The Terry Fox Foundation provides $13.4 million for world-class, novel research into fighting cancer with viruses and finding ways to treat acute leukemias

October 11, 2012

OTTAWA, ON -- They are conducting breakthrough research into fighting cancer with viruses and investigating ways to treat acute leukemias and today two world-class, long-standing and prestigious national cancer teams received a combined $13.4 million shot in the arm from The Terry Fox Foundation (TFF) to continue their work. The funds are raised annually by TFF through its annual Terry Fox community and school runs and invested through its national research arm, The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI).

The funding will support an Ottawa, Ontario-based team conducting research into oncolytic viruses (viruses that target cancer cells and leave healthy ones unharmed) to treat various forms of cancer and a Vancouver, British Columbia-based team exploring why acute forms of leukemia are difficult to treat. The teams will conduct their work from home institutes and laboratories in seven cities and four provinces in Canada. These elite and multidisciplinary “made-in-Canada” teams are known internationally, having both made seminal contributions for their work in oncolytic viruses (OVs) and normal and leukemic blood stems cells over the last several decades.

“We are very pleased today to announce this important investment in human capital provided by two world-class scientific and clinical teams who, through continuing excellence, teamwork and investigation continue to open up new frontiers of knowledge and innovation in important areas of cancer research. There are, and will continue to be, many unsolved mysteries in cancer research which require the attention of brilliant minds if we are to bring new therapeutics and innovations to the clinic. We must continue to fuel this groundbreaking work if we are to overcome this disease,” said Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director.

“We are fortunate to have these teams conducting their work in Canada as a result of funds raised under the Terry Fox name,” said Mr. Fred Fox, manager of supporter relations for The Terry Fox Foundation. “For 32 years, our volunteers and donors have made it possible for Canada’s best researchers to play an important role nationally and internationally in moving forward in understanding, diagnosing and treating this disease. Your contributions are helping us to make a difference worldwide.”

The New Frontiers Program Project Grants is the flagship program of The Terry Fox Foundation's investment portfolio, funding team science and excellence in cure-oriented, biomedical research for nearly three decades. The annual competition is currently overseen by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research* in conjunction with TFRI and the awards are highly coveted by both applicants and recipients. In an increasingly competitive environment for research awards, these long-standing teams have demonstrated continuing excellence and an ability to remain novel and competitive year over year.

Armed with $7.5 million**, the Ottawa-based team led by Dr. John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, will continue their innovative work as part of a trans-Canadian network of clinical and basic scientists who are focused on the application of oncolytic viruses as a way to treat cancer. Dr. Bell’s team includes scientists at the BC Cancer Agency (Victoria and Vancouver, BC) and Genome Sciences Centre (Vancouver, BC), McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario), University Health Network (Toronto, Ontario), Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (Ottawa, Ontario), Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Ottawa, Ontario), McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) and Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia).

“Our project aims to use the revolutionary approach of harnessing oncolytic viruses as biotherapeutics and creating effective, targeted anti-cancer agents that cause few, if any, side effects. This funding from The Terry Fox Foundation provides us with the opportunity to advance our basic science discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, where they can be tested and developed for the treatment of cancer patients,” said Dr. Bell.

The second team, based at Vancouver’s BC Cancer Agency in British Columbia, will receive $5.9 million over five years to find new ways to treat aggressive forms of leukemia by rapidly creating and using laboratory-built models that mimic human acute leukemias. The group has been a leader in contributing seminal work on why cures for this disease are hard to achieve. Fewer than one in five adult patients diagnosed with the acute form survive longer than 10 years. Many childhood patients will also not benefit from current treatments.

“Our program harnesses the power of a research team whose expertise combines normal and leukemic stem cell biology, clinical knowledge and a range of sophisticated technologies to obtain cellular, molecular and genetic features of leukemic cells. A hallmark of our program is to exploit novel methods to reproducibly engineer in the laboratory models of aggressive leukemias directly from normal human blood forming cells. Such models open a pathway to resolve, with extremely high resolution, the differences between normal and leukemic blood stems cells and, ultimately, to identify novel therapeutic targets,” says the program project grant lead Dr. Keith Humphries, a distinguished scientist with the Agency’s Terry Fox Laboratory and a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Two other researchers in the Laboratory and two investigators from the Genome Sciences Centre – all members of the BC Cancer Agency and professors at the University of British Columbia – will also be supported.

TFF will be investing approximately $14 million in 2012-2013 for cure-oriented, biomedical discovery research and another $10 million for translational research through TFRI. The funds are raised by Canadians who participate each year in Terry Fox Runs, Terry’s CAUSE on Campus and the National School Run Day in honour of Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope.
* TFRI acknowledges and thanks CIHR for its expertise in managing the selection and review of the successful programs.
**CIHR is contributing a total of $50,000 to the COVCo project.

About TFF
The Terry Fox Foundation maintains the vision and principles of Terry Fox while raising money for cancer research through the annual Terry Fox Run, Terry’s CAUSE on Campus, National School Run Day and other fundraising initiatives. To date, over $600 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry Fox's name. The first Terry Fox Run was held in 1981, with The Terry Fox Foundation being created in 1988. Its national headquarters are located in Chilliwack, BC and it has offices in 9 provinces.

About 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 over 50 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, BC.

For more information, contact:
Kelly Curwin, Chief Communications Officer
Terry Fox Research Institute
Office: 604-675-8223; Cell: 778-237-8158

Paddy Moore
Manager, Communications and Public Relations,
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Gestionnaire, Communications et Relations publiques,
Institut de recherche de l'Hôpital d'Ottawa
Office: 613-737-8899 x 73687; Cell: 613-323-5680

Patrick Blennerhassett, Communications Officer,
Agency & External Communications
Provincial Health Services Authority
1380 Burrard Street 6th Floor Vancouver
604-871-5699 media pager