April 19, 2018

Landmark study links tumour evolution to prostate cancer severity

Largest-ever study of its kind uses a tumour’s past to accurately predict its future

Toronto (April 19, 2018) – Findings from Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network (CPC-GENE) researchers and their collaborators, published today in Cell, show that the aggressiveness of an individual prostate cancer can be accurately assessed by looking at how that tumour has evolved. This information can be used to determine what type and how much treatment should be given to each patient, or if any is needed at all.

The researchers analyzed the whole genome sequences of 293 localized prostate cancer tumours, linked to clinical outcome data. These were then further analyzed using machine learning, a type of statistical technique, to infer the evolutionary past of a tumour and to estimate its trajectory. They found that those tumours that had evolved to have multiple types of cancer cells, or subclones, were the most aggressive. Fifty-nine per cent of tumours in the study had this genetic diversity, with 61 per cent of those leading to relapse following standard therapy.

“By incorporating time into the context of the existing knowledge we have about where a tumour is at diagnosis we were able to very accurately identify those patients whose prostate tumours needed no treatment, those men who could be cured by existing treatments, and those men who had very aggressive tumours and may have benefitted from novel therapeutic options,” says Dr. Paul Boutros, Principal Investigator, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and leader of CPC-GENE.

“Clinical decision making in treating prostate cancer can be very difficult. These findings pave the way for a new tool to improve our ability to determine the best approach for each individual patient, including sparing patients from unnecessary treatment or over-treatment and the associated side effects,” says Professor Robert Bristow, Director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre at the University of Manchester U.K., formerly of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

“Tumours are a community of related cancer cells, and by examining their DNA using machine learning, we can gain insight into how they evolved from normal cells. In this paper, we show that the past evolutionary history of a tumour helps predict whether that tumour will progress into an aggressive form,” says Dr. Quaid Morris, Associate Professor, The Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto, who collaborated with the CPC-GENE team on the study.

“Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men,” says Reza Moridi, Ontario’s Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Ontario congratulates this research team, whose work is pointing the way toward improved testing and treatment.”

The study’s findings are not its only contributions to prostate cancer research. The sequencing data generated during the course of the study are now freely available online to researchers worldwide to carry out further analyses, becoming the largest prostate cancer genomics resource available to-date.

CPC-GENE is a team of multidisciplinary researchers from across Canada working to crack the genetic code of prostate cancer. Through funding of approximately $20 million, research of this magnitude has been made possible through a partnership between the Movember Foundation, Prostate Cancer Canada, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.  Dr. Stuart Edmonds, Vice-President of Research, Health Promotion and Survivorship at Prostate Cancer Canada, has released the following statement:

“From the tireless work of researchers to the selfless giving of donors, we applaud the efforts of everyone who has played a role in helping make CPC-GENE possible. Since its beginnings as an ambitious undertaking that was massive in scope, the goal of this project has been to greatly improve personalized care for men with prostate cancer. The findings published in Cell – widely considered one of the most prestigious and highest impact medical journals – represent a monumental stride towards that goal. Together, we will continue to advance this important work on behalf of the one in seven Canadian men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and their families.”

About Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute focused on accelerating the translation of new cancer research discoveries to patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. Funding for OICR is provided by the Government of Ontario.

About Prostate Cancer Canada
Prostate Cancer Canada is the leading national foundation dedicated to the elimination of the most common cancer in men through research, advocacy, education, support and awareness. As one of the largest investors in prostate cancer research in Canada, Prostate Cancer Canada is committed to continuous discovery in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and support. 

For more information, please contact:

Hal Costie
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
647-963-5289
hal.costie@oicr.on.ca
@OICR_News

Paulanne Jushkevich
VP, Philanthropy, Marketing and Communications
Prostate Cancer Canada
416-441-2131 ext 224
paulanne.jushkevich@prostatecancer.ca

April 12, 2018

Restorative Breast Cancer Solution Start-Up Wins the 2018 FACIT Pitch Competition

Biotechnology competition modeled after popular TV program Dragons’ Den

TORONTO, ON (April 12, 2018) – A panel of investor-judges has selected Ontario-based oncology researcher Soror Sharifpoor of Polumiros Inc. as the winner of the 2018 FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes competition. The $50,000 award is intended to support further development of their innovative cancer research. FACIT runs the annual competition as part of its broader mandate to support translating research into Ontario companies to impact the lives of patients with cancer.

Now in its fifth year, the FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes competition is open to any Ontario-based oncology researcher (academics, research institutions, research hospitals and start-ups). Entrepreneurial scientists are invited to pitch innovative research ideas to a panel of four investors in a competition that is modeled after the popular CBC television program Dragons’ Den. The winners receive the $50,000 “Ernsting Entrepreneurship Award.” After follow-up technical evaluation of the underlying innovation, the money funds product development for one year.

“We are really, truly thrilled. We put a lot of time into this technology,” says Dr. Sharifpoor. “This has been years of work and effort by our team. To have FACIT’s help to get to the next stage, this means the world of difference to us.”

Polumiros Inc. specializes in the development of ReFilx™, a polymeric soft tissue filler that provides breast cancer patients with an esthetically superior and minimally-invasive solution for the permanent restoration of breast tissue defects following lumpectomy.

FACIT received a total of 38 applications from across Ontario for this year’s Falcons’ Fortunes competition. From those initial entries, FACIT narrowed the field to six researchers to appear in-person and pitch their innovation to the investor judging panel. Since it started in 2014, the number of applications has grown by about 15% per year. The event has also grown in popularity with the community and this year’s event is at capacity.

“Without companies to develop experimental therapies and technologies, the benefits of research can be confined to the laboratory. With our partners at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, FACIT plays a leading role in supporting Ontario entrepreneurs,” says David O’Neill, acting President of FACIT. “Securing funding to bring an innovation to market is a difficult but necessary step if you want your idea to impact patients at the bedside.”

The six entrepreneurs each gave a 10-minute pitch to the panel, followed by a five-minute question and answer session. The winner was announced at a reception immediately following the competition on April 11 in Toronto.

Scott Tanner, former President and Chief Executive Officer of DVS Sciences, transformed an early breakthrough technology into a highly successful company that continues to employ a number of Ontario scientists. Dr. Tanner started DVS with funding from FACIT and returned this year to share some of his wisdom and experience as one of the panel judges.

“As a researcher, being challenged to pitch your ideas effectively is crucial,” he says. “It’s not enough to have just a great technology. You have to provide incentive for people to invest in your business. It’s a risky thing for them. FACIT helps scientists like me become businesspeople investors can trust.”

March 29, 2018

Canada’s largest health research platform teams up with University of Toronto to accelerate cancer and chronic disease research

The leaders of the CPTP stand in front of servers storing the Project's data.

Pictured (left to right): Dr. John Mc Laughlin, Executive Director of CPTP; Cindy Morton, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.; and Dr. Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director of CPTP.

Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) enters a new era of scientific activity under the leadership of newly appointed National Scientific Director, Dr. Philip Awadalla

March 29, 2018 (Toronto) – The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (“the Partnership”) today announced The University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health will be the new national scientific partner of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) – Canada’s national population cohort for precision health. This new scientific partner will enable a strong national scientific vision for CPTP and support leading-edge research on the possible causes of cancer and chronic diseases, leading to more made-in-Canada discoveries and breakthroughs. In addition, the University has announced that Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) will be its strategic partner to deliver the expertise and services needed to lead this key research platform.

Continue reading – Canada’s largest health research platform teams up with University of Toronto to accelerate cancer and chronic disease research

March 6, 2018

Canadian pancreatic cancer research team provides personalized medicine, new hope to patients

VANCOUVER – Canadian pancreatic cancer researchers are joining forces under a Terry Fox initiative bringing new hope for patients with this deadly disease.

“For many years it’s been hopeless from a patient perspective, and we are hoping to help shift this,” says Dr. Daniel Renouf (BC Cancer, University of British Columbia) who, along with Dr. David Schaeffer (UBC, Vancouver General Hospital), is leading a $5-million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative recently funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute.

A lack of early detection tests. Few known symptoms. Very limited treatment options. No known biomarkers that can be used to direct therapy.  These are among the clinical challenges team EPPIC, short for Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care, is tackling over the next five years to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a disease with just a nine per cent five-year survival rate.

“Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often,” says Dr. Schaeffer, noting a priority is to discern if the metastatic and primary tumour differ in their genetic make-up. Four out of five patients have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis and most will succumb within a year.

