November 1, 2019
Al-awar joins OICR’s executive team with plans to expand drug discovery and development initiatives across Ontario
Dr. Rima Al-awar has joined OICR’s executive team as Head, Therapeutic Innovation and Drug Discovery. In this role, she will lead one of OICR’s three key priority areas, Therapeutic Innovation, which focuses on validating novel cancer drug targets and advancing therapeutic candidates through pre-clinical development. She will continue leading OICR’s Drug Discovery Program and will build upon that team’s exceptional work in her new position.
Here she discusses her new role and her plans to grow OICR’s Therapeutic Innovation platform.
What does this promotion mean for you and your team?
Since joining OICR, I have spent several years building an experienced and talented team that I’m very proud of. We have developed great assets and established fruitful partnerships with collaborators and industry partners. We have a very rich and promising portfolio of potential new cancer therapeutics.
I believe we are in a great position to expand and capitalize on our successes. My new position will allow me to take a strategic role in therapeutic innovation at OICR so that we can enable future successes both here, in Toronto, and across the province. I need to think of creative and strategic funding models, how best to strengthen the platform’s structure and establish additional synergistic partnerships in the community. In the long run, this means advancing more projects into development.
How will this new role allow you to do that?
I’ll have a seat at the table in strategic conversations with our executive team. I’ll bring a unique perspective with my expertise in drug discovery and development, and I look forward to representing Therapeutic Innovation, an important part of OICR.
In this role I will also help ensure that resources are allocated to the most promising projects. I’m a big proponent of focusing on select projects and doing them well and in a timely and competitive fashion as opposed to stretching our resources across too many projects, which often ends up slowing progress. In this position, I believe I can do that more effectively.
How does this new appointment differ from your previous position as Director of Drug Discovery?
I will still be leading the Drug Discovery team, but I’ll be relying on leaders within the team to take on some of my previous day-to-day responsibilities, and in turn, they will delegate some of their current responsibilities. I see this role as an opportunity to strengthen the Drug Discovery team and encourage the pace of career development within the team.
Within the scope of my new role, we are going to have to think creatively about progressing additional projects forward faster, which will mean harnessing new technologies and recruiting new expertise in different scientific disciplines.
When it comes to collaborations, I expect that my role will be just as collaborative as it was before. My goal is to continue to strengthen our current collaborations and forge new ones. We can’t bring new therapeutics to patients on our own.
What can we expect to see over the next year?
I want to explore the idea of expanding our breadth of collaborations to include biologics, immunotherapies, and novel drug delivery methods, technologies and models that impact drug discovery. I will be travelling to different research institutes across the province and outside of Ontario to look for more opportunities. The goal of this effort would be to identify and build on strengths in the community. We’re looking to enable and facilitate new, promising projects in areas of unmet needs. Expanding our network across Ontario is very important. We have built a strong foundation, we have deep expertise, a rich portfolio and now we are going to take it to the next level. I look forward to encouraging more synergy across our organization and Ontario.
May 31, 2019
In May, OICR welcomed Dr. Trevor Pugh as Director of Genomics and Senior Principal Investigator. Trevor is a cancer genomics researcher and board-certified molecular geneticist who has led the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre-OICR Translational Genomics Laboratory (PM-OICR TGL) since 2016.
In his new role, he will lead the OICR Genomics program, which brings together the Princess Margaret Genomics Centre, OICR’s Genome Technologies, Translational Genomics Laboratory and Genome Sequence Informatics teams under an integrated initiative to support basic, translational and clinical research. Here, Pugh describes some of his strategies and how he plans to take on this ambitious mandate.
You’re involved with a number of projects across many disease sites and you collaborate with researchers from vastly different areas of cancer research. Can you summarize what you focus on?
Simply put – I want to use genome technologies to guide the best patient care. The overall philosophy is to extract as much genomic information as we can from small amounts of tumour tissue, and turn that information into knowledge so that clinicians and patients can make targeted treatment decisions. I also want to open up these comprehensive data for researchers to mine and find new cures for these cancers.
Whether they are a graduate student working on myeloma or a postdoc working on liver cancer, we all learn from one another’s disease specialties.
And yes – I am involved with many areas of cancer research. Every member in my lab speaks the same genomics language. Whether they are a graduate student working on myeloma or a postdoc working on liver cancer, we all learn from one another’s disease specialties. We do genomics in a similar way as there are many genomic commonalities across cancer types and computational algorithms or infrastructure we build for one project invariably get reused for another project.
You are a board-certified molecular geneticist and a genomics researcher, but you also have a background in bioinformatics and software development. How do you balance making tools and making discoveries?
The tools we create and the research we perform go hand in hand. You can’t make discoveries without the infrastructure, and it is hard to develop technologies successfully without a guiding scientific question. With that said, the software that we make is designed to help not only our own research and clinical projects, but those of others. If we can make software work for us really well, we want to share it and make it easier for groups and labs across Ontario and around the world. This also holds for the data we generate, as there is great value to integrating our data with similar data sets from other hospitals.
How will this new role help you do that?
I have a few main goals in this role that I’m excited about. The first and the largest is to integrate the Princess Margaret Genomics Centre, PM-OICR TGL, Genome Technologies and Genome Sequence Informatics into one fully-coordinated machine. The people, tools and methods that we have at OICR and Princess Margaret are incredible and the infrastructure already in place can serve as a powerful vehicle for both research and clinical applications. In the first two weeks, I’ve been really impressed with how the leads of these programs have come together to form concrete plans for making this a reality.
