Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Blog

15
Feb 2017
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Strategic Forum on cell therapies asks, ‘Where do we go from here?’

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What will it take to move regenerative medicine forward so that it can deliver more cures and treatments for age-old diseases?…

What will it take to move regenerative medicine forward so that it can deliver more cures and treatments for age-old diseases?

That’s the subject of the First PanCanadian Strategic Forum on Cell and Gene Therapy to be held March 9 and 10 at the Westin Montreal.

“The cell and gene therapy ecosystem in Canada is coming to a level of maturity where we’re going to be ready to reap the fruit from it,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Alarco, former Chief Scientific Officer of CellCAN — Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network.  “But it’s not going to happen passively. We have to put action in place.”

CellCAN is organizing the Forum in partnership with the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer Immunotherapy (C3i) and BioCanRx.

There is a sense of urgency to begin harvesting the “low hanging fruit,” says Dr. Alarco.  Otherwise, she says, Canada could miss out.

Unlike the annual Till & McCulloch Meetings, which focus on the most recent scientific advances in cell therapies and regenerative medicine, the Strategic Forum will concentrate on what’s needed to move therapies into the clinic. Organizers expect to draw a range of academics, scientists, health agency representatives, government regulators, venture capitalists and business leaders from pharma and biotech.

“The idea is to bring together all the major stakeholders,” says Dr. Alarco, “to determine where we are in terms of cell therapies and gene therapies. We have all the elements for what we hope will be an interactive conversation.  Hopefully, we will come up with a number action items.”

Lectures and workshops will consider ways to overcome barriers to implementing cell and gene therapies in Canada; build on effective commercialization for the benefit of all Canadians; and identify reimbursement possibilities for developing novel therapies..

Keynote speaker Dr Janet Rossant, President & Scientific Director of the Gairdner Foundation and Chair of the steering committee of the Council of Canadian Academies Workshop on Regenerative Medicine. Their soon-to-be-released report was commissioned by the federal government.

As well, speakers from the United Kingdom, Japan and California will discuss steps taken in their jurisdictions to move the science from the researchers’ laboratories to the patients’ bedsides.

“It is the medicine of the future,” says Dr. Alarco. “We hope to have action items in for this to become a reality for Canadians.”

 

 

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14
Feb 2017
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Dr. Lambert Busque

Dr. Lambert Busque

Is Canada ready for The Next Big Thing in cancer treatment?

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Think of cancer immunotherapy as an inside job:  While chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer cells from the outside, cancer immunotherapy deploys the patient’s own immune system to attack the disease from within.…

Think of cancer immunotherapy as an inside job:  While chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer cells from the outside, cancer immunotherapy deploys the patient’s own immune system to attack the disease from within.

Cancer immunotherapy’s arsenal of immunotherapies ranges from monoclonal antibodies that can target malignant cells, inhibitors that help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells, vaccines that trigger an anti-cancer response, and re-engineered and expanded T-cells designed to kill specific cancer cells.

For patients, the life-enhancing prospects of not having to endure the toxic side-effects of chemo and radiation are almost as appealing as the life-saving cures that this revolutionary field of oncological research is poised to deliver.

”The evidence suggests we are at the beginning of a whole new era for cancer treatments,” Prof. Peter Johnson, Director of Medical Oncology at Cancer Research UK, told the Daily Mail in 2015.  Things have only accelerated since then for The Next Big Thing in cancer care.

The cancer immunotherapy revolution is moving fast and turning the oncology world upside down, according to Dr. Lambert Busque, Chief Medical Officer of the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer immunotherapy (C3i).  Established last year by Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence, C3i predicts that immunotherapy could be used in the majority of advanced cancer cases in less than a decade.

Which raises the question: is Canada ready for this revolution in cancer care?

“There is a lot of knowledge and competence in Canada,” says Dr. Busque, whose C3i organization operates out of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont’s Integrated University Center of East Montreal.  But, he says, Canada needs greater capacity to translate immunotherapies into patient care and to help Canadian companies compete in a rapidly growing global market.

To address those concerns, C3i is partnering with CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network and BioCanRx to host next month’s PanCanadian Strategic Forum on Cell and Gene Therapy in Montreal.  Dr. Busque will moderate a panel discussion on what it will take for Canada to become a world leader in commercializing cancer immunotherapy, drawing on the C3i model.

“We designed C3i to be very close to the clinic,” says Dr. Busque.  “Because treatment and health care is part of the public sector while development is done in the private sector, the key is to make the link between them, to have a structure to help Canadian inventions mature rapidly and have better access to markets.  If we have no instrument to do that, the development will go outside the country.”

Canada, in fact, could become a hub for cancer immunotherapy development if 3Ci can succeed strengthening collaborations with major pharmaceutical firms in driving clinical trial development.  Dr. Busque cites C3i’s access to a “state of the art” certified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) cell manufacturing unit as critical for conducting trials and developing cell-based and biological therapeutics.

C3i is also making the development of biomarkers a priority.  Because not all cancer patients respond in the same way with the same immunotherapy, researchers worldwide have focused their attention on developing biomarkers that can predict therapy outcomes and help doctors tailor treatments to a particular patient or type of patient.

“Biomarkers will be crucial in the development of therapies,” says Dr. Busque.  “So we are developing a biomarker unit with next generation computer sequencing to do cutting edge analysis of cellular biomarkers.”

Having already built a network of oncology centres across Quebec, C3i hopes to create linkages across Canada to expand access to patients for larger scale clinical trials.

“We’re not alone.  We’re going to be one piece of a large puzzle in Canada.  There are so many great contributions being made across Canada.  We hope to be a catalyst in respect to Canadian collaborations because Canada can be extremely successful.”

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06
Feb 2017
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Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Advisory Council on Economic Growth highlights Canada’s stem cell strength

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Building on Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development“ could unlock innovation and drive economic growth, according to an Advisory Council on Economic Growth report released Monday.…

Building on Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development“ could unlock innovation and drive economic growth, according to an Advisory Council on Economic Growth report released Monday.

The Advisory Council, created by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to find ways to unleash Canada’s economic potential, focused on four sectors in which “Canada has a strong endowment, untapped potential and significant global growth prospects.”  The four include:  agriculture and food (agfood); advanced manufacturing; energy and renewables; and health care and life sciences.

“It’s a clear victory for the stem cells to be included in this report,” says James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “It shows that our message is getting through and that the Government of Canada recognizes the powerful potential of stem cells and regenerