September 20, 2019

Harnessing the time before a patient’s surgery to accelerate cancer research

Ottawa cancer researchers and clinicians embrace the window of opportunity between a cancer diagnosis and treatment with a coordinated approach to clinical research

The time between a patient’s cancer diagnosis and their surgery presents a valuable “window of opportunity” to evaluate new treatment strategies. Short-term clinical trials during this period – also known as window of opportunity trials, window trials or phase 0 trials – can help researchers gain insights into the effects and the efficacy of a new potential treatment. Dr. Angel Arnaout at The Ottawa Hospital is putting window trials into practice.

“There are many nervous and anxious moments between diagnosis and their surgery but patients have limited options during this time,” says Arnaout.

“We saw an opportunity in this window of time to take action. We saw that we could help support patients who are waiting for surgery, while helping future patients through accelerating clinical research.”

Dr. Angel Arnaout

Arnaout, a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancers, assembled a cross-disciplinary team of medical oncologists, pathologists and other clinical research specialists at The Ottawa Hospital to strategically design and implement this new approach. They would collectively establish common priorities, decide on which interventions would be tested and work to streamline the patient’s journey throughout the process.

Dr. Angel Arnaout

Together, the team was motivated by the mutual benefits of all stakeholders involved. Namely, window trials can provide patients an opportunity to contribute and engage with cancer research while potentially improving the state of a patient’s disease. Meanwhile, these trials could ultimately expedite drug development by improving the understanding of a potential drug early in its development.

The team launched their first study in 2014, which found that patients were exceptionally eager to participate, and since then, launched and completed three additional window trials.

The first was a breast cancer trial on presurgical hormone therapy that helped establish the capacity and infrastructure for enrolling patients, organizing the investigations and giving patients short-term therapies. The second tested a potential cancer-fighting agent, chloroquine, and found that it had no effect on stopping breast cancer proliferation. The third trial debunked the idea that vitamin D – even at very high doses – can slow down the growth of breast cancer.

“These studies didn’t uncover a new therapy, but they did help us answer important questions that patients have, like ‘Will taking vitamin D help?’” says Arnaout. “These types of studies also provide a relatively quick method to test whether we should continue research into a particular avenue.”

The group at The Ottawa Hospital has recently teamed up with researchers from OICR to initiate a new breast cancer window-of-opportunity study to examine biomarkers of efficacy and resistance for another new drug candidate. The trial is planned to begin recruitment by mid-fall this year.*

Despite the benefits of these trials, Arnaout adds, it is still important to reduce unnecessary delays between diagnosis and surgery. Arnaout continues to minimize these delays at The Ottawa Hospital.

“We try our best to reduce wait times, but if patients have to wait – we can try to help them in the meantime while accelerating breast cancer research.”

*This new trial is co-led by Dr. John Hilton from The Ottawa Hospital and Dr. John Bartlett from OICR. Co-investigators include Drs. Laszlo Radvanyi, Melanie Spears, Arif Ali Awan, Mark Clemons, Greg Pond and Angel Arnaout.

July 3, 2019

Five fellows, four labs, three years, two countries, and a generous donation

Joesph Lebovic and the fellows


The Lebovic Fellowship program connects scientists in Israel and Ontario, leading to the validation of a new drug candidate for leukemia and the optimization of a new potential cancer vaccine

Three years ago, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) received a donation from Joseph and Wolf Lebovic – two brothers who are Holocaust survivors, Canadian immigrants, avid philanthropists and recently-appointed Members of the Order of Canada. Their vision was to strengthen collaboration between the outstanding researchers in Israel and those in Ontario to accelerate cancer research.

They created the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program, which paired together laboratories specializing in complementary subjects. The Program’s first round of projects officially came to a successful close today and here we recognize the progress made thanks to the generous donation of the Lebovic brothers.

Developing a drug for leukemia

Israel lead researcher: Dr. Yinon Ben-Neriah, IMRIC
Israel fellows: Waleed Minzel and Eric Hung, PhD Candidates, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Ontario lead researcher: Dr. John Dick, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PMCC)
Ontario fellow: Dr. Laura Garcia-Prat, Postdoctoral Fellow, PMCC

Ben-Neriah’s lab in Israel had developed a new compound and showed it may be a valuable anti-leukemia drug, but they couldn’t explain why the drug was only effective in animal models that had strong immune systems. Understanding the relationship between the drug and the immune system would allow them to validate which leukemia subtypes would respond to their therapeutic approach.

John Dick’s lab had developed the gold standard for evaluating the efficacy of leukemia drugs in animal models using sophisticated patient-derived xenograft mouse models. Through this fellowship, the Ben-Neriah Lab teamed up with the Dick lab to learn from their expertise and gain insights into their experimental models.

