25
Feb 2015
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What is Connie Eaves excited about?

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Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s instalment, we interviewed Dr. Connie J. Eaves is a Distinguished Scientist at Vancouver’s Terry Fox Laboratory, which she co-founded. A Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia, she is world-renowned for her pioneering research in basic blood stem cell biology, which led to new treatments for leukemia. She also isolated breast stem cells and is a leading thinker in the field of breast cancer. Here’s what she’s excited about in 2015.

I was a co-author of a Nature paper in December that was led by Drs. Samuel Aparcio and Sohrab Shah (University of British Columbia) and described the changing genomic composition of breast cancer xenografts — that is fragments of patients’ breast tumours growing in special transplanted mice that have no immune system.  In such mice, many patients’ tumours can grow as if they were still in the patient. You can thus track how the tumour evolves in relation to the original tumour.

This model has significant implications for developing new ways to treat cancer, because you can use the tumours created in the mice to determine which treatments work best and how that compares to the mutations that were present in cells that disappeared and those that may be unique to the cells that proved resistant. Groups all over the world are trying to use this approach, so we’re excited about that.

My lab has another paper in the works that has to do with making human breast tumours starting with normal human breast tissue. We have developed a protocol in which normally discarded breast tissue samples obtained from women undergoing cosmetic surgery are infected with a mutant cancer-causing gene and then produce tumours when transplanted into immunodeficient mice.

The reason this is extraordinarily exciting is because people have been trying to do this this for years with blood cells and it’s been difficult: you can count on one hand the number of different mutant genes (out of many tried) that can produce a leukemia when put into normal human blood-forming cells.  Indeed, this has been very discouraging in the leukemia field.

The idea is, if you could study the early events that cause leukemia or breast cancer, then you would be able to look into the first changes that occur and get a handle on those. You could then look for those changes in a patient’s samples and try to target them specifically.  Since they are the first events, they are likely going to be in every daughter tumour cell in that patient and hence better (more universal) targets.

One of the problems with treating many tumours is their genetic instability, which leads to the genesis of a tremendous diversity of subclones of cells carrying additional new mutations. Thus when you use a treatment strategy that can kill a dominant clone, there may be another 100 subclones that are not eliminated lurking at lower levels that then regrow.  That is why the idea of understanding how a tumour starts to develop from its earliest stages is so captivating.  Being able to do this with human breast tissue was unexpected and opens the door to all sorts of experiments. So we’re very excited about this new line of work.

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08
Nov 2016
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Allen Eaves wins Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Region

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Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc., has been awarded Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Winner by Ernst and Young Canada.…

Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc., has been awarded Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Winner by Ernst and Young Canada.

The theme for the 2016 awards is recognizing accelerators — those entrepreneurs who “accelerate all of us by bringing us new products and services and by driving our economy” explains Lui Pettrollini, Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Program Director, in an article carried in the Globe & Mail’s Report On Business Magazine.

Dr. Eaves founded STEMCELL in 1993 to support his own research as the head of the BC Cancer Agency’s Terry Fox Laboratory in Vancouver. Unable to source what he needed to support his research, Dr. Eaves began making media for growing blood-forming stem cells. Today, STEMCELL Technologies offers more than 2,000 cell biology tools to researchers in over 80 countries. It is Canada’s largest biotech company with 850 employees and $150 million in annual sales.

“I run my company like a graduate training program,” Dr. Eaves said in the ROB Magazine piece. “Scientists have a lot of freedom in deciding what they can work on and that inspires them to be creative and think clever thoughts.”

Dr. Eaves has also developed a group of companies including STEMSOFT Software Inc., that makes software for managing data in bone marrow centres, cord blood banks, cellular therapy companies as well as tumour and tissue repositories. He also founded Malachite Management Inc., which provides association management, conference management, fundraising and strategic planning to medical and scientific organizations.

Dr. Eaves is a major supporter of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation as both a member of the Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member.

Dr. Eaves’ accomplishments will be celebrated along with other regional winners on November 22nd at the EY National Awards Gala in Toronto.

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23
Jun 2016
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Allen Eaves receives Order of BC

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Dr. Allen Eaves, a member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member, is being appointed to the Order of British Columbia — the province’s highest form of recognition.…

Dr. Allen Eaves, a member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member, is being appointed to the Order of British Columbia — the province’s highest form of recognition.

