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

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 24, 2017

Researchers discover genes behind the spread of lung cancer to the brain

Mohini Singh works in the lab

Brain tumours resulting from the spread of cancer from its primary location, known as brain metastases (BM), are the most common form of brain tumours in adults. A team of Ontario-based researchers recently identified two genes that seem to play a central role in BM in lung cancer patients – findings that could lead to improved biomarkers and treatments for BM.

In a study published in the journal Acta Neuropatologica, Mohini Singh and her collaborators focused on a class of cells they have termed Brain Metastases Initiating Cells (BMICs), which leave the primary site of cancer and migrate to the brain.

Singh, a biochemistry PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Sheila Singh at McMaster University, explains the approach the team took to study these cells. “There was a lack of preclinical models that we could use to comprehensively study BMICs and understand the mechanisms behind them. To conduct our study we used brain metastases from lung cancer patients, which we cultured in conditions to enrich for BMICs, and then transplanted them into mice. This method allowed us to study BMICs within a living host, which provides a more accurate representation of the development of brain metastasis in humans.”

The researchers performed in vitro and in vivo RNA interference screens utilizing their unique BM models, and found two genes that were essential to the regulation of BMICs: SPOCK1 and TWIST2. “We discovered that SPOCK1 is a regulator of self-renewal in BMICs, playing a role in the initiation of lung tumours and their metastasis to the brain,” explains Singh. Furthermore, the results were clinically relevant. “Increased SPOCK1 expression was seen in lung cancer biopsies of patients with known brain metastases, and was correlated with poor survival.” Through protein-protein interaction mapping the researchers also identified new pathway interactors of the two genes that could be used as novel targets in treatment of BM in lung cancer patients.

“Identifying these two genes could be of great use in improving the treatment of lung cancer. In the future we could predict those patients who are most at risk of developing a brain metastasis and use drugs to target BMIC regulatory genes such as SPOCK1 and TWIST2 to destroy the initiating cells and to block the spread,” says Singh. “This would result in keeping the lung cancer locally controlled and therefore more treatable.”

OICR funding was used to establish this study with further significant funding coming from the Canadian Cancer Society and the Brain Canada Studentship.

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

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

July 4, 2016

OICR congratulates Drs. Mark Levine, Eduardo L. Franco and Gerald Batist, new recipients of the Order of Canada

Dr. Mark Levine

Three cancer researchers were invested into the Order of Canada over the weekend, including Dr. Mark Levine, C.M., who was honoured for his contributions as an oncologist, researcher and clinician and because he has developed several new treatments for cancer patients that are now used as standard of practice in Canada.

Levine is Director of the Ontario Clinical Oncology Group (OCOG), Chair of the Department of Oncology for the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University and a medical oncologist at Juravinski Cancer Centre at Hamilton Health Sciences.

Continue reading – OICR congratulates Drs. Mark Levine, Eduardo L. Franco and Gerald Batist, new recipients of the Order of Canada

June 1, 2016

Clinical trial launched to test use of MRI to improve prostate cancer diagnosis and management

Research supported by the Movember Foundation, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Prostate Cancer Canada

Toronto, ON – June 1, 2016 – The Movember Foundation, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Prostate Cancer Canada today announced $3 million in funding for a new Phase III clinical trial to evaluate if magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can replace the current standard of care to diagnose prostate cancer. The primary objective of the multi-centre trial, called PRECISE, is to determine whether MRI imaging can spare some men from undergoing a biopsy and avoid the possible associated side effects.

The trial will be led by Dr. Laurence Klotz of the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, a world leader in the field of prostate cancer research and in the global adoption of active surveillance, a standard practice to monitor patients with low risk prostate cancer.

Continue reading – Clinical trial launched to test use of MRI to improve prostate cancer diagnosis and management

May 5, 2016

A new method to grow stem cells for cancer patients

Stem Cell

Researchers uncovered the role of a protein called Musashi-2 in regulating the function and development of stem cells. The improved understanding of the role of Musashi-2 will allow researchers to employ new strategies to control the growth of blood stem cells which are used to treat many life-threatening diseases, but are usually in short supply. The research was published in April in the journal Nature.

Continue reading – A new method to grow stem cells for cancer patients

March 16, 2016

FACIT invests in new CPDC spin-out company to aid development of potent radiotherapeutic

Fusion pharmaceuticalsIn December, the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust invested in Fusion Pharmaceuticals to assist in the development of FPX-01, a potent new alpha-emitting radiotherapeutic being developed in Hamilton, Ontario. Early testing has shown a great deal of promise: the drug has the cancer-cell killing power of existing, similar treatments, but balances this strength with far more precision, meaning fewer side effects for patients. Early results from a Phase I clinical trial have shown effectiveness in patients with solid tumours. FACIT’s investment will support the efforts to advance FPX-01 into Phase I/II clinical trials.

Continue reading – FACIT invests in new CPDC spin-out company to aid development of potent radiotherapeutic

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