Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment (BioCanRX) Network of Centres of Excellence

December 14, 2014


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

The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario

$25 million from Networks of Centres of Excellence Canada
$35 million from network partners (see list below)

Biologically based therapies (or biotherapeutics) are among the most exciting and promising cancer treatment regimens to emerge over the last 10 years. Oncolytic viruses, immune cell therapies and synthetic antibodies all mobilize and activate the body's natural defense mechanisms, creating potent and minimally toxic therapeutic weapons that can battle even advanced cancers.

The BioCanRX Network’s mission is to improve outcomes for cancer patients by accelerating the development of cost-effective and curative biotherapeutics. To accomplish this mission, BioCanRX brings together key academic strengths in Canada with sustained bio-pharmaceutical guidance and support, establishing a Canadian network of expertise and infrastructure that supports the process from promising discoveries in the lab through to proof-of-concept, to manufacturing and clinical trials. BioCanRX seeks to make Canada a leader in the development of cancer biotherapeutics and preparing them for wider use across the health-care system.

BioCanRX is committed to engaging cancer patients and their families to keep them up-to-date of progress in developments in this exciting new field, to gain insight on their perception of the risks and benefits of different therapeutic approaches., and to seek their input on the most relevant information for allowing them to make informed choices about participation in clinical trials.

The network is pursuing four main avenues of research. BioCanRX will likely pursue combinations of these approaches in a clinical setting, as the existing evidence shows this to be the most effective strategy for treatment:

Theme I: Oncolytic Virus Therapy (OVT)
Theme Leader: Brian Lichty, McMaster University

Oncolytic virus therapy is a highly innovative, new anti-cancer treatment approach that uses replicating cancer-killing viruses to target, infect and kill tumour cells while simultaneously priming anti-tumour immune responses. Several of these viruses, including T-VEC (Amgen) and Pexa-Vec (SillaJen), are already in mid-to-late stage clinical trials and showing promising results in patients with solid tumours. BioCanRX scientists are leaders in this field. They have contributed to the basic understanding of how these oncolytic viruses work and are involved in translating this knowledge to the clinic. BioCanRX will advance the development of oncolytic viruses and oncolytic vaccine technologies on their own and as part of novel combination therapies.

Theme II: Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT)
Theme Co-Leaders: Pam Ohashi, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre; Brad Nelson, BC Cancer Agency

Adoptive cell therapy, or immune cell therapy, involves treating cancer patients with immune cells that are primed to attack their cancer. Immune cells are naturally present in most tumours, but usually they are not strong enough, or there are not enough of them, to eradicate the cancer on their own. BioCanRX researchers are pioneers in a very promising type of adoptive cell therapy that involves isolating cancer-fighting immune cells from a patient’s tumour, growing large numbers of these cells in the laboratory, and then infusing these cells back into the same patient. This approach has led to some unprecedented clinical responses in patients with advanced cancers. The immune cells can also be genetically or biologically manipulated to become more powerful. BioCanRX researchers are also developing innovative approaches to improve adoptive cell therapy using donated immune cells, which is often used to treat blood cancer.

Theme III: Synthetic Antibody Therapy (SAT)
Theme Co-Leaders: Sachdev Sidhu, University of Toronto; Jason Moffat, University of Toronto

Antibodies are small proteins that the body produces to flag viruses, bacteria and cancer cells for destruction by the immune system. BioCanRX researchers are developing innovative synthetic monocolonal antibodies that have a much more powerful and targeted anti-tumour effect. These kinds of antibodies have already shown great promise in the clinic, and are without doubt the most successful anti-cancer biotherapeutics to date. BioCanRX scientists are developing synthetic antibodies armed with potent toxins that can kill cancer cells directly, and they are also developing antibodies directed against key immune regulatory checkpoint molecules, to drive the patient’s immune response towards heightened anti-cancer activity. This approach lends itself to significant synergy with both the oncolytic virus theme and adoptive cellular therapy theme.

Theme IV: Value Engineered Translation (VET)
Theme Co-Leaders: Christopher McCabe, University of Alberta; Tania Bubela, University of Alberta

The BioCanRX Network has the capacity to generate multiple novel and creative approaches for treating cancer, but if the research is carried out in a vacuum it could result in therapeutics that are not cost effective. The Value Engineered Translation (VET) theme will provide BioCanRX researchers with timely and critical feedback to ensure that economically viable and effective therapeutics are developed by our team.

List of Partners

Host Institution: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Academic Partners (16): Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute; BC Cancer Agency; Centre de recherche de l’Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont ; Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal; Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute; McMaster University; Robarts Research Institute; Simon Fraser University; Sunnybrook Research Institute; Université de Montréal; University Health Network; University of Alberta; University of British Columbia; University of Guelph; University of Ottawa; University of Toronto

Industry Partners (8): Boehringer-Ingelheim; Genentech; Sanofi-Pasteur; SciGenom; Sillajen; Takara Bio; Turnstone; Versant Ventures

Provincial Partners (4): Alberta Innovates; Genome BC; Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research; Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

Other Partners (12): Cancer Research Society; Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada; Cure: Blood Cancer; Hair Donation Ottawa; Leukemia Lymphoma Society of Canada; Lymphoma Canada; National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation; Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation; Ovarian Cancer Society; Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation; Terry Fox Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation