April 17, 2016

International Cancer Genome Consortium for Medicine (ICGCmed) launches today, will link genomics to clinical information and health

ICGC med logoNew Orleans – (April 17, 2016) The International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) today announced plans to launch the International Cancer Genome Consortium for Medicine (ICGCmed), a new phase in the Consortium’s evolution that will link genomics to clinical information and health.

The collaborative project will build upon the vast database of genomic discoveries of the ICGC, which, since its launch in 2007, has been mapping 25,000 different cancer genomes in 50 different tumour types and making this data freely available to qualified researchers around the world.

Continue reading – International Cancer Genome Consortium for Medicine (ICGCmed) launches today, will link genomics to clinical information and health

April 6, 2016

Dr. John Dick elected as 2016 Fellow of the AACR Academy

Toronto (April 6, 2016) – Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today congratulated Dr. John Dick on receiving the prestigious honour of being one of 11 newly elected Fellows to the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Academy.

Dr. Dick is a Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology and Senior Scientist at the University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at OICR.

Continue reading – Dr. John Dick elected as 2016 Fellow of the AACR Academy

January 7, 2016

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $1.2 million to support oncology drug development in Ontario

Five promising early stage research projects that would benefit from OICR’s input and expertise were selected from a province-wide call for proposals.

Toronto (January 7, 2016) – Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) announced today that OICR will invest $1.2 million in funding, plus expertise and in-kind support, to help bring five promising oncology drug development projects closer to the clinic.

Continue reading – Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $1.2 million to support oncology drug development in Ontario

December 29, 2015

OICR partnership with Johnson and Johnson to develop new treatments for haematological cancers

FACIT Logo Development of a set of novel therapeutic compounds identified by OICR’s Drug Discovery Program and researchers at the University Health Network (UHN) will be accelerated thanks to a recently announced collaboration between Johnson & Johnson and the Institute, UHN and Novera Therapeutics, a new company established by the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (FACIT) to enable further development of the compounds.

Novera will receive an upfront payment from Johnson & Johnson and can receive a total of approximately $450 million as well as funds from potential royalties and sales. As part of the deal, Janssen will have an exclusive license option for candidate drugs that are developed through the collaboration. After exercising this option Janssen will undertake all pre-clinical, clinical and commercial development.

“Janssen is an excellent partner for this exciting program and we welcome the opportunity to leverage their distinguished development expertise in haematological cancers.  Patients in Ontario and worldwide will benefit from this collaborative and innovative model for translational research,” says Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of OICR.

Read the announcement

Media coverage

OICR, Novera and Janssen Biotech collaborate to develop haematological cancer drug
From Pharmaceutical Business Review

J&J deepens its Canada ties with $690M in R&D deals
From Fierce Biotech

Cancer Institute Spins-Off Company, Gains Licensing Deal
Science Business

J&J partners with pair of Canadian companies
From BioCentury

December 22, 2015

Stand Up to Cancer Canada announces breast cancer Dream Team

Dr. Tak Mek

The first Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) Canadian Dream Team of researchers was announced September 30, with $9 million provided over four years to support Canadian research on aggressive types of breast cancer.

The team, led by Dr. Tak Mak at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, will be developing new therapies aimed at changes in the genomes of cancer cells that make breast cancer tumours unstable and vulnerable to attack – the so-called “Achilles’ heel” of aggressive breast tumours. The researchers will test three candidate drugs and hope to identify biomarkers that will help to better personalize treatment for patients.

Continue reading – Stand Up to Cancer Canada announces breast cancer Dream Team

December 9, 2015

Building the foundations for Cancer Genomic Analysis for Research and Clinical Diagnostics

  • A study published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications revealed a high degree of heterogeneity in how cancer genome sequencing is done at different institutions across the globe;
  • This result lays the foundation for the coming era of cancer genomics by creating guidelines and providing new tools for achieving higher quality data, for better diagnosis and precision medicine;
  • The Centro Nacional de Analisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) took leading roles in this international effort by 78 different institutions.

BARCELONA, Dec. 9, 2015 /CNW/ – An eye-opening article from the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) was published today in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. It lays a foundation for the coming era of research in cancer genomics. The project, led by the Centro Nacional de Analisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) is the result of an effort to create reliable standards to obtain accurate results in the detection of somatic mutations, which are a hallmark of cancer genomes. Somatic mutations are genetic alterations spontaneously acquired by a cell that can be passed to the progeny of the mutated cell in the course of cell division and tumour growth. Somatic mutations differ from germline variants, which are inherited from parents to children.

The study, involving 83 researchers from 78 research institutions participating in the International Cancer Genomics Consortium, identified big differences in procedures and quality of cancer genome sequencing between sequencing centers. This led to dramatic discrepancies in the number and types of gene mutations detected when using the same cancer genome sequences for analysis. Out of >1,000 confirmed somatic single-base mutations in the cancer genome analyzed, only 40 per cent were unanimously identified by all participating teams. Small insertions or deletions in the DNA sequence were even more challenging – only a single somatic insertion/deletion mutation out of 337 was identified in all centres (0.3 per cent). As a consequence, the Consortium has established a reference mutation dataset to assess analytical procedures. The ‘gold-set’ reference database has helped the ICGC community to improve procedures for identifying more true somatic mutations in cancer genomes while making fewer false positive calls.

As whole genome sequencing of cancer genomes is increasingly being used as a clinical tool, full understanding of the variables affecting sequencing analysis output quality is required. The key points to consider and the necessary tools for improvement are provided here. “The findings of our study have far-reaching implications for cancer genome analysis. We have found many inconsistencies in both the sequencing of cancer genomes and the data analysis at different sites. We are making our findings available to the scientific and diagnostic community so that they can improve their systems and generate more standardized and consistent results,” says Ivo Gut, senior author of the publication and director of the CNAG-CRG in Barcelona.

David Jones, a Senior Scientist at the DKFZ who co-led the study, commented that “as the latest technological advances in cancer genome analysis become more widely available to support personalized cancer medicine, it is vitally important that rigorous quality testing is applied to ensure accuracy and consistency of results. We hope that our study can provide a framework for this process, to help researchers in providing the best possible analysis of patients’ samples.”

Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) declared that “At the founding of the ICGC, members of the Consortium agreed that the guidelines for “best practices” could be revised as needed to adapt to new technologies and knowledge. This benchmarking exercise gives the research community gained confidence in calling and verifying somatic mutations – a step forward to improve clinical decisions based on genomic analyses.”

The promise of cancer genomics relies on accurate and robust detection of mutations affecting DNA,” said Dr. Jared Simpson, Principal Investigator in OICR’s Informatics and Bio-computing Program. “This paper helps us track progress on this important problem by both identifying the strengths of our current approaches and where further work is needed.”

This project really demonstrates that while new technologies can bring challenges in data quality and data analysis, when the international community comes together in a collaborative way these can rapidly become results,” said Dr. Paul Boutros, Principal Investigator in OICR’s Informatics and Bio-computing Program. “The results of this collaboration are going to significantly improve the quality of sequencing and data analysis we do here at OICR, for example as part of the Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network.”

The context
The International Cancer Genome Consortium is an international effort to establish a comprehensive description of genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic changes in 50 different tumour types and/or subtypes which are of clinical and societal importance across the globe. The ICGC is characterizing over 25,000 cancer genomes from many forms of cancer. There are 78 projects supported by different national and international funding agencies. For this project, two different types of cancer genomes were studied: chronic lymphocytic leukemia and medulloblastoma (a malignant pediatric brain tumour arising in the cerebellum). Spain’s contribution to the ICGC is on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) with a consortium led by Dr. Elías Campo and Dr. Carlos López-Otín from the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, and the University of Oviedo, respectively, with other partners including the Hospital of Salamanca, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the National Cancer Research Center and the CNAG-CRG. The genomic research on medulloblastoma and pilocytic astrocytoma (another common pediatric brain tumour), is being conducted by the “PedBrain Tumor Research Project”, the first German contribution to the ICGC. In this research project, where the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) plays a key role, the entire tumour genome of a patient is analyzed and compared to the normal genome of the same patient to decipher the molecular causes for these types of cancer. The PedBrain Tumor Research Project started in early 2010 and is a collaborative effort between the DKFZ, the NCT, Heidelberg University, the University Clinics in Heidelberg and Düsseldorf, the EMBL and the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics.

The Centro Nacional de Analisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) was created on 2009 as a centre of reference for genomics and a key part of the scientific infrastructure required to advance biomedical and genomics research in Catalonia and Spain. Its mission is to carry out genome projects aimed at improving the health and quality of life for people, in collaboration with national and international scientists, to promote Spanish genomics and to ensure its competitiveness in the areas of biomedicine and biology as well as the agrofood sector. With its legal incorporation into the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) on July 1, 2015, these two centres have joined forces to go even further in genome research.

The German Cancer Research Center
The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute inGermany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT)Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety per cent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
OICR hosts the ICGC’s Secretariat and Dr. Tom Hudson, OICR’s President and Scientific Director, chairs both its Executive Committee and its International Scientific Steering Committee. The data produced by the ICGC project teams are housed on the ICGC website at www.icgc.org and the Data Coordination Centre is based at OICR. More than 14,000 cancer genomes are currently in the ICGC database and are made rapidly available to qualified investigators around the world. As of December 2015, there are commitments from funding organizations in Asia,Australia, Europe, North America and South America for 89 project teams in 17 jurisdictions to study more than 25,000 tumour genomes. OICR has two projects, one on pancreatic cancer and one being conducted on prostate cancer in partnership with Prostate Cancer Canada.

Reference work:
Tyler S. Alioto, Ivo Buchhalter, Sophia Derdak, Barbara Hutter, Matthew D. Eldridge,Eivind Hovig, Lawrence E. Heisler, Timothy A. Beck, Jared T. Simpson, Laurie Tonon,Anne-Sophie Sertier, Ann-Marie Patch, Natalie Jäger, Philip Ginsbach, Ruben Drews, Nagarajan Paramasivam, Rolf Kabbe, Sasithorn Chotewutmontri, Nicolle Diessl, Christopher Previti, Sabine Schmidt, Benedikt Brors, Lars Feuerbach, Michael Heinold, Susanne Gröbner, Andrey Korshunov, Patrick S. Tarpey, Adam P. Butler,Jonathan Hinton, David Jones, Andrew Menzies, Keiran Raine, Rebecca Shepherd,Lucy Stebbings, Jon W. Teague, Paolo Ribeca, Francesc Castro Giner, Sergi Beltran, Emanuele Raineri, Marc Dabad, Simon C. Heath, Marta Gut, Robert E. Denroche, Nicholas J Harding, Takafumi N. Yamaguchi, Akihiro Fujimoto, Hidewaki Nakagawa, Víctor Quesada, Rafael Valdés-Mas, Sigve Nakken, Daniel Vodák, Lawrence Bower,Andrew G. Lynch, Charlotte L. Anderson, Nicola Waddell, John V. Pearson, Sean M. Grimmond, Myron Peto, Paul Spellman, Minghui He, Cyriac Kandoth, Semin Lee,John Zhang, Louis Létourneau, Singer Ma, Sahil Seth, David Torrents, Liu Xi, David A. Wheeler, Carlos López-Otín , Elías Campo, Peter J. Campbell, Paul C. Boutros, Xose S. Puente, Daniela S. Gerhard, Stefan M. Pfister, John D. McPherson, Thomas J. Hudson, Matthias Schlesner, Peter Lichter, Roland Eils, David T. W. Jones, Ivo G. Gut.(2015). A comprehensive assessment of somatic mutation detection in cancer using whole genome sequencing. Nature Communications.

Participant centers:
Centro Nacional de Analísis Genómico (CNAG-CRG, Barcelona, Spain), German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ, Heidelberg, Germany), Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (UK), Norwegian Cancer Genomics Consortium (Oslo, Norway),Oslo University Hospital (Norway), University of Oslo (Norway), Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (Canada), Synergie Lyon Cancer Foundation (France), Queensland Centre for Medical Genomics (Australia), QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (Australia), Stanford University (USA), Heidelberg University Hospital (Germany), Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (Cambridge, UK), RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences (Tokyo, Japan), Universidad de Oviedo (Spain), The University of Melbourne (Australia), Wolfson Cancer Research Centre (Glasgow, Scotland), Knight Cancer Institute (Portland, USA), BGI-Schenzhen (China), The Genome Institute (St. Louis, USA), Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA), MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, USA), McGill University (Quebec, Canada), Institut de Recerca Biomèdica (IRB, Barcelona, Spain) & Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS, Spain), Human Genome Sequencing Center, Hospital Clínic (UB, Barcelona, Spain) & Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS, Barcelona, Spain),University of Toronto (Canada), National Cancer Institute (Bethesda, USA).

For further information: Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG), Dr. Ivo G. Gut, Director of the CNAG-CRG, +34 934020580, mireia.nello@cnag.crg.eu

November 20, 2015

OICR’s Tom Hudson named Chair of Global Alliance for Genomics and Health Steering Committee

Global Alliance LogoOn October 6, at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, assumed the role of Chair of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) Steering Committee, succeeding Dr. David Altshuler. Altshuler has served as Chair since GA4GH was established in 2013, and will remain as a member of the Steering Committee.

“Just over two years ago, a group of leaders from around the globe came together to enable the responsible sharing of genomic and clinical data. Tom was a key contributor from the start, and with his help, GA4GH has made substantial progress,” Altshuler said. “I cannot think of a better person to lead the Steering Committee.”

The role of the Steering Committee is to make high-level decisions about the direction, values, and working products from the GA4GH. GA4GH is a community of individuals and world-leading organizations working together to create interoperable tools and approaches to enable genomic and clinical data sharing. More information about GA4GH can be found at www.genomicsandhealth.org.

October 14, 2015

OICR, UHN, Novera Therapeutics Announce Collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation on Drug Discovery and Development for Haematological Cancers

Research Collaboration and Option and License Agreement Reach Approximately $450 Million Cdn

TORONTO, Oct. 14, 2015 /CNW/ – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”) together with Novera Therapeutics Inc., (“Novera”) have announced a collaboration with Janssen Biotech, LLC (“Janssen”), a Pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson, to accelerate the development of promising small molecule drug candidates for haematological cancers. Novera, a new Ontario biotechnology company, will discover and develop novel therapeutic compounds identified through OICR’s drug discovery program in partnership with University Health Network’s (“UHN”) enabling technology and disease area biology, and coordinate the collaboration with Janssen under a collaboration, license option, and exclusive license agreement (the “agreement”).

Under the agreement, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novera will receive an upfront payment and is eligible to receive various pre-clinical, clinical, regulatory and commercialization success-based milestone payments up to a total of approximately $450 million Cdn, plus tiered royalties on potential net sales of products.  Janssen has been granted an exclusive option to license, for all human uses worldwide, candidate drug(s) that have been identified and will be advanced through the collaboration.  Janssen will assume responsibility for subsequent pre-clinical, clinical and commercial development once it exercises its option.

As a translational research institute OICR identifies, funds and supports oncology innovations with a goal of improving clinical practice. Leveraging the extensive and renowned research community within Ontario, OICR assembles and coordinates the intellectual resources, management and expertise needed to drive anti-cancer discoveries from bench to bedside.  Novera was established by FACIT, OICR’s commercialization partner, to advance the therapeutics against molecular targets in difficult-to-treat hematological malignancies.

The announced agreement with Janssen is another important example that builds on the translational mandate and vision of OICR, FACIT and Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation (“MRI”).

“Janssen is an excellent partner for this exciting program and we welcome the opportunity to leverage their distinguished development expertise in haematological cancers.  Patients in Ontario and worldwide will benefit from this collaborative and innovative model for translational research,” said Tom Hudson, President of OICR.

“We are pleased with the remarkable achievements of OICR, UHN and FACIT and their continued efforts to translate breakthrough research from the lab to the marketplace. An expanded presence of a health industry leader like Janssen in Ontario — combined with our world-class scientific research — is essential for the province to stay at the forefront of innovation for the benefit of patients and our economy,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of MRI.

“As a worldwide leader in developing breakthrough medicines, Janssen is an ideal partner and an excellent fit with our plan to bring the commercial strengths and experience of multinational pharmaceutical companies to support oncology innovations arising in the Province,” remarked Jeff Courtney, FACIT’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Janssen’s commitment to this program is indicative of the calibre of innovation driving OICR’s Drug Discovery initiatives.”

About OICR
OICR is an innovative cancer research and development institute dedicated to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Institute is an independent, not-for-profit corporation, supported by the Government of Ontario. OICR and its funding partners support research programs that involve more than 1,700 investigators, clinician scientists, research staff and trainees in research institutes and in universities across the Province of Ontario as well as at its headquarters. OICR has key research program efforts underway in small molecules, biologics, stem cells, imaging, genomics, informatics and bio-computing. For more information, please visit the website at www.oicr.on.ca.

FACIT (Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust) is an independent business entity established by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR)  to undertake and accelerate development and commercialization activities related to breakthrough cancer research, products and drug discovery from OICR and throughoutOntario. For more information, please visit the website at facit.ca or email info@facit.ca.

About University Health Network
University Health Network consists of Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. www.uhn.ca.

About Novera Therapeutics Inc.
Novera Therapeutics Inc. is a biotherapeutics company focused on developing and commercializing therapies that improve patient outcomes in difficult-to-treat cancers. Established by the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (FACIT), Novera’s drug candidates are derived from discoveries, research and innovations originating from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN). For more information, please email info@facit.ca.

June 15, 2015

Researchers sequence and assemble first full genome of a living organism using technology the size of smartphone

TORONTO, ON (June 15, 2015) Researchers in Canada and the U.K. have for the first time sequenced and assembled de novo the full genome of a living organism, the bacteria Escherichia Coli, using Oxford Nanopore’s MinIONTM device, a genome sequencer that can fit in the palm of your hand.

The findings, which were published today in the journal Nature Methods, provide proof of concept for the technology and the methods lay the groundwork for using it to sequence genomes in increasingly more complex organisms, eventually including humans, said Dr. Jared Simpson, Principal Investigator at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and a lead author on the study.

“The amazing thing about this device is that it is many times smaller than a normal sequencer – you just attach it to a laptop using a USB cable,” said Simpson. “And while our work is a demonstration of the capabilities of the technology, the most significant advance is in the methods. We were able to mathematically model nanopore sequencing and develop ways to reconstruct complete genomes off this tiny sequencer.”

While standard sequencing platforms can either generate vast amounts of data, or read long enough stretches of the genome to allow complete reconstruction, the Nanopore device has the potential to achieve both goals according to Simpson. “Long reads are necessary to assemble the most repetitive parts of genomes but we need a lot of reads if we want to sequence human genomes. The small size of the MinION suggests there is room to scale up and sequence larger and more complex samples,” Simpson said.

A drawback of the technology is that the single reads it produces are currently much less accurate than the reads produced by larger devices. Strong bioinformatics tools are needed to correct errors. The methods Simpson and colleagues developed are able to overcome the error rate and compute a more accurate final sequence.

“This was a fantastic example of a successful long distance research collaboration between Canada and the U.K.,” said Dr. Nicholas Loman, a co-lead author on the paper and an Independent Research Fellow from the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at University of Birmingham. “We explored new ways of working, including hosting a hackathon to explore new algorithm development and using shared computing resources on the Medical Research Council funded Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics (CLIMB) based in the U.K. Midlands and Wales.”