An internationally respected leukemia researcher and clinician, Dr. Eaves is the founder and owner of Vancouver’s STEMCELL Technologies Inc., Canada’s largest biotech company. He co-founded the Terry Fox Laboratory and served as its director for 25 years as well as heading the BC Cancer Agency for 18 years, developing one of the first bone marrow transplant programs in the world.

Called the “cell-made man” by BC media, Dr.  Eaves  began STEMCELL in 1993 with a staff of eight.  He now employs more than 800 people. STEMCELL develops specialty cell culture media, cell separation products and ancillary reagents for life science research and delivers them to scientists around the world. In 2015 STEMCELL was named Life Sciences Company of the Year by LifeSciences BC.

Dr. Eaves has a strong incentive to continue his efforts, telling BCBusiness in 2013 that “I want t to cure cancer. That’s the motivation,” he said. “It’s all about curing some of these diseases, wiping them off the face of the earth.”

The investiture will take place July 26 in Victoria. To read more about Dr. Eaves, click here.

 

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24
Oct 2016
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BC Science World unveils bronze tribute to Till & McCulloch

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Scott Sampson, artist Ruth Abernathy, Allen Eaves and Connie Eaves pose with Till& McCulloch statue at Telus World of Science on Sunday

Fifty-five years after they became the first in the world to identify stem cells, Drs.

Scott Sampson, artist Ruth Abernathy, Allen Eaves and Connie Eaves pose with Till& McCulloch statue at Telus World of Science on Sunday

Scott Sampson, artist Ruth Abernathy, Allen Eaves and Connie Eaves pose with Till& McCulloch statue at Telus World of Science on Sunday

Fifty-five years after they became the first in the world to identify stem cells, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are now a must-see attraction at the Telus World of Science in Vancouver.

Artist Ruth Abernethy’s “portrait in bronze” of the two Canadian researchers was unveiled yesterday outside the main doors of the science centre. Within minutes, children were climbing the stools of the interactive artwork and clamouring to have their photos taken with the great men.

The work of art was commissioned by Dr. Allen Eaves, founder and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc., Canada’s leading biotech company, to honour Till & McCulloch who are well known within the field as the Fathers of Stem Cell Science but virtually  unknown to most Canadians.  Dr. Eaves and his wife Dr. Connie Eaves, an internationally respected stem cell researcher, worked with Drs. Till and McCulloch decades ago at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto.

As Science World CEO Scott Sampson  said in his address to the crowd that gathered at Science World, the tribute is a reflection of new-found Canadian pride in our country’s outstanding achievements in a number of fields.

A sister statue will be unveiled in Toronto in the spring of 2017.

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12
Nov 2014
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Dr. Allen Eaves

‘Stem cells will revolutionize medicine’

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Why the CEO of STEMCELL Technologies supports the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan

While most of us struggle to accomplish one thing in life, Dr.

Why the CEO of STEMCELL Technologies supports the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan

While most of us struggle to accomplish one thing in life, Dr. Allen Eaves has conquered three. A successful research scientist (he advanced the understanding of chronic myelogenous leukemia) and a clinician who made a significant impact on patient care (he founded one of the first and largest bone marrow transplant programs in Canada), Dr. Eaves now runs STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in British Columbia.

These days, Dr. Eaves sees himself primarily as “a businessman … and a philanthropist.” When he turned 65 in 2006, he had to retire from the University of British Columbia, where he was a professor, and the Vancouver General Hospital, where he had served as Head of Hematology, and from the internationally renowned Terry Fox Lab that he founded in 1981.

“I decided then to move over to STEMCELL and devote myself to growing the company.”

He started his company in 1993, raising the $1 million needed by mortgaging the family home and taking out a Western Economic Diversification loan.  What began as an eight-person operation now employs 600 people, most of whom work in Vancouver, manufacturing high-quality cell and tissue culturing media and tools used by researchers around the world.

“Our tagline is ‘Scientists Helping Scientists’ and that’s very genuine,” says Dr. Eaves.  “If a competitor has a better product, we will tell the scientists they should go with it. But we also feed that information back to our R&D group and come up with an even better product.”

