Ottawa researchers to play lead role in new cancer immunotherapy studies

BioCanRx funds research into CAR-T and virus-infected cell therapy

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa will play a lead role in cutting-edge research on cancer immunotherapy, thanks to five new peer-reviewed research grants from BioCanRx, worth $5.5 million.  BioCanRx is a Network of Centres of Excellence funded by the Canadian government and other partners. It is based at The Ottawa Hospital and led by Dr. John Bell. The new funding is part of a package of 16 grants awarded across the country worth $11 million.

Immunotherapy makes use of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Two of the new projects involve genetically modified immune cells (called CAR-T cells), which have shown great promise in clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

CAR-T cells are derived from a patient’s own T cells. While T cells can naturally kill cancer cells on their own, many cancer cells have found ways to deactivate T cells and escape their attack. CAR-T cells are T cells that have been “reactivated” to attack cancer cells through genetic modification.  In some cases, CAR-T cells have been able to completely eliminate advanced cancers, particularly in children with blood cancers. However, CAR-T therapy also comes with significant risks and many questions remain.

The two CAR-T projects funded by BioCanRx will focus on manufacturing these cells in Canada and developing an evidence-based, patient-centered protocol for the first Canadian clinical trial of this technology.

Two additional projects involve using viruses to create personalized vaccines to help the body’s immune system attack cancer. In this approach, cancer cells from a patient would be grown in a lab and then infected with a virus. The virus-infected cells would then be injected back into the same patient. The hope is that these infected cells would stimulate the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer cells. The researchers hope to optimize this approach in laboratory models of abdominal cancer and blood cancer, in preparation for clinical trials.

The final project involves improving the design, analysis and reporting of cancer immunotherapy studies in laboratory models. This will help researchers efficiently and effectively translate their most promising discoveries into clinical trials.

These projects are possible because The Ottawa Hospital has state-of-the-art research facilities supported by generous donors. For example, The Ottawa Hospital’s Centre for Innovative Cancer Research, where much of this research is based, was built with $9.5 million from The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

Click here for more funding details.

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