The part that excites me about my new role is the O in OICR. Within this position, I can have a provincial outlook on translational research which is important as genomics research becomes increasingly dependent on multi-centre studies and inter-institutional collaborations. I think OICR can help facilitate a future where sharing ideas, data, and knowledge between institutions is much easier than it is today. I’m excited to help take things that work locally and make them available and easy-to-use across the entire province, so that we can benefit from the advances made by our neighbours. We are stronger when we work together in a collaborative way.
OICR is well-known as a developer of similar high-quality data sharing systems and I am looking forward to integrating these efforts to support our internal genomics enterprise
It sounds like a lot of your work addresses local needs, but how do you have so many international collaborations?
In computational biology, a lot of our concerns and challenges are shared with other groups as well. For example, the cBioPortal data sharing platform was originally built at Memorial-Sloan Kettering to allow researchers to easily query data from The Cancer Genome Atlas project. This initiative soon grew to include a team at Dana-Faber and now the software is fully open-source with five core, NIH-funded teams contributing to its development, including my own lab. In addition, there are groups working on improving and enhancing cBioPortal instances around the world as it expands to new applications beyond genomics. cBioPortal has emerged as a very powerful resource rooted in an international crowdsourcing model. Naturally, OICR is well-known as a developer of similar high-quality data sharing systems and I am looking forward to integrating these efforts to support our internal genomics enterprise, as well as national and international data sharing networks.
You’ve been involved with the evolution of genomics over the last two decades. What technologies excite you these days?
Hands down, it’s single cell sequencing. This is an amazing technology that allows us to see parts of the tumours that we could never see before. In one of my projects, we’re looking at each cancer population within a tumour sample and mapping each population to a drug treatment. With Drs. Benjamin Haibe-Kains, we’re applying this concept across hundreds of thousands of cells from brain tumours we have sequenced in collaboration with Peter Dirks and from myeloma cells with Suzanne Trudel. If we can find distinct clones – or types of cells – with tailored treatment options, we could potentially eradicate the cancer entirely using combination therapies. I think the future of precision medicine is dependent on single cell technology and I look forward to integrating this technology into clinical studies with collaborators at cancer centres across the province.
June 14, 2018
New OICR President and Scientific Director comments on breakthrough in breast cancer T-cell immunotherapy
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.
June 13, 2018
Entrepreneur adds US oncology management experience to Ontario commercialization
TORONTO, ON (June 13, 2018) — The Board of Trustees announced the appointment of David O’Neill as the President of FACIT. Dr O’Neill joined FACIT in 2013 as Vice President, Business Development, bringing cancer drug development expertise as well as an extensive business network in pharma and biotech. As Acting President for the last year, he has elevated the profile of the organization and enabled FACIT to continue to deliver critical commercialization financing to innovative start-ups in the growing Ontario market.
May 1, 2018
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research welcomes new President and Scientific Director, 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.
March 28, 2018
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.
November 22, 2017
FACIT expands Board to advance mandate to drive Ontario cancer breakthroughs.
TORONTO, ON (November 21, 2017) — FACIT announced the expansion of its Board of Trustees with the appointment of three new members: Mr. Kevin Empey, Dr. Cynthia Goh, and Dr. Shana Kelley. Their collective appointments strengthen FACIT’s leadership team, bringing additional financial, entrepreneurial and biotech industry expertise and networks, as FACIT advances its mandate to help guide and drive breakthrough Ontario oncology innovations. The new members join existing Trustees Mr. Greg Gubitz and Mr. John Morrison. As part of this transition, Dr. Doug Squires is stepping down from his position of Chairman, FACIT Board of Trustees.
May 8, 2017
OICR is pleased to announce that Mr. Peter Goodhand is OICR’s new President for a one-year term. Goodhand served as Interim President of OICR over the past 10 months, in addition to his role as Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH). We spoke to Goodhand about why he took on the new, expanded job, how it differs from his previous role, what this means for the search for a permanent OICR President and Scientific Director and what he’s planning for the next year at OICR.
March 8, 2017
In London, OICR leaders discussed cancer research advancements being made in the city. How can OICR help further translate these breakthroughs to patients?
Ontario’s wealth of cancer research expertise is not limited to one city or region. Innovations from researchers and clinician-scientists across the province are changing the approach to cancer worldwide. London is one of Ontario’s major cancer research nodes and boasts a particular strength in developing medical imaging technology. The city is home to the Lawson Health Research Institute, Robarts Research Institute and the Centre for Imaging Technology Commercialization. Life science and biotechnology research is the source of $1.5 billion in economic activity for the city annually.
July 11, 2016
OICR’s Scientific Director (Interim) and Program Director for Informatics and Bio-computing Dr. Lincoln Stein was officially named an International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB) Fellow this past weekend at the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology 2016 conference in Orlando, Florida.
Stein and the rest of the class of 13 Fellows from this year join an illustrious group of 56 existing members who have been conferred with this status since the program was inaugurated in 2009.
For more information about Dr. Stein’s Fellowship, please see the announcement of the award from earlier this year.
June 29, 2016
This April OICR welcomed Dr. Christine Williams as Deputy Director and Vice-President, Outreach. Williams joins OICR from The Canadian Cancer Society, where she was the Chief Mission Officer, responsible for overall leadership of the organization’s activities in research, policy, advocacy, information and support programs. Prior to that she was the national Vice-President, Research at the Society where she oversaw a cancer research budget of $40 million each year.