The helpful approach is working: Dr. Eaves expects STEMCELL to hit $100 million in revenues this year. Much of that money will be ploughed back into research and development — the company has a 100-person research department. But Dr. Eaves also invests a significant portion of his profits in stem cell research. He is a major supporter of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation as both a member of the Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member.

Beyond finding treatments for devastating and currently incurable diseases, stem cell-based therapies could help solve the problem of an overloaded health care system, says Dr. Eaves. And he uses the practical example of hip replacements: “Why can’t we figure out how to recoat and fix up arthritic joints so we don’t have to replace them? We should be able to resurface them with stem cell-derived cartilage. That would be simpler and could be done earlier in degenerative arthritis.  And then we wouldn’t have to replace people’s hips.  That’s the sort of practical thing you would like to see happen. That’s what we need to be thinking about.”

He also believes that to succeed in the coming revolution, Canada needs the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which aligns the scientists doing the research with the industry leaders who can commercialize it and with governments supplying necessary funding to make it happen. “You need the whole spectrum of activities,” he says.

“Stem cell technology is going to revolutionize medicine; that’s the reality. Medicine will be delivered by cells and we will be using cells to repair the body. There is this huge potential out there.”

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20
Oct 2016
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Celebrating the 55th anniversary of one of Canada’s greatest medical discoveries

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Fifty-five years ago, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch identified stem cells and provided the theoretical underpinning for bone marrow transplant procedures that have saved the lives of countless leukemia patients.…

Fifty-five years ago, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch identified stem cells and provided the theoretical underpinning for bone marrow transplant procedures that have saved the lives of countless leukemia patients. It also opened up the field of stem cell science.

To commemorate the breakthrough, which ranks as one of Canada’s greatest medical discoveries, Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver will unveil a bronze portrait of Drs. Till and McCulloch on Sunday.

“It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch’s discovery and their long-time collaboration,” says, Dr. Allen Eaves, President & CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc. that commissioned the work of art. “Their work changed the course of cancer research and paved the way for what we now call regenerative medicine.”

Both Dr. Eaves, who co-founded the Terry Fox Laboratory with the BC Cancer Agency, and his wife, prominent cancer researcher Dr. Connie Eaves, were greatly influenced by Drs. Till and McCulloch during their time at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. Connie was a post-doctoral fellow who worked closely with them and Allen used their methodology in his own cancer research, which led him to set up the first bone marrow transplantation program in Western Canada.

The sculpture was created by renowned artist Ruth Abernethy, whose public portraits in bronze have celebrated the achievements of several prominent Canadians. She is probably best known for her depiction of Glenn Gould sitting on a bench at CBC in Toronto and Oscar Peterson tinkling a piano outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. She will attend the unveiling Sunday to talk about her work and sign copies of Life and Bronze: a Sculptor’s Journal.

The accomplishments of Drs. Till and McCulloch are also celebrated in the book Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s Stem Cell Discovery and Legacy. Author Joe Sornberger will be at the unveiling Sunday to sign copies of his book.  The book is available for purchase on our website by clicking on this link.

The public is welcome to attend the unveiling at Science World at 1455 Quebec Street on Sunday at 1 p.m. Next spring, a sister bronze portrait will be installed at the MaRS Building in downtown Toronto.

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08
Oct 2013
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Eaves Screen Capture

Quietly building a Canadian success story

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How did Dr. Allen Eaves build STEMCELL Technologies into a multimillion-dollar enterprise ($72 million in sales last year) employing 500 people (450 in Vancouver) and selling highest-quality products to the world’s leading scientists (including at least three Nobel Laureates) in 79 countries?…

How did Dr. Allen Eaves build STEMCELL Technologies into a multimillion-dollar enterprise ($72 million in sales last year) employing 500 people (450 in Vancouver) and selling highest-quality products to the world’s leading scientists (including at least three Nobel Laureates) in 79 countries?

Dr. Eaves, a Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Director, did it quietly. With an eye on the big prize: curing cancer.

His amazing success story – Cell Made Man – is featured this week in BCBusiness, expertly written by Anne Casselman.

