November 18, 2019

Potential new approach to T-cell therapy shows early promise in the lab

Drs. Yonghong Wan and Scott Walsh.
Drs. Yonghong Wan and Scott Walsh.

McMaster University researchers validate a new treatment approach that could help bring the benefits of Adoptive T-cell therapies to patients with solid tumours

Adoptive T-cell therapy (ACT) is an emerging form of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own re-engineered immune cells to eliminate their cancer. Although ACT is effective against specific types of cancer, like certain blood cancers, these therapies are ineffective against the majority of common tumours.

Researchers at McMaster University are developing a new combination approach that could overcome the limitations of current ACT, and bring the benefits of this promising therapy to many more patients.

The approach, as recently described in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, combines ACT with specially-designed vaccines, called oncolytic virus vaccines (OVVs), to bring about the complete destruction of a solid tumour.

Dr. Scott Walsh, Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Yonghong Wan’s lab at McMaster University and first author of the publication, describes the “push and pull” mechanism behind their combination approach.

“We found that oncolytic viruses could stimulate the implanted T-cells to proliferate. In other words, they could push the cancer-fighting cells to multiply,” says Walsh. “Then we found that these viruses could also pull the cancer-fighting T-cells into the core of the tumour, which simply could not be done with ACT alone.”

In this study, the research group discovered that their ACT/OVV combination approach could engage the entire immune system to eliminate solid tumours and generate a long-term tumour-resisting effect in experimental animal models. Whereas current ACT can only kill specific tumour cells, their approach was effective at eliminating the various types of cells within solid tumours.

“Usually, ACT can only target the tumour cells that have a specific set of molecular markers. This is a problem because tumours can often shed these marked cells and return with a vengeance,” Walsh says. “Our approach engages the immune system as a whole, not just the re-engineered cells, to eliminate a broader variety of tumour cells and prevent the tumour from coming back over the long term.”

To bring this new approach into the next stage of development, the study group teamed up with experts across the province through OICR’s Immuno-oncology Translational Research Initiative. The team includes researchers with deep immuno-oncology expertise and extensive commercialization experience.

“Bringing this idea into the next stage of development requires collaboration across areas of expertise,” says Walsh, who holds a patent on the combination approach. “We’re looking forward to building on our past successes and using our collective expertise to move into more advanced animal models, and then onto clinical trials.”

September 30, 2019

Hamilton study discovers new approach to target cells at the root of leukemia

Dr. Kristin Hope, Principal Investigator at McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute and OICR Investigator.

McMaster University researcher and OICR Investigator, Dr. Kristin Hope, turns her stem cell discovery into a new treatment approach for leukemia.

A few years ago, Dr. Kristin Hope and her research team discovered a new way to grow rare life-saving blood stem cells. Now, the Hope Lab is using this discovery to suppress leukemic stem cells – the cells at the “root” of leukemia.

In their most recent study, published earlier this month in Cancer Research, the Hope Lab discovered that the same molecular pathway they found previously could be turned off to grow healthy stem cells could be turned on to impair the development of cancer stem cells.

The study suggests that this pathway, called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) signaling pathway, could be leveraged as a potential therapeutic approach for acute myeloid leukemia – one of the most common subtypes of leukemia.

“We saw a loss of leukemic stem cells by activating – or turning on – the AHR pathway,” Hope says. “This brings us a step closer to a potential new therapy for patients with leukemia.”

The study group used a small molecule to activate the AHR pathway, finding that it had a significant effect in eliminating leukemic stem cells, but no effect on healthy cells. The group found similar results in cell cultures as well as in mice that were transplanted with human leukemia cells.

Hope, who is a Principal Investigator at McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, will continue investigating this small molecule as a potential drug that could complement chemotherapies in the future.

“We will continue building on our understanding of the AHR pathway and how to control it,” she says. “This understanding will help us in the development of new therapies so that our discoveries can one day help patients.”

September 10, 2018

Researchers find unexpected cells at the centre of recurrent leukemia

Dr. Mick Bhatia poses for a photo in his lab.

Hamilton researchers discover that cancer stem cells may not be the only culprits of acute myeloid leukemia relapse

Although current chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is effective in the short term, the disease often returns a few years after treatment. A new study suggests that the relapse of leukemia may not be caused by leukemic stem cells – a special set of cells that can avoid initial treatment by not dividing, then give rise to new cancerous cells after therapy – but rather a different class of leukemic cells.

Continue reading – Researchers find unexpected cells at the centre of recurrent leukemia

August 2, 2018

Ontario centre attracts national attention for probe research, development and commercialization

Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization

The Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC) awarded $10.5 million to expand molecular imaging probe work in Ontario

Translating new scientific discoveries into products and moving those products to the market is a challenging process. This is especially the case for highly-regulated medical products such as radiopharmaceuticals – a special class of drugs that are used to accurately diagnose and treat diseases. Over the past decade, the CPDC in Hamilton has been bridging the gap between the innovation and commercialization of radiopharmaceuticals in Ontario and, in turn, reaping benefits for patients and the province’s economy.

Continue reading – Ontario centre attracts national attention for probe research, development and commercialization

April 9, 2018

Biostatistics Training Initiative boosts Ontario’s cancer research community

Dr. Gregory Pond, Jenna Sykes, Dr. Richard Cook, Yonathan Brhane, Dr. Wei Xu

Dr. Gregory Pond, Jenna Sykes, Dr. Richard Cook, Yonathan Brhane, Dr. Wei Xu.

Cancer researchers often confront quantitative challenges and puzzles that are best addressed by biostatisticians – specialists in a field for which there is a growing demand. In a 2008 survey of Ontario oncologists, eight in 10 respondents identified the lack of trained biostatisticians as a factor limiting their progress in cancer research. OICR has recently renewed funding for the Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) following a successful review. With this funding, the BTI will continue to benefit Ontario’s cancer research community and  develop the next generation of cancer biostatisticians. The BTI is run in partnership with in the University of Waterloo and McMaster University.

Continue reading – Biostatistics Training Initiative boosts Ontario’s cancer research community

December 4, 2017

OICR launches groundbreaking Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline to drive cutting-edge therapies to the clinic

Ten new projects were selected in the pipeline’s inaugural funding round, highlighting Ontario’s strengths in collaboration and drug discovery.

Toronto (December 4, 2017) – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced the Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline (CTIP) initiative and the first 10 projects selected in CTIP’s inaugural round of funding. CTIP aims to support the local translation of Ontario discoveries into therapies with the potential for improving the lives of cancer patients. The funding will create a new pipeline of promising drugs in development, and attract the partnerships and investment to the province necessary for further clinical development and testing.

“Ontario congratulates OICR on this innovative approach to driving the development of new cancer therapies,” says Reza Moridi, Ontario’s Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “The Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline will help ensure that promising discoveries get the support they need to move from lab bench to commercialization, and get to patients faster.”

Continue reading – OICR launches groundbreaking Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline to drive cutting-edge therapies to the clinic

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 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.

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

September 6, 2017

Innovative study brings next-generation genomic sequencing to more Ontario cancer patients

Toronto (September 6, 2017) – Understanding a cancer’s genetics is key to selecting targeted therapies that are likely to be of the most benefit to a patient. The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced a new study, called Ontario-wide Cancer TArgeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation (OCTANE). OCTANE will use next-generation genome sequencing technology to bring a unified molecular profiling approach to five Ontario cancer centres.

Continue reading – Innovative study brings next-generation genomic sequencing to more Ontario cancer patients

August 17, 2017

New genes discovered regulating brain metastases in lung cancer

Mohini SinghResearch from McMaster University has identified new regulators of brain metastases in patients with lung cancer.

These regulators are the genes called SPOCK1 and TWIST2.

Continue reading – New genes discovered regulating brain metastases in lung cancer

May 3, 2017

Study bringing more precision medicine to Ontario’s cancer patients

A technician holds a blood sample and writes down information.

The advent of genomic sequencing and targeted therapies has opened the door to new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer. The Ontario-wide Cancer Targeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation (OCTANE) program is a new, province-wide initiative supported by OICR that will allow more patients to benefit from these innovations while also helping to advance cancer research in Ontario.

Continue reading – Study bringing more precision medicine to Ontario’s cancer patients

April 26, 2017

Clinical trial opens for promising combination therapy

Rhabdovirus

The first patient has been treated in what has been named the Sandpiper Trial. The Phase I/II clinical trial will evaluate a therapy that combines a novel oncolytic viral immunotherapy agent called MG1-MAGEA3 with pembrolizumab, which is an approved checkpoint inhibitor. The Sandpiper Trial will study the use of this combination therapy in patients with non-small cell lung cancer who are no longer responding to chemotherapy.

Continue reading – Clinical trial opens for promising combination therapy

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