The method of assembly the authors devised had three stages. First, overlaps between sequence reads are detected and corrected using a multiple alignment process. Then the corrected reads are assembled using the Celera assembler and finally the assembly is refined using a probabilistic model of the electric signals caused by DNA moving through the nanopore.

“This work has incredible potential,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “Scaled up, this technology could one day be used to sequence tumour genomes. The device’s portable nature would allow for sequencing to become far more accessible, bringing the option of more personalized diagnosis and treatment to more patients.”

June 10, 2015

Global Alliance for Genomics and Health Marks Two Years of Progress

Over 250 Leaders Convene at Third Plenary Today to Build on Efforts and Drive Results

LEIDEN, the Netherlands (June 10, 2015) – The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH), an international coalition dedicated to improving human health by maximizing the potential of genomic medicine, marked its second anniversary this month. Today, more than 250 GA4GH Members are coming together in the Netherlands to collaborate on the development of innovative, integrated solutions that promote genomic and clinical data sharing, and the creation of a global learning system in genomic medicine.

Since its inception in June 2013, GA4GH has grown to include over 320 organizations across 32 countries and made important progress to unite and guide the field. Members include world leaders in healthcare, research, patient and disease advocacy, life science, and information technology. More than 700 individuals around the globe are actively developing dozens of tools, methods, and approaches to facilitate effective, responsible data sharing.

“Two years ago, we set out to engage a diverse set of leaders around the need to enable responsible sharing of genomic and clinical data. This has developed into a vibrant international effort beyond what we could have imagined when we first came together,” said David Altshuler, MD, PhD, Chair of the GA4GH Steering Committee. “In 2015 our mission is more critical than ever, as we increasingly see genomic information having positive impact on diagnosis, targeting, and development of new medicines.”

At today’s third Plenary Meeting, GA4GH Members are sharing progress on priority tools and projects and discussing ways to promote the use of these interoperable methods to encourage data sharing. Members are focusing on work being done to link existing solutions, emerging areas of interest like e-Health, and issues such as big data challenges and how best to align with major national and institutional efforts arising in genomic medicine.

“The future of medicine requires a collective commitment to developing scalable and interoperable approaches to sharing data,” said Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, Director of the National Institutes of Health. “GA4GH has made important early progress by uniting critical communities, identifying challenge areas, and collaborating on efforts to help the world realize the benefits of genomic data sharing.”

GA4GH Working Groups have already developed products that lay a technical and regulatory foundation for data sharing, including:

  • A regulatory Framework to guide the responsible sharing of genomic and health-related data;
  • A GA4GH Genomics API to enable the interoperable exchange of data in DNA sequence reads; and
  • A Security Infrastructure that recommends policy and technology options for the ecosystem.

“The world is on the verge of an explosion in genomic data. If we fail to effectively navigate this rocky terrain, we will miss a tremendous opportunity to enable a new era of medical discovery and delivery,” said Tom Hudson, newly announced Chair-Elect of the GA4GH Steering Committee and President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “GA4GH has not only brought critical communities to the table, but is showing the results of what happens when these diverse leaders combine their experiences and work together.”

“Health systems around the world must turn into learning systems that responsibly share information—we owe it to every citizen in the world to do this right,” said Eric Lander, Founding Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “GA4GH has taken critical steps to ensure that we unlock the transformational power of genomic medicine.”

GA4GH Members are now building off early foundational products. New Consent and Privacy and Security Policies released this week follow the guidelines and principles of the regulatory Framework. GA4GH recently developed a catalogue of current activities in eHealth and in April, a beta Reference Implementation for the Genomics API was released. Finally, a “data sharing start-up kit” is underway which will include downloadable APIs and reference implementations, as well as polices and standards necessary to implement them responsibly.

“GA4GH tools facilitate interoperability and allow researchers and clinicians to tap the power of genomic data on a global scale, while ensuring participants feel secure that their interests are protected,” explained David Haussler, Chair of the GA4GH Data Working Group and Scientific Director of the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. “No one of our Member organizations is in the position to provide every tool that is needed, but together we can really move the needle.”