She tells of how, to bring in more money for research at the Terry Fox Laboratory he founded in 1981, Dr. Eaves began selling culture media for growing blood-forming stem cells to colleagues around the world. By 1993, the media-prep business had outgrown the Terry Fox facilities, so he took out a half-million-dollar mortgage on his house and negotiated a $500,000 loan from the Western Economic Diversification Fund to start STEMCELL Technologies.

Profitable from year one, when it employed eight people and did nearly $1 million in sales, STEMCELL Technologies has grown 20% annually over 20 years. Profits are used to fuel growth and a substantial amount of revenue (about $7 million a year) gets ploughed back into R&D to keep the product line current with a field that is growing – and changing – rapidly. For example, one of the company’s key products is mTeSR™1, a culture medium for human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Neither type of cells even existed when the company was founded, with iPS cells arriving on the scene just six years ago.

Dr. Eaves, an astute businessman who owns the company outright, is not in it for the money. He has turned down many offers by big multinationals that would have made him a multimillionaire many times over. “It would basically kill the company,” he told BCBusiness. He has a larger goal in mind. “I want to cure cancer. That’s the motivation,” he said. “It’s all about curing some of these diseases, wiping them off the face of the earth.”

The products that STEMCELL Technologies develops, sells and ships around the world “will contribute to doing just that,” Ms. Casselman writes.

And that’s truly refreshing to read about. While it’s always important to focus on the bottom line – businesses can’t survive, can’t employ people and can’tcontribute to the economy if they don’t make money – it’s just as significant to see the big picture.

Dr. Eaves does both. Ever so quietly.

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21
Apr 2010
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1,000 students and counting

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At the end of the very first Annual Scientific Meeting of the Stem Cell Network (SCN) in 2001, attended by 50 or so eminent stem cell researchers, Dr.…

At the end of the very first Annual Scientific Meeting of the Stem Cell Network (SCN) in 2001, attended by 50 or so eminent stem cell researchers, Dr. Connie Eaves, now Director of the Terry Fox Labs at the BC Cancer Agency, came up to me and said “That was a great meeting, but next time you really need to bring along some students”.  “Great”, I said, “How about 20?”.  “No”, said Connie, “I was thinking about 200!”

And Connie was right.  Since that first year, our annual meeting has grown to accommodate nearly 400 delegates, the vast majority of whom are students. The meeting is thriving because of it.  Students give talks, present nearly 140 posters, exchange ideas, network with other labs, and are exposed to some of the most leading edge science in the world.

What I had missed, being new to science, was how important graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are to the field.  While it is the researcher who gets headlines when a groundbreaking discovery is made, it is because a student has spent thousands of hours undertaking the research, coming to the lab at all hours of day and night — because cells don’t stop growing at 5pm on Friday in the middle of an experiment.  It’s a student who has examined hundreds of slides and studied reams of data looking for anomalies. And it’s a student who’s been researching prior publications looking for linkages and clues to their own findings.  Researchers are mentors, guides, communicators and the sources of inspiration, motivation and insight.  But without students there would be no research, and no SCN.

As a result, the SCN invests heavily in their professional development.  We put on technical courses on topics like iPS Cells and FACS, and on broader topics such as stem cell ethics and intellectual property management.  We fund lab exchanges and travel to project team meetings, recognizing the central role students play in our research program.  And we have sought to involve students in all aspects of what we do.  There are trainees on our Research Management and Policy Development Committees. They provide input and direction to our communications and education program.  And more often than not students themselves take the initiative, and all we do is encourage, enable and get out of the way!  There couldn’t be any better example of this than the recent StemCellTalks program put on last month at the MaRS Centre.

As of the end of March 2010, close to 1,000 graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, undergraduate co-op students and technicians had participated in a SCN project, workshop, committee or our Annual Meeting.  We consider this the most important thing the we can do to ensure Canada’s long-term capacity to benefit from stem cell research, and to, not only provide hope to patients, but to deliver clinical therapies in the decades to come.

Drew Lyall is the Executive Director of the Stem Cell Network, and is learning to think big about students.

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Canada’s Contribution

“There are few areas of health research that are as exciting and that hold as much potential for human health and treating disease as stem cells.

“There are few areas of health research that are as exciting and that hold as much potential for human health and treating disease as stem cells. Canadians have been at the very forefront of stem cell research from its early beginnings to the present day.”
Dr. Alan Bernstein, President, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Founding President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Chair of the Board of Directors, Canadian Stem Cell Foundation

This video looks back at the legacy of stem cell discoverers Till and McCulloch, and forward to a future transformed by stem cell science.

