR5
WDR5 is a scaffolding protein essential for assembly of epigenetic MLL1-associated methyltransferase complexes and proper histone modification, the dysregulation of which is strongly implicated in MLL leukemia. In addition to its importance in MLL leukemia, deregulation of WDR5 itself has been observed in bladder cancer, where overexpression correlates with poor patient survival. MLL1 mutations are common in a variety of solid cancers, including breast, colon, lung, and bladder.

About OICR
OICR is an innovative cancer research and development institute dedicated to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit corporation, supported by the Government of Ontario. OICR and its funding partners support research programs that involve more than 1,700 investigators, clinician scientists, research staff and trainees in research institutes and in universities across the Province of Ontario as well as at its headquarters. OICR has key research program efforts underway in small molecules, biologics, stem cells, imaging, genomics, informatics and bio-computing. For more information, please visit the website at www.oicr.on.ca.

About FACIT
FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust) is an independent business entity established by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)  to undertake and accelerate development and commercialization activities related to breakthrough cancer research, products and drug discovery from OICR and throughout Ontario. For more information, please visit the website at facit.ca or email info@facit.ca.

December 8, 2015

FACIT Gains Rights to WDR5 Inhibitors for MLL Leukemia

First-in-class epigenetic modifiers discovered by OICR positioned for collaborative development

TORONTO, Dec. 8, 2015 /CNW/ – Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (“FACIT”) announced the acquisition of exclusive rights to a portfolio of first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors for the treatment of mixed lineage leukemia (MLL).  A series of proprietary small molecule inhibitors were optimized based on the discovery of a chemical probe for WDR5.  The original WDR5 probe (OICR-9429) was developed by drug discovery scientists at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”), Structural Genomics Consortium (“SGC”) and other collaborators.  As with other technologies within the portfolio, FACIT will be responsible for stewarding commercialization activities for the assets and leveraging development expertise within the OICR network.

MLL1 deregulation is reported in both acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and is also common in a variety of solid cancers. The WDR5 protein is critical for the formation and epigenetic activities of MLL1-associated methylation complexes. The series of epigenetic modifiers discovered by OICR target protein-protein interactions within the WDR5/MLL1 complex, and thereby disrupts methylation activities.

“Mixed Lineage Leukemia is an aggressive childhood cancer, making the team highly motivated to accelerate the development of these first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors.  We are currently exploring opportunities with strategic pharmaceutical partners, investors and of course, ongoing work with the innovative drug discovery scientists at OICR,” said Jeff Courtney, Chief Commercial Officer of FACIT.

“With the growing recognition of the importance of epigenetic signalling, potent and selective small molecules targeting the WDR5/MLL1 interface present a potential therapeutic intervention in leukemias and some p53/myc-driven cancers.  Upcoming healthcare conferences are a timely opportunity to implement our partnering strategy for this promising set of inhibitors as we seek to leverage private sector investment,” remarked David O’Neill, Vice President of Business Development at FACIT.

About WDR5
WDR5 is a scaffolding protein essential for assembly of epigenetic MLL1-associated methyltransferase complexes and proper histone modification, the dysregulation of which is strongly implicated in MLL leukemia. In addition to its importance in MLL leukemia, deregulation of WDR5 itself has been observed in bladder cancer, where overexpression correlates with poor patient survival. MLL1 mutations are common in a variety of solid cancers, including breast, colon, lung, and bladder.

About OICR
OICR is an innovative cancer research and development institute dedicated to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit corporation, supported by the Government of Ontario. OICR and its funding partners support research programs that involve more than 1,700 investigators, clinician scientists, research staff and trainees in research institutes and in universities across the Province of Ontario as well as at its headquarters. OICR has key research program efforts underway in small molecules, biologics, stem cells, imaging, genomics, informatics and bio-computing. For more information, please visit the website at www.oicr.on.ca.

About FACIT
FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust) is an independent business entity established by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)  to undertake and accelerate development and commercialization activities related to breakthrough cancer research, products and drug discovery from OICR and throughout Ontario. For more information, please visit the website at facit.ca or email info@facit.ca.

October 14, 2015

OICR, UHN, Novera Therapeutics Announce Collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation on Drug Discovery and Development for Haematological Cancers

Research Collaboration and Option and License Agreement Reach Approximately $450 Million Cdn

TORONTO, Oct. 14, 2015 /CNW/ – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”) together with Novera Therapeutics Inc., (“Novera”) have announced a collaboration with Janssen Biotech, LLC (“Janssen”), a Pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson, to accelerate the development of promising small molecule drug candidates for haematological cancers. Novera, a new Ontario biotechnology company, will discover and develop novel therapeutic compounds identified through OICR’s drug discovery program in partnership with University Health Network’s (“UHN”) enabling technology and disease area biology, and coordinate the collaboration with Janssen under a collaboration, license option, and exclusive license agreement (the “agreement”).

Under the agreement, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novera will receive an upfront payment and is eligible to receive various pre-clinical, clinical, regulatory and commercialization success-based milestone payments up to a total of approximately $450 million Cdn, plus tiered royalties on potential net sales of products.  Janssen has been granted an exclusive option to license, for all human uses worldwide, candidate drug(s) that have been identified and will be advanced through the collaboration.  Janssen will assume responsibility for subsequent pre-clinical, clinical and commercial development once it exercises its option.

As a translational research institute OICR identifies, funds and supports oncology innovations with a goal of improving clinical practice. Leveraging the extensive and renowned research community within Ontario, OICR assembles and coordinates the intellectual resources, management and expertise needed to drive anti-cancer discoveries from bench to bedside.  Novera was established by FACIT, OICR’s commercialization partner, to advance the therapeutics against molecular targets in difficult-to-treat hematological malignancies.