Patients are very keen to participate in the research study. “My push is to keep the support coming for the research, and to bring hope to other pancreatic cancer patients. This is a disease that needs more hope,” says Susan Stewart, 57, a North Vancouver resident who was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer in January 2017. She was enrolled immediately in EPPIC as well as a clinical trial where she received an experimental therapy. Although it is early days yet, her results today are promising.  Her pancreatic cancer tumour is no longer visible on CT scans, and the metastatic cancer on her liver has shrunk considerably. Her doctors are using the EPPIC results to try and understand why her tumour has had such an incredible response to the experimental treatment.

The EPPIC team aims to sequence metastatic pancreatic tumours of 400 patients in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.  They hope to improve understanding of pancreatic cancer biology to individualize treatment strategies, and to facilitate the development of new treatment options.

This project is currently under way in Toronto and Vancouver, through two clinical trials (COMPASS and PanGen), and will be expanded shortly to include eligible patients in Kingston, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Montreal site opens this week. Genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of patient tumours will be conducted at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and the BC Cancer Genome Sciences Centre.

“This funding will allow us to bring leading-edge pancreatic cancer research to more Canadian patients and further advance our understanding how to best treat advanced pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Steven Gallinger, Leader of OICR’s PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative, which supports the COMPASS trial. “Collaborating with the other research groups will more rapidly result in more robust findings that can help us accelerate the development of new treatment options.”

The team will also store and analyze the genomic and clinical data collected in a knowledge bank that will be shared by Canadian and international researchers seeking ways to improve treatment.  The bank will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director, is thrilled TFRI is funding this high-calibre precision medicine team to tackle such a hard-to-treat cancer. “Pancreatic cancer research has been historically underfunded, and we are very excited to be expanding such a successful personalized medicine project to patients across Canada.  We hope precision medicine may hold the key to finding better treatments for this incurable disease.”

EPPIC’s multidisciplinary team comprises clinicians and scientists from BC Cancer, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Alberta, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, OICR, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Research Institute of MUHC, Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, Queen’s University and the Ottawa Hospital.

In addition to Drs. Renouf and Schaeffer, other principal investigators of EPPIC and the COMPASS and PanGen trials are: Dr. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre/UHN/ OICR), Dr. George Zogopoulos (MUHC/Research Institute of MUHC/McGill University), and Dr. Oliver Bathe (Tom Baker Cancer Center, University of Calgary). Many of the team’s investigators are members of PancOne™, an initiative of Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC).

TFRI’s investment in EPPIC also builds on funding from BC Cancer Foundation, OICR, Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, PCC and VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation. 

About The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)

Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the brainchild of The Terry Fox Foundation and today functions as its research arm. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with more than 80 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, B.C. For more information please visit www.tfri.ca and follow us on Twitter (@tfri_research).

Media Contacts

Katelyn Verstraten, 604-675-8000 ext. 7630; 604-358-8898 (cell) kverstraten@tfri.ca

Kelly Curwin, 604-675-8223; 778-237-8158 (cell) kcurwin@tfri.ca

EPICC Backgrounder

March 6, 2018

Study shows that environmental exposures such as air pollution are more determinant of respiratory health than inherited genetics

Toronto (March 6, 2018) – Researchers have found strong evidence that environmental exposures, including air pollution, affect gene expressions associated with respiratory diseases much more than genetic ancestry. The study, published today in Nature Communications, analyzed more than 1.6 million data points from biological specimens, health questionnaires and environmental datasets, making this study one of the largest ever to examine the relationship between gene expression and environmental stimuli. These findings represent a groundbreaking use of big data to uncover the environmental factors that are behind diseases and inform strategies for prevention, an approach that would apply to a number of diseases, including cancer.

Genetic, health and disease data of participants from Montreal, Quebec City and Saguenay were linked with environmental information such as air pollution, walkability and access to food to see how these factors impact gene expression. Participants were enrolled in the Quebec arm (CARTaGENE) of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP), which supports research into environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors related to the development and progression of cancer and chronic diseases. More than 300,000 Canadians, 1 per cent of the population, have enrolled in CPTP since its launch in 2008.

The study used deep characterization of gene expression signatures from participants and linked that data with environmental information. “We were surprised to find that we were able to stratify genetic ancestry within Quebec, identifying individuals whose descendants were from Montreal versus Saguenay for example,” explains Dr. Philip Awadalla, the study’s senior author. “This helped us to show how most gene expression is not derived by ancestry, and that environmental exposures associated with living in a particular city or region are more impactful on gene expression associated with disease traits than heritable variation.”

One of the main findings of the study was that exposure to higher levels of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide in the Saguenay area affected the expression of genes associated with oxygen pathways and respiratory function. This resulted in higher rates of respiratory ailments such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study also revealed that there are genetic variants that control how a person’s gene expression responds when exposed to environmental stimuli.

“This study demonstrates Ontario’s leadership in research and in particular, the importance of big data,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Today, with quantities of data never before available, we are able to make important discoveries that will help us fight and overcome disease.”

“Our study shows how one can use the large scope and scale of data in Canada’s largest health cohort to better understand how our genes interact with environmental exposures and shape individual health,” says Awadalla. “I encourage all those engaged in this type of research, both in Canada and around the world, to take advantage of this resource.”

Awadalla is Director and Sr. Principal Investigator, Computational Biology, OICR, the Executive Scientific Director of the Ontario Health Study (Ontario’s CPTP cohort), Director of the Genome Canada, Canadian Data Integration Centre and Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.

Controlled access to cohort data and biological samples is available to researchers through the CPTP Data Portal and CARTaGENE.

About OICR

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute focused on accelerating the translation of new cancer research discoveries to patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. Funding for OICR is provided by the Government of Ontario.

For more information, please contact:

Hal Costie
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
647-963-5289
hal.costie@oicr.on.ca
@OICR_News

February 21, 2018

FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies

FACIT Logo

Investment supports emerging entrepreneurial scientists and critical proof-of-principle studies

TORONTO, ON (February 20, 2018) – FACIT, a business accelerator, announced four new recipients of funding through its Prospects oncology investment competition: Dalriada Therapeutics Inc. (“Dalriada”), 16-Bit Inc. (“16-Bit”), a cancer biomarker study at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”), and a virus-based therapeutic under development at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa. FACIT’s investments are imperative in bridging the capital gap often experienced by early-stage Ontario companies, helping corporations establish jobs and build roots in the province. The wide ranging scope of the innovations, which span therapeutics, machine learning and biomarker development, reflect the rich talent pool within the Ontario oncology research community.

Continue reading – FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies

January 25, 2018

The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

CDI - LogoToronto (January 25, 2018) – The Canadian Data Integration Centre (CDIC) has received $6.4 million in funding from Genome Canada to help the research community translate the biological insights gained from genomics research into tangible improvements for cancer patients.

CDIC is a “one-stop shop” service delivery platform for cancer researchers, helping streamline research by providing coordinated expertise on a broad range of services, including data integration, genomics, pathology, biospecimen handling and advanced sequencing technologies. It is an international leader in genomics, bioinformatics and translational research, supporting some of the world’s largest programs in genomic data analysis, genomic and clinical data hosting, cancer data analyses and access, and the development of algorithms for advanced sequencing technology.

Continue reading – The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

October 18, 2017

GA4GH Strikes Formal Collaborations with 15 International Genomic Data Initiatives

Orlando, Florida (October 17, 2017) – The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has struck formal collaborations with 15 international genomic data initiatives as 2017 Driver Projects, including Genomics England, Australian Genomics and the U.S. All of Us Research Program. The announcement, made at the GA4GH 5th Plenary Meeting, comes as part of the launch of GA4GH Connect: A 5-year Strategic Plan. GA4GH Connect aims to drive uptake of standards and frameworks for genomic data sharing within the research and healthcare communities in order to enable responsible sharing of clinical-grade genomic data by 2022.

Continue reading – GA4GH Strikes Formal Collaborations with 15 International Genomic Data Initiatives

October 4, 2017

FACIT Portfolio Company Fusion Pharmaceuticals Closes US$46M Oversubscribed Series A

Addition of new investors builds on Ontario’s next-gen radiotherapies and cancer innovations

Continue reading – FACIT Portfolio Company Fusion Pharmaceuticals Closes US$46M Oversubscribed Series A

August 15, 2017

New data resource centre will help better understand links between birth defects and childhood cancer

Researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research playing major role in the design and development of the new initiative.

Toronto (August 15, 2017) – Children with structural birth defects are at a much higher risk of developing certain types of childhood cancers but scientists currently lack vital information about why this occurs.

Continue reading – New data resource centre will help better understand links between birth defects and childhood cancer