Canadian Stem Cell History

The history of stem cell science in Canada is really the story of stem cell science itself. Here are the highlights:

1961

Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch stun the scientific world when they discover transplantable stem cells at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. Stem cell science in Canada, and around the world, is born.

James Till, OC, O. Ont, FRSC, is a University of Toronto biophysicist and stem cell pioneer. Ernest McCulloch, OC, O. Ont, FRSC, was a University of Toronto cellular biologist and stem cell pioneer. He died in 2011.

1992

Dr. Sam Weiss discovers human neural stem cells.

Dr. Sam Weiss is director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary.

1993

Dr. Janet Rossant and Dr. Andras Nagy prove the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Janet Rossant is Chief of Research at Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. Andras Nagy is Senior Scientist at Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.

1994

Dr. John Dick isolates cancer stem cells.

Dr. John Dick is Senior Scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network.

1999

Dr. Ray Rajotte and Dr. James Shapiro establish the Edmonton Protocol for Diabetes.

Dr. Ray Rajotte and Dr. James Shapiro are part of the internationally renowned Islet Transplantation Group at the University of Alberta.

2000

Dr. Derek van der Kooy discovers retinal stem cells.

Dr. Derek van der Kooy is a Professor at the University of Toronto.

2001

Dr. Freda Miller identifies skin-derived stem cells.

Dr. Freda Miller is Senior Scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children.

2002

Dr. Guy Sauvageau and Dr. Keith Humphries advance blood stem cell expansion.

Dr. Guy Sauvageau is Scientific Director, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal. Dr. Keith Humphries is Distinguished Scientist, BC Cancer Agency Professor at the University of British Columbia.

2003

Dr. Peter Dirks isolates cancer stem cells in human brain tumours.

Dr. Peter Dirks is a Neurosurgeon and Senior Scientist at Hospital for Sick Children.

Dr. Michael Rudnicki advances muscle stem cell regeneration.

Dr. Michael Rudnicki is Director, Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

2004

Dr. Derek van der Kooy discovers pancreatic precursor cells.

Dr. Derek van der Kooy is a Professor at the University of Toronto.

Dr. John Dick presents a breakthrough cancer stem-cell hypothesis on leukemia, identifying a “pecking order” among different cancer cells in which the abnormal stem cell forms and feeds the cancer.

Dr. John Dick is Senior Scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network.

2006

Dr. Connie Eaves discovers breast stem cells.

Dr. Connie Eaves is Director of the Terry Fox Laboratory at BC Cancer Agency.

2007

Dr. John Dick identifies human colon cancer stem cells.

Dr. John Dick is Senior Scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network.

2009

Dr. Andras Nagy achieves virus-free induction of induced pluripotent stem cells.

Dr. Andras Nagy is Senior Scientist at Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.

2010

Dr. Mick Bhatia converts human skin cells to multi-lineage blood progenitors.

Dr. Mick Bhatia is Director of the McMaster Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Research Institute, McMaster University.

2011

Dr. Derek van der Kooy demonstrates that the pancreas contains insulin-expressing stem cells.

Dr. Derek van der Kooy is a Professor at the University of Toronto.

2013

Dr. John Dick finds a way to disarm a gene called BMI-1 that regulates colorectal cancer stem cells.

Dr. John Dick is Senior Scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network.

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation works to keep Canada at the forefront of discoveries that will help stem cells renew humanity. We’ll keep doing all we can to maximize the potential of stem cell science and establish the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy.

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07
Aug 2013
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Snipped Slamon and Mak

Not an easy job, but the demand is there

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Welcome to the first instalment of the Stem Cell NewsDesk, the Foundation’s attempt to help Canadians better understand where a “breakthrough” fits on the research lab-to-clinic continuum.…

Welcome to the first instalment of the Stem Cell NewsDesk, the Foundation’s attempt to help Canadians better understand where a “breakthrough” fits on the research lab-to-clinic continuum.

Essentially, the aim of NewsDesk is to try to answer one question: how does [insert news-making development/discovery/breakthrough here] contribute to finding a treatment or a cure for a currently untreatable or incurable disease?  The idea is not to hype stem cell science but to provide realistic reports on developments as they occur.