The announced agreement with Janssen is another important example that builds on the translational mandate and vision of OICR, FACIT and Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation (“MRI”).

“Janssen is an excellent partner for this exciting program and we welcome the opportunity to leverage their distinguished development expertise in haematological cancers.  Patients in Ontario and worldwide will benefit from this collaborative and innovative model for translational research,” said Tom Hudson, President of OICR.

“We are pleased with the remarkable achievements of OICR, UHN and FACIT and their continued efforts to translate breakthrough research from the lab to the marketplace. An expanded presence of a health industry leader like Janssen in Ontario — combined with our world-class scientific research — is essential for the province to stay at the forefront of innovation for the benefit of patients and our economy,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of MRI.

“As a worldwide leader in developing breakthrough medicines, Janssen is an ideal partner and an excellent fit with our plan to bring the commercial strengths and experience of multinational pharmaceutical companies to support oncology innovations arising in the Province,” remarked Jeff Courtney, FACIT’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Janssen’s commitment to this program is indicative of the calibre of innovation driving OICR’s Drug Discovery initiatives.”

About OICR
OICR is an innovative cancer research and development institute dedicated to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit corporation, supported by the Government of Ontario. OICR and its funding partners support research programs that involve more than 1,700 investigators, clinician scientists, research staff and trainees in research institutes and in universities across the Province of Ontario as well as at its headquarters. OICR has key research program efforts underway in small molecules, biologics, stem cells, imaging, genomics, informatics and bio-computing. For more information, please visit the website at www.oicr.on.ca.

About FACIT
FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust) is an independent business entity established by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)  to undertake and accelerate development and commercialization activities related to breakthrough cancer research, products and drug discovery from OICR and throughoutOntario. For more information, please visit the website at facit.ca or email info@facit.ca.

About University Health Network
University Health Network consists of Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. www.uhn.ca.

About Novera Therapeutics Inc.
Novera Therapeutics Inc. is a biotherapeutics company focused on developing and commercializing therapies that improve patient outcomes in difficult-to-treat cancers. Established by the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (FACIT), Novera’s drug candidates are derived from discoveries, research and innovations originating from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN). For more information, please email info@facit.ca.

September 3, 2015

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the Structural Genomics Consortium develop and give away new drug-like molecule to help crowd-source cancer research

Through a novel open source approach the molecule has been made freely available to the cancer research community to help discover new therapeutic strategies for cancer patients sooner.

TORONTO, ON (September 3, 2015) – Researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto have developed a new drug prototype called OICR-9429 and made it freely available to the research community.  Already research conducted by international groups using OICR-9429 has shown it to be effective in stopping cancer cell growth in breast cancer cell lines and a specific subtype of leukemia cells.

Significant time and resources are required to test new cancer treatments but unfortunately most ideas fail late in the development process and most of the activities are carried out in parallel, without sufficient collaboration. This leads to massive duplication of effort and ultimately increased cost of cancer drugs. By making early stage drug-like compounds such as OICR-9429 available, OICR and the SGC are allowing researchers to more rapidly test new treatment strategies and facilitate sharing of the results. Independent studies from Philadelphia and Vienna have now shown that the cellular target of OICR-9429 may be relevant for drug discovery.

“In the time that it would normally take to negotiate a legal agreement to provide OICR-9429 to other research teams we have received results back from our collaborators showing that it can kill two different types of cancer cells,” says Dr. Cheryl Arrowsmith, Chief Scientist at SGC Toronto. “Opening our chemistry capabilities to the world’s scientists allowed us to crowdsource and accelerate the research.” Dr. Arrowsmith is also a Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and a Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network.

“It is remarkable how quickly our research results were translated into discoveries by the groups around the world.  This demonstrates that Ontario is a new hub of a global drug discovery effort,” says Dr. Rima Al-awar, Director and Senior Principal Investigator, Drug Discovery Program, OICR. “We are looking forward to seeing more research conducted with OICR-9429 and showing that this new approach to early-stage drug discovery has significant advantages.”

OICR-9429 works to inhibit a protein called WDR5 and two recent studies evaluated its effect on breast cancer and leukemia cell lines and returned encouraging results.

A study led by Dr. Shelly Berger at the University of Pennsylvania used OICR-9429 to stop cancer cell growth in a panel of breast cancer cell lines driven by mutated forms of the gene p53. In its normal form p53 is a tumour-suppressor, however once it is mutated it leads to a ‘gain of function’ and causes cancers to grow though its stimulation of WDR5 function. This research is significant as p53 is mutated in at least half of all cancers and is dysregulated in others.

A team headed by Drs. Florian Grebien and Giulio Superti-Furga at the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine in Vienna, Austria used OICR-9429 to demonstrate the potential of WDR5 as a therapeutic target for leukemia. Their research showed that OICR-9429 stopped the growth of leukemia cells with a very specific mutation found in about nine per cent of patients with acute myeloid leukemia.

These two studies culminated in joint publications, in Nature and Nature Chemical Biology respectively, between the international researchers and the Ontario-based OICR and SGC teams.

“I applaud this innovative partnership between OICR and SGC and their collaborative efforts to catalyze cancer research worldwide,” says Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation. “Collaboration, both at home in Ontario and abroad, is key to driving scientific discoveries and ultimately delivering better care to cancer patients.”

OICR-9429 is just one in a series of drug-like compounds developed by the SGC that are enabling a new approach to early-stage drug discovery. The SGC and OICR teams are continuing their collaboration to identify additional drug-like molecules to advance cancer drug discovery.

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