The Ottawa Hospital to host $60M national research network for innovative cancer treatments

December 15, 2014

BioCanRX network to focus on promising biotherapeutics such as oncolytic viruses, immune cells and synthetic antibodies

The Government of Canada announced $25 million today, with an additional $35M from partners, to create the first Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) devoted to cancer research. The NCE, called Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment (BioCanRX), will be led by Dr. John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and professor at the University of Ottawa.

"Biotherapeutics hold great promise because they have the potential to completely eliminate even advanced cancers with far fewer side effects than many of our current treatments. That in itself is very exciting," said Dr. Bell, who will serve as the new NCE's scientific director.

"But what is really unique about this funding is it allows a fantastic team of Canadian scientists to work together to develop several therapeutic strategies in parallel, and then test these both alone and in combination, with the goal of finding the most effective way to help our bodies’ own defences fight cancer. In this case, the whole really is greater than sum of its parts,” added Dr. Bell.

Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament for Ottawa—Orléans, was at The Ottawa Hospital on Monday morning to announce the funding for the cancer biotherapy NCE.

“I’m delighted to celebrate the launch of BioCanRX here in Ottawa. The Government of Canada is pleased to support innovative research that will contribute to our shared goal of improving cancer treatment for Canadians,” said Galipeau.

Biologically based therapeutics, which include oncolytic viruses, immune cells and synthetic antibodies, are among the most promising cancer treatments to emerge over the last decade. While different biotherapeutics function in different ways, one thing they have in common is the ability to mobilize and activate the body's natural defence mechanisms to attack cancer cells. Also called immunotherapy, this area of cancer research was chosen as 2013’s “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science magazine, America’s leading scientific journal.

The new network has assembled a team of more than 40 researchers from 17 academic institutions, as well as eight industry partners and nearly 20 community partners (including provincial organizations, and national and regional charities). Together they will work to accelerate the development of biotherapeutics from laboratory discoveries to manufacturing to industry sponsorship to clinical trials. At The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, Drs. Rebecca Auer, Harry Atkins, Jean-Simon Diallo, Dean Fergusson and Derek Jonker are also members of the new network.

“We’re delighted to host this new network at The Ottawa Hospital and play a part in bringing breakthrough cancer therapies to our patients,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, vice-president of research at The Ottawa Hospital, CEO and scientific director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and professor at the University of Ottawa.

“Many people and organizations have made this network possible, but I would like to particularly thank everyone who has donated to the hospital," he added. "Because of your generous support, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation has transferred more than $18M for cancer care and research at the hospital over the last three years, allowing us to build the facilities and support the scientists who are bringing these exciting new therapies to patients in Ottawa and around the world.”

Drew Lyall is a cancer survivor and also the network's CEO. "Imagine a time when I can be given a vaccine derived from my specific cancer cells that would give me permanent remission" said Lyall. "Imagine safe and effective treatments that required no need for radiation or chemotherapy. Today's announcement will help us realize the real potential of using biotherapies to fight cancer, so we don't have to imagine these things anymore."

The creation of the Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment (BioCanRX) network was part of a larger announcement made today by the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), dedicating funding from the Government of Canada to five research networks that will conduct ground breaking research that focusses on solving major social, economic or health-related issues.

“Our government is committed to investing in world-class research networks, including BioCanRX, that will develop new technologies and processes to treat cancer," said Minister Holder. "Through our updated science, technology and innovation strategy, our government is making the necessary investments to push the boundaries of knowledge, create jobs and prosperity, and improve the quality of life of Canadians."

This investment is the result of the most recent competition in the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. The competition resulted in four new networks receiving funding and one existing network being renewed for a second five-year term.

Associated links

BioCanRX backgrounder

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with its faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Support our research. Give to the Tender Loving Research campaign.

For further information, please contact

Paddy Moore
Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-737-8899 x73687
Cell: 613-323-5680

- 30 -