Continue reading – Five fellows, four labs, three years, two countries, and a generous donation

December 10, 2018

A holiday message from the President and Scientific Director

As we approach the holidays, I want to wish you all the best of the season. The remarkable achievements of OICR and the cancer research community over the last year would not have been possible without your dedication, support and collaborative spirit. Together we are continuing to make OICR a huge success with tangible impacts on the lives of cancer patients across the province.

Continue reading – A holiday message from the President and Scientific Director

October 23, 2018

Updates and highlights from Global Alliance’s 6th Plenary Meeting

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) held its 6th Plenary Meeting in Basel, Switzerland earlier this month. The meeting brought together more than 430 participants from 25 countries, making it the biggest GA4GH event yet. Attendees of the meeting learned about GA4GH Connect – a strategic phase focused on connecting GA4GH development work to the immediate data sharing needs of the community.

Peter Goodhand, CEO of GA4GH, introducing GA4GH Connect

At the meeting, Peter Goodhand, Chief Executive Officer of GA4GH, announced a call for new real-world genomic data initiatives – Driver Projects – with a specific focus on global collaboration and scientific merit. The Steering Committee will announce the accepted Driver Projects in February 2019.

Also at the meeting, Dr. Marc Fiume, Chief Executive Officer of DNAstack and OICR Associate, presented on the recent progress of the Beacon Project – an international collaborative initiative that has developed a realtime discovery platform for genetic mutations. The Beacon Project has released Beacon API V1.0.0 on Friday – the first genomic data interoperability standard from the GA4GH 2018 Strategic Roadmap.

“It was a fantastic meeting and an eye-opening experience to learn about how the field of precision medicine is linking genomic tools with clinical databases and patient outcomes to drive a patient-centered, learning healthcare model,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “GA4GH continues to play a critical role in establishing standards for genomic data acquisition, quality, interpretation, integrity, security, and sharing that many national genomic health initiatives are beginning to embrace around the world.”

Access highlights and updates from the Plenary Meeting online, or read a PDF of the meeting report here.

June 14, 2018

New OICR President and Scientific Director comments on breakthrough in breast cancer T-cell immunotherapy

Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

For the first time, a patient’s late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated with T-cell immunotherapy. This cutting-edge approach, which is currently in clinical trials in the U.S., modified the patient’s naturally-occurring immune cells to fight her tumours that had spread throughout her body. The patient has been cancer free for the past two years and her remarkable tumour regression represents the potential impact of this new immunotherapeutic approach.

Continue reading – New OICR President and Scientific Director comments on breakthrough in breast cancer T-cell immunotherapy

May 1, 2018

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research welcomes new President and Scientific Director, Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

Toronto (May 1, 2018) – Mr. Tom Closson, Chair of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s (OICR) Board of Directors, today welcomed to the Institute Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, OICR’s new President and Scientific Director. Radvanyi was selected after an extensive international search and has extensive oncology-related experience from his time spent in industry, with a particular focus in immuno-oncology. Radvanyi will work with the Ontario cancer research community, and OICR’s commercialization partner FACIT, to see that Ontario’s best innovations are reaching cancer patients as quickly as possible.

Radvanyi joins OICR from EMD Serono (Merck KGaA, Darmstadt Germany), where he was a Senior Vice President, Global Senior Scientific Advisor in Immunology and Immuno-Oncology. There he played a central scientific advisory role, facilitating major academic centre alliances and ran EMD Serono’s CAR T-cell program, in partnership with Intrexon. He also served as Global Head of the Immuno-Oncology Translational Innovation Platform, where he was instrumental in rebuilding immuno-oncology research at the company, hiring new world-class scientific staff, as well as pruning and re-orienting the discovery pipeline.

Continue reading – Ontario Institute for Cancer Research welcomes new President and Scientific Director, Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

March 28, 2018

OICR names Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi as new President and Scientific Director

 

A photo of the MaRS Centre with an inset photo of Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

Following an extensive international search, I am very pleased to announce on behalf of the Board of Directors the appointment of Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi as the new President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) effective May 1, 2018. Dr. Radvanyi was born and raised in Toronto and obtained his PhD in Clinical Biochemistry from the University of Toronto in 1996. After obtaining his PhD, he performed post-doctoral work at Harvard University (Joslin Diabetes Center) and then worked for four years at Sanofi Pasteur Canada as a Senior Scientist in the Immunology Platform. Dr. Radvanyi brings a strong oncology research background as well as leadership experience in international pharma and small biotech. We are pleased to welcome him back to Ontario.

Dr. Radvanyi has joined OICR from EMD Serono (Merck KGaA, Darmstadt Germany) where he was a Senior Vice President, Global Senior Scientific Advisor in Immunology and Immuno-Oncology playing a central scientific advisory role, facilitating major academic center alliances, and running EMD Serono’s CAR T-cell program in partnership with Intrexon. He also served as Global Head of the Immuno-Oncology Translational Innovation Platform where he was instrumental in rebuilding immuno-oncology research at the company, hiring new world-class scientific staff as well as pruning and re-orienting the discovery pipeline.

Continue reading – OICR names Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi as new President and Scientific Director