It won’t be easy. Stem cell science is complicated and it can be hard to decipher whether a discovery represents a monumental leap forward or is just an incremental improvement in understanding how stem cells function. Sometimes it is obvious, as with Dr. Shinya Yamanaka’s 2006 Nobel-winning discovery of how to make embryonic-like stem cells from almost any cell in the body – cells we now call induced pluripotent stem cells. Sometimes it’s not. Remember that the first demonstration of the unique properties of stem cells 50 years ago flew in under the radar.

In email correspondence, Dr. Connie Eaves, a Vancouver-based researcher whose team was the first to isolate breast stem cells, shared her thoughts on why this is such a challenge:

  • Every ‘new’ piece of information about how cells work and how their behaviour can be predictably manipulated is potentially a breakthrough – but it may take years to understand whether/when/where/or for what that will be true. So, making a fast judgment is rarely possible.
  • Current efforts use unknowns (new molecules with an experimental rationale) to treat unknowns (human tumours we don’t understand).
  • Clinically, an improvement of long-term survival from 5% to 15% would be considered a big advance. But if you were an affected patient, you might not see it that way, as overall your survival chances would still be pretty bad.
  •  What is useful clinically requires a controlled trial and this usually takes a long time (10 years) and the result may appear sort of boring by the time the answers are all in.

Case in point: the ‘sharpshooter’ story

Dr. Eaves is part of the 100-person team led by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s Dr. Tak Mak and Dr. Denis Slamon, (pictured at right) of the University of California, Los Angeles that made headlines in mid-June by announcing they had developed a new kind of “sharpshooter” anti-cancer drug.  Given the excellent track record of the two scientists – Dr. Mak revolutionized how scientists think about the human immune system by cloning the T-Cell receptor and Dr. Slamon developed the breast cancer drug Herceptin – it’s not surprising the announcement garnered major media attention.

As the Toronto Star explained, the new drug, which has been tested on mice for ovarian, breast, pancreas, lung and colon cancer is called a sharpshooter because it goes after a specific enzyme to shut down cancer.  Unlike chemotherapy, which can kill healthy, quick-replicating cells, the drug, called CFI-400945, takes aim only at the cancer cells.

On CTV’s Canada AM, host Bev Thompson described it as “being hailed as a major breakthrough in cancer research” and said while “we’ve talked about breakthroughs before … this seems like a cut above.”

In the Globe and Mail, however, Canada’s leading health writer André Picard, pointed out that CFI-400945, has “not been tested on a single person” and that “even in a best-case scenario” a new cancer drug “is at least a decade away.”

As excited as they were, the Princess Margaret researchers also urged patience. On that Canada AM segment, Dr. Philippe Bedard explained that the three-phase clinical trial process is a marathon, not a sprint, stressing that there is a long road ahead and it “can take many years.”

So where does that leave cancer patients?

Officials at Princess Margaret say there has been lots of interest from people who want the new drug. That will take some time: Health Canada approved CFI-400945 for use in human trials in mid-July. Next, it goes before the University Health Network’s Research Ethics Board for approval. A trial involving a small number of patients to see if CFI-400945 is safe – likely will begin in November.

So why did Princess Margaret bang the drum so loudly at such an early stage? The sharpshooter announcement actually came from The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation to make donors aware of the potential advances that are critically dependent on the funding support that their donations provide. Makes sense:  Canadians support medical research through their charitable donations as well as through their taxes and want to know how their investments are doing.

No quick fixes

But the reaction shows that there is a real and growing need for a resource to help people understand how a treatment may have an impact on them. As stem cell research moves closer to providing new treatments, people will want to know more.

NewsDesk hopes to help in this. Again, not an easy task. And there will be lots of cautions and caveats attached to our discussions of breakthroughs.  Because the reality is: there are no quick fixes or magic bullets. But progress is being made – almost every day.

So let’s go back to Dr. Eaves, who is a member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, and her thoughts on the sharpshooter announcement:

“The Tak Mak result looks very exciting in the experimental models studied to date. But there is not much history yet to know how these will correlate with patient outcomes. I can’t say much more than that and don’t think anyone can at this early stage.”

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