June 24, 2020

Philanthropic donation moves The Alex U. Soyka Pancreatic Cancer Research Project: An International Partnership into Phase II

Ontario-Israel collaboration to explore personalized treatment and improved diagnostics for pancreatic cancer

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Toronto – (June 24, 2020) A second significant multi-year commitment from Sylvia M. G. Soyka, Director, and the Alex U. Soyka Foundation to the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CFHU) will allow researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), the Hebrew University’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and Sheba Medical Center to conduct The Alex U. Soyka Pancreatic Cancer Research Project: Phase II – An International Partnership (Soyka Project).

Phase II builds upon the outstanding achievements of Phase I of the Soyka Project by fostering further collaboration between Israeli and Ontario researchers, focusing on three main research avenues in pancreatic cancer – to develop effective patient-specific treatment courses, address the challenges of tumour cell heterogeneity and create new methods for early-stage diagnosis.

As a measure of its impact so far, Phase I of the Soyka Project has been cited in more than 18 peer-reviewed papers on pancreatic cancer including manuscripts in the prestigious journals Nature Genetics, Nature Medicine and Cancer Cell.  Phase II of the Soyka Project will provide eight of Israel’s leading cancer researchers with funds to explore the molecular origins of pancreatic cancer, as well as novel diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic approaches. These fellowships are key to the multi-disciplinary approach of the Soyka Project and this round of funding will see new scientists joining the team with expertise in single-cell RNA sequencing and bioinformatics, some of the most advanced approaches used in cancer research today.

A central component of Phase II is to increase the opportunity for patients at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel to be molecularly profiled according to the COMPASS clinical trial guidelines. COMPASS is a world-leading initiative led by Dr. Steven Gallinger, supported by OICR and based at the University Health Network in Toronto, that uses genomic and transcriptomic information from patient tumours to personalize treatment with the aim of improving outcomes. The data collected through COMPASS will also be used by Soyka Project scientists to dig deep into the inner workings of pancreatic cancer.

“I feel proud and privileged to fund Phase II of this international collaboration in pancreatic cancer research,” says Sylvia M. G. Soyka. “In the world of cancer research, much progress has been made in recent years, but pancreatic cancer remains a deadly disease with a dismal less than 10% five-year survival rate. When we started Phase I in 2014, the five-year survival rate was less than 5%, but there is clearly a long way to go. In 2010, my father, a man fully engaged in every aspect of life who took great pains to look after his health, the sort of person who was going to live well forever, was diagnosed out of the blue and died three months to the day later. The Soyka Project is his legacy. Phase I was highly successful, in no small part due to the collaboration of the dedicated scientists, within and between the teams, which created new directions. In the context of today’s world, I feel strongly that the fact of the collaboration alone, which requires both trust and generosity of spirit, sets an important example which should be emulated. The rewards of Phase II will be ours as well as theirs.”

“I am extremely thankful to Sylvia Soyka for her generous funding of this cutting-edge research program. Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to detect and treat and patients need better options,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director, OICR. “The Soyka Project is an incredible example of the benefits of international scientific collaboration that will reveal important insights into detecting pancreatic cancer earlier and developing precision medicine tools for improved treatment. We are thrilled to continue this important work with our partners in Israel.”

“Sylvia Soyka is the driving force and inspiration behind The Alex U. Soyka Pancreatic Cancer Research Project that started six years ago and now, her recent generous donation will allow the second phase of research,” says Prof. Haya Lorberboum-Galski, Chair of IMRIC. “Her longstanding support is of vast importance to the researchers at IMRIC as it will enable us to continue our ongoing endeavour to decipher the basic molecular aspects of one of the deadliest cancers – pancreatic cancer. We hope this exciting work, in collaboration with OICR, will lead to new approaches for early diagnosis, prevention, treatment and a cure.”

“Sylvia Soyka is an exemplary philanthropic leader who decided to tackle one of the most challenging and underfunded cancers,” says Rami Kleinmann, President and CEO of CFHU. “Together with an outstanding team of researchers and practitioners from Canada and Israel, she managed to help make substantial progress in understanding the disease. We hope that with the current funding of Phase II, we will be able to take it even further.”

About The Alex U. Soyka Pancreatic Cancer Research Project: Phase II – An International Partnership (Soyka Project)

Alex U. Soyka was a committed supporter of the Hebrew University through the CFHU in Montreal. Following his death from pancreatic cancer in 2010, his daughter Sylvia M. G. Soyka, Director, and the Alex U. Soyka Foundation, made a multi-year funding commitment to CFHU to launch The Alex U. Soyka Pancreatic Cancer Research Project.

About the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)
OICR is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute funded by the Government of Ontario. We conduct and enable high-impact translational cancer research to accelerate the development of discoveries for patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. For more information visit https://oicr.on.ca/

About the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC)

The Institute conducts basic and translational/precision research in the field of biomedicine with a main focus on cancer research. The Institute scientists work in a multidisciplinary enterprise that is essential for understanding most of the diseases that currently challenge medical science, including cancer, for the benefit of patients all over the world. For more information visit https://medicine.ekmd.huji.ac.il/En/academicUnits/imric/Pages/Default.aspx

About the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU)

CFHU facilitates academic and research partnerships between Canada and Israel, as well as establishes scholarships, supports research and cultivates student and faculty exchanges. Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, Chaim Weizmann and Sigmund Freud were among the university’s founders whose genius inspired a university without limits or borders. CFHU is dedicated to supporting Hebrew University in its efforts to remain one of the most innovative learning institutions in the world.

OICR media contact
Christopher Needles
Director, Communications
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
416-319-5252
christopher.needles@oicr.on.ca

CFHU media contact
Robert Sarner
Senior National Director, Communication
Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University
416-485-8000, Ext. 111
rsarner@cfhu.org

December 3, 2019

OICR’s Dr. Trevor Pugh receives $1 million grant from The TD Ready Challenge

Funding will support Pugh’s innovative work in blood-based cancer detection and screening

OICR’s Dr. Trevor Pugh poses for a photo with his co-applicant Dr. Raymond Kim. (TD Bank Group)

Dr. Trevor Pugh, OICR’s Director of Genomics and Senior Investigator, has been named one of ten winners of the 2019 TD Ready Challenge.

The award, which is valued at $1 million, will support Pugh’s research over the next three years as he and collaborators, including Dr. Raymond Kim at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, develop an effective blood test for early cancer detection. The test will aim to help those with hereditary cancer syndrome, including individuals with Lynch Syndrome and people that carry BRCA1/2 mutations.

“People who carry genetic changes that place them at a high risk of cancer often face significant health, travel and financial burdens,” says Pugh. “Not all surveillance tests are readily accessible in remote or lower-income regions, so many of these people do not undergo necessary proactive preventative screening. We want to help fix that.”

With TD’s funding, Pugh, Kim, and collaborators across Canada will work to create an accessible blood-based screening test that can detect cancers earlier than current methods, and guide more personalized management of individuals at high risk of developing the disease.

“This project hinges on close collaboration and coordination with patients and clinical teams caring for them,” says Pugh. “TD’s support will further amplify the impact of our work, especially that of our team’s clinical lead, Dr. Kim, as he mobilizes hereditary genetics clinics for the benefit of patients across Canada.”

“TD’s support will allow our Ontario scientists to build on their leadership in early cancer detection and screening,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “We would like to thank TD for having the vision to support such an important project that will positively impact the health of Canadians. We would also like to congratulate Dr. Pugh and his team, and look forward to their continued progress in making cancer screening more accessible.”

As part of TD’s $1 billion commitment to community giving, the 2019 TD Ready Challenge encouraged organizations across North America to create innovative solutions that help increase equitable health outcomes and focus on preventative efforts. In total, TD awarded $10 million for the 2019 Challenge to deliver innovative healthcare solutions to those that need it most.

“OICR has brought forward a creative and scalable solution to help increase equitable health outcomes for underserved and remote communities,” says Andrea Barrack, Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, TD Bank Group. “Being a winner of the TD Ready Challenge is a testament to the skill, ingenuity, and vision of its creators, as well as their dedication to improving the health of their communities and opening doors to a more inclusive tomorrow.”

A full list of The 2019 Ready Challenge winners as well as more information about the challenge can be found at www.td.com/thereadychallenge.

October 4, 2019

Meet our new Lebovic Fellows

OICR is proud to announce two new partnerships between research trainees in Ontario and collaborators in Israel, supported by Joseph and Wolf Lebovic.

The Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program, a joint initiative between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and OICR, is supporting two new partnerships between local cancer researchers and those in Israel.

This is the second round of this fellowship program that aims to strengthen collaboration across the two countries by pairing trainees in complementary areas of expertise. Both projects focus on the interaction between tumours and the immune system to develop new and more effective therapeutic strategies for cancer.

Over the next two years, the new fellows will develop their mutually-beneficial partnerships, allowing them to further their research while building their collaboration skills.

“We are investing in talented trainees with the potential to make a significant impact in cancer research, while fostering international collaboration,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “We cannot wait to see what they will accomplish in the years to come.”


Teaming up to take on a new approach

Principal Investigator in Israel: Dr. Lior Nissim, Assistant Professor at IMRIC
Fellow: Natella Buketov, Master of Science student at IMRIC

Principal Investigator in Ontario: Dr. Samuel Workenhe, Assistant Professor at McMaster University
Fellow: Jeffrey Wei, Master of Science student at McMaster University

Dr. Samuel Workenhe and Jeffrey Wei.

Developing viruses that alarm the immune system to fight against cancer is a sought after goal around the world. A common challenge with this approach is that cancer cells can often “shut off” or silence these alarms, and thus, the cancer cells remain undetectable to the immune system.

Workenhe and Nissim hypothesize that synthetic molecules – sequences of DNA that cannot be found in nature – could be used to overcome this challenge and effectively trigger an immune response against cancer cells.

Through the Lebovic Fellowship, these two research groups have teamed up to explore the possibility of using viruses, developed by the Workenhe Lab, to deliver synthetic molecules, developed by the Nissim Lab, to cancer cells. Over the next two years, they will work to optimize their platforms, develop the viruses and test them in infected cell cultures and tumour-bearing mice.

“There’s a lot of drive behind this project,” says Workenhe. “We both want to find a way to make this work and overcome the challenges of viral immunotherapies together.”


Partnering to accelerate research

Principal Investigator in Israel: Dr. Sheera Adar, Senior Lecturer at IMRIC
Fellow: Dr. Pooja Chauhan, Postdoctoral Fellow at IMRIC

Principal Investigator in Ontario: Dr. Carolina Ilkow, Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa
Fellow: Emily Brown, Master of Science student at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa

Emily Brown and Dr. Carolina Ilkow.

The Adar Lab and the Ilkow Lab are both interested in the SWI/SNF complex – a cellular machine that affects how our DNA is packaged and coiled.

The Adar Lab is working to better understand how SWI/SNF affects DNA damage repair in cancer cells. The Ilkow Lab is working to better understand how SWI/SNF can be altered to improve immunotherapies. They recognized that they can study SWI/SNF better together.

With the support of the Lebovic Fellowship, these groups are partnering to investigate SWI/SNF with two different approaches while sharing common methods, resources and expertise. By doing so, the researchers expect to reduce duplicative efforts and accelerate both projects. “I’m excited to be involved in the field of cancer immunotherapy,” says Brown. “Seeing that your work has direct impact is really rewarding, and I’m excited to help contribute to such an innovative approach.”

July 24, 2019

OICR funding for Ontario drug discovery projects will accelerate development of new cancer therapies

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) has selected two new Late Accelerator projects to receive support through its Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline (CTIP) initiative. The projects, detailed below, will each receive up to $250,000 per year, for up to two years, to advance the development of drug candidate molecules. The projects were selected by an international expert review panel from 18 applications.

By joining the CTIP portfolio, these projects will receive more than just financial support – they will also benefit from the guidance of the Therapeutics Pipeline Advisory Committee, a group of industry and academic experts that provides advice on the scientific and strategic direction of CTIP projects.

“CTIP projects have great potential to improve treatment for patients, promote scientific collaboration and drive investment to Ontario’s biomedical research sector,” says Dr. Christine Williams, OICR’s Deputy Director and Head of Therapeutic Innovation. “These new projects are great examples of the innovative cancer therapeutics research happening in our province. We are excited to add them to CTIP’s portfolio of promising drug candidates and look forward to their progress.”

Funded projects

Identification of kinase inhibitors to block the tumour-promoting activity of YAP/TAZ for cancer therapeutics

Liliana Attisano, Principal Investigator, University of Toronto

Rima Al-awar, Principal Investigator, OICR

Frank Sicheri, Co-investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

Jeff Wrana, Co-investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

David Uehling, Co-investigator, OICR

Richard Marcellus, Co-investigator, OICR

Methvin Isaac, Co-investigator, OICR

The highly conserved Hippo pathway is a key regulator of cell and tissue growth. Virtually all solid tumours display pathway disruptions, which drive cancer initiation and progression. Mutations in pathway components are rare, making it unclear how to target the pathway for cancer treatment. This research group has shown that certain kinases are key regulators of the pathway that promotes tumorigenicity and observed that diverse human cancers display elevated levels of these kinases. Kinases are highly amenable to the development of targeted inhibitors; therefore, this project will identify potent and specific inhibitors with the long-term goal of establishing novel cancer therapeutics.

Development of kinase inhibitors for ovarian cancer: A novel first in-class immune-oncology therapeutic agent targeting tumor intrinsic stress states

Rob Rottapel, Principal Investigator, Princess Margaret Cancer
Centre

Tracy McGaha, Principal Investigator, Princess Margaret Cancer
Centre

Rima Al-awar, Principal Investigator, OICR

Methvin Isaac, Co-investigator, OICR

David Uehling, Co-investigator, OICR

Richard Marcellus, Co-investigator, OICR

Ahmed Aman, Co-investigator, OICR

The development of new cancer immune therapeutics has triggered a revolution with the recent advent of diverse strategies that engage the patient’s immune system. This research group has identified a novel kinase target that has the unique property of being both an emergent essential gene in high-grade serous ovarian cancer and a repressor of the innate and adaptive immune system. Additionally, they have demonstrated that target inhibition sensitizes cancer cells to cisplatin – a standard of care chemotherapy drug. This project will work to develop a “first-in-class” dual-action, anti-tumour and immune-oncology kinase inhibitors for ovarian cancer and potentially other cancer types.

June 4, 2019

New research projects to drive clinical adoption of novel cancer technologies and find ways to better deliver cancer services

10 projects to receive funding through OICR-CCO Health Services Research Network

Toronto (June 4, 2019) – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced funding for 10 projects as part of the OICR-Cancer Care Ontario (CCO) Health Services Research Network (HSRN). As part of the HSRN, these projects are focused on optimizing the delivery of existing cancer services and guiding the dissemination of new practices and technologies in cancer prevention, screening and care in Ontario.

The funded projects, which involve 103 researchers and clinicians based at 29 institutions across Ontario, as well as five institutions outside of the province, focus on at least one of six priority areas: using real-world evidence to advance innovations; data infrastructure, integration and mobilization studies; use of artificial intelligence and digital health tools; the adoption of accepted best practices related to precision medicine; knowledge translation and dissemination; and population health studies.

“Improving the delivery of cancer-related healthcare and ensuring that new innovations are properly introduced into clinical use is an essential part of improving outcomes for cancer patients,” says Dr. Christine Williams, Deputy Director and Interim Head, Clinical Translation, OICR. “The projects funded today will help integrate more leading-edge technologies and practices – such as artificial intelligence, immunotherapies and precision medicine – into Ontario’s healthcare system. OICR is proud to help enable improvements in frontline care for the people of Ontario through these projects.”

In total, the projects announced today will receive more than $2.7 million in funding over the next two years. These projects were awarded funding after a competitive process, including review by an expert panel. Together, these projects are a key arm of OICR’s Clinical Translation initiative, which is driving the translation of research findings into patient impact by partnering with the healthcare system.

“I congratulate the researchers who have received funding today and laud their efforts to optimize how we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer in Ontario,” says Hon. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. “As new technologies and best practices emerge, it is important that Ontario use its research expertise to deliver these advancements to the people as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

For details about the funded projects please visit: https://oicr.on.ca/research-portfolio/health-services-research/

Continue reading – New research projects to drive clinical adoption of novel cancer technologies and find ways to better deliver cancer services