“We started the Global Alliance two years ago to address current barriers to genomic and clinical data sharing before they became entrenched,” said Bartha Knoppers, Chair of the GA4GH Regulatory and Ethics Working Group and Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University. “We are working to guide the responsible sharing of genomic and health-related data around the world based on a human rights approach.”

Several projects advanced by GA4GH act as testing grounds and demonstrate immediate, real-world value:

  • A global BRCA Challenge to merge and accelerate efforts to interpret BRCA 1 and 2 variants, holding its inaugural meeting June 12-13 at UNESCO in Paris co-organised by the Human Variome Project;
  • Matchmaker Exchange, a project designed to help patients and doctors grappling with rare genotypes and phenotypes to find one another through a federated network of databases; and
  • The Beacon Project, which tests the willingness of institutions to share data internationally and now includes over 250 datasets across 15 institutions, including the GA4GH Beacon Network.

“Right now consortia around the world are collecting genomic sequence data, but many efforts are happening in parallel, not in concert,” said Michael Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “The Global Alliance is providing packaged, workable solutions and engaging with large-scale data collection and sharing programs around the world.”

“If we don’t ensure data interoperability now, within a few years it’s going to be too late,” said Kathryn North, Vice-Chair of the GA4GH Steering Committee and Director of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. “We must all work together to realize the potential of genomic research, reveal the underlying causes of genetic disorders, and transform the way individuals are treated and diagnosed.”

A Road Map produced in early 2015 lays out specific near-term goals for GA4GH. These goals align with the Global Alliance’s vital initial mission and will guide today’s Plenary Meeting.

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health is an international, non-profit alliance formed to help accelerate the potential of genomic medicine to advance human health. Bringing together over 300 leading organizations working in healthcare, research, disease and patient advocacy, life science, and information technology, GA4GH Members are working together to create a common framework of tools, methods, and harmonized approaches and supporting demonstration projects to enable the responsible, voluntary, and secure sharing of genomic and clinical data. Learn more at: http://genomicsandhealth.org.

June 1, 2015

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research invests $4.6 million to support pancreatic cancer research

TORONTO, ON (June 1, 2015) – Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced OICR is investing $4.6 million over two years in PanCuRx, an initiative that seeks solutions to the high fatality rate of pancreatic cancer. The multidisciplinary program brings together researchers from the fields of genomics, pathology, cancer biology and informatics, as well as clinician scientists, who will collaboratively work to better understand pancreatic cancer on a molecular level and use this understanding to develop better, more personalized diagnostics and therapies for patients. The research will focus on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

“There have been huge scientific advances over the past few decades on many types of cancer, but statistics on pancreatic cancer have remained largely unchanged,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “OICR is proud today to announce support for PanCuRx and help to improve these statistics and bring new solutions to patients.”

Initial funding for the initiative was provided last spring by Sylvia M. G. Soyka, director, and the Board of Trustees of the SMGS Family Foundation to the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University (CFHU). The focus of this funding is to find and identify the molecular drivers behind metastatic pancreatic cancer. Researchers at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Sheba Medical Center in Israel and at OICR in Toronto are currently working collaboratively to achieve this goal.

“This new funding will help tackle one of the least understood types of cancer. Ontario’s innovative and collaborative research community, together with our partners in Israel, are well suited for this challenge to discover new solutions and treatments that will benefit patients worldwide,” said Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation.

PanCuRx’s unique, collaborative design will allow teams of researchers to pursue research and clinical questions in parallel, with a tight link between clinical practice and lab research. The research will also be highly integrated with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s translational PDAC program, ensuring that in addition to increasing understanding of the disease more generally, the research will directly inform the treatment strategy of patients who participate.

“The focus of PanCuRx is to ensure we bring the patients closer to the research and the research closer to the patients,” said Dr. Steven Gallinger, Surgical Oncologist and Head, Hepatobiliary/Pancreatic Surgical Oncology Program at University Health Network, Senior Investigator, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital and leader of the PanCuRx initiative. “By working together among disciplines and between the research and clinical components we feel much more can be accomplished and we have a real chance of making an impact on improving outcomes for PDAC patients.”

“I am alive today because of the groundbreaking treatment I received from Dr. Gallinger, Dr. Malcolm Moore and their team,” said Libby Znaimer, a prominent Canadian journalist and pancreatic cancer survivor. Znaimer received therapy targeted at the molecular level to the specific subtype of pancreatic cancer she was diagnosed with, an avenue of diagnosis and treatment that this new funding will further explore. “This summer I will celebrate seven years since diagnosis. We need more research to ensure that outcomes like mine become the norm, rather than a rare exception.”

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) makes up approximately 85 per cent of pancreatic cancer cases. In 2014, an estimated 4,700 Canadians were diagnosed with PDAC and 4,400 died from the disease. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Canada and the current five-year survival rate of 7.7 per cent is the lowest of all cancers. While the number of people dying from common cancers such as breast and colon cancer has dropped dramatically over the past 30 years, there have been only slight improvements for PDAC. It is estimated that PDAC will be the second leading cause of cancer death in North America within 10 years.

March 9, 2015

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research scientist wins 2014 Roger Cotton Prize for Histopathology.

TORONTO, ON (March 9, 2015) — Dr. Tom Hudson, President and Scientific Director of The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today congratulated Mary Anne Quintayo, recipient of the 2014 Roger Cotton Prize for Histopathology for her paper on virtual tissue microarrays. The prize is awarded annually to the best paper published the previous year in the journal Histopathology.

The paper demonstrates that virtual tissue microarrays have many benefits over traditional physical microarrays and constitute an important new tool in digital pathology for both research and clinical settings. Testing was performed on breast cancer samples but the results would be replicable across a broad range of cancers.

“I congratulate Mary Anne Quintayo on this award,” said Dr. Hudson. “Her innovative work has the potential for significant applications to pathology research worldwide, for many different types of cancer. OICR is proud to support this research and delighted with the international recognition it has received.”

“This is an elegant solution to a pathology question and an important new technique for histopathology,” said Dr. John Bartlett, Program Leader of OICR’s Transformative Pathology Program. “This technique provides the opportunity for researchers to perform validation faster, move toward the research environment much more efficiently and to improve the validity of research findings. This allows for more flexibility to analyze many more samples and for researchers to ask more questions of interest.”

“It is contributions from individuals like Mary Anne Quintayo that make Ontario a world leader in cancer research. Her work with virtual tissue microarrays has the potential to significantly impact the lives of patients living with cancer here in Ontario and around the globe. I want to congratulate Quintayo on her award and everyone at OICR for the ground breaking research they do each and every day,” said Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation.

This study forms part of an ongoing collaboration addressing challenges relating to early cancer, a key OICR strategic objective. The Improved Management of Early Cancer initiative links multiple research projects to seek to accurately diagnose early cancers, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), to avoid overtreatment. This study links researchers at OICR and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in a collaborative network targeting this challenging disease.

Tissue microarrays (TMAs) are an excellent research tool for high throughput analysis of large patient cohorts because they are both economical and rapid. They act as tiny tumour banks on a slide, assisting researchers in analyzing hundreds of samples simultaneously. The challenge for researchers is in knowing how many cores are needed in a particular section to be certain the samples accurately represent the tumour as a whole. The conventional way of doing this is to create and then analyze real microarrays with multiple cores. This can be time consuming for researchers.

Quintayo’s new technique allows researchers to drop virtual cores onto a single slide, representing a computer simulation of multiple TMA cores. It then uses an image analysis system to “mirror” the same cores on sequential sections to assess the impact of creating TMAs across multiple biomarkers using a computer. It does the same work, but faster and more economically than researchers manually constructing multiple replicate TMAs and staining them individually.

The work was published in the January 2014 issue of the journal Histopathology. Histopathology is published on behalf of the British Division of the International Academy of Pathology (BDIAP). The society aims to advance pathology through improving methods of teaching pathology, coordination of pathology with allied sciences and techniques, promoting pathology research and convocation of meetings and congresses to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

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