The Ottawa Hospital’s new Centre for Innovative Cancer Research to reduce time between discovery and patient impact

June 29, 2011

The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) has opened a new $15.8M laboratory that is uniquely designed to accelerate the development and testing of new cancer therapies. The Centre for Innovative Cancer Research (CICR) was built and equipped with $6.3M from the Government of Canada through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) competitive peer-reviewed Research Hospital Fund Program. An additional $9.5M was provided by generous donors in the community through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) and the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) are also major partners in the project.

“It typically takes more than a decade to turn a promising laboratory discovery into a new treatment that is ready for testing in patients, but with this new facility, we think we will be able to do it in half that time or even less in some cases,” said Dr. Harry Atkins, a cancer scientist, physician and assistant professor of medicine who played a lead role in designing the CICR and is affiliated with OHRI, TOH and uOttawa. “That means better treatments for our patients sooner.”

The CICR is located on the third floor of TOH’s Cancer Centre expansion at the General Campus. It includes sophisticated equipment to analyze cancer cells at the molecular level and develop and test new treatments in laboratory models. Promising treatments can then be manufactured in a new “clean room” laboratory and tested in patients just one floor below. Another special laboratory allows researchers to analyze patient tumour samples and evaluate their response to treatment, so that even better and more personalized therapies can be developed.

“We’re pioneering a whole new model of cancer research that is based on continuously improving new therapies through a cycle of laboratory and clinical research,” explained Dr. Michael McBurney, director of cancer research at OHRI and a professor of medicine at uOttawa. “We’ve always had a strong tradition of collaboration between our laboratory and clinical researchers, and with the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research, we will now be able to take this to the next level and hopefully make a big difference for our patients.”

One of the major areas of research on the new floor involves the development of biological treatments that use viruses, genes and cells to target cancer. For example, Dr. John Bell and his team have developed of number of “oncolytic” viruses that infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal tissues, and their research spans the full spectrum from basic laboratory studies to clinical trials in patients.

“We’re very encouraged by the success we’ve had with these viruses so far, but I think we’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Bell, a senior scientist at OHRI and professor of medicine at uOttawa. “We’re developing a whole new suite of biological treatments for cancer and I believe that some day, they could truly transform how we care for our patients. The Centre for Innovative Cancer Research gives us a huge advantage and an opportunity to lead the world in this field.”

In addition to the enormous potential to improve health, the new Centre also has important economic and training potential. Scientists working at the CICR have filed numerous patents and are involved in startup companies such as Jennerex Biotherapeutics, which are creating jobs and fuelling the local economy. The new Centre also provides advanced training opportunities for more than 50 students each year.

“The opening of the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research is a strong example of what can be achieved through partnerships,” said Dr. Gilles G. Patry, President and CEO for the CFI. “The unique collaboration between laboratory and clinical researchers holds incredible promise for improving the lives of so many Canadians.”

“Our government is committed to developing, attracting and retaining the world’s best researchers here in Canada,” said Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament for Ottawa–Orléans, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). “We are proud to support the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research, as the work being done there will help improve the lives of Canadians.”

The CICR is part of a larger CFI-funded project called Translation of Innovation into Medical Excellence. Referred to as TIMEx, this project is a partnership between The Ottawa Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the University of Ottawa and the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery. In total, it is providing $65M in new research infrastructure to the partner institutions.

“By working together in this unprecedented partnership, we’ve solidified Ottawa’s place as a leading city for innovative health research and world-class health care,” said Dr. Jack Kitts, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital. “I would like to thank all our partners and our generous donors for making this project possible, as well as Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, for his exceptional leadership of the project.”

Research at the CICR is also supported by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in addition to a number of charitable organizations.

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,500 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

Media contact
Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
613-798-5555 ext. 73325
613-614-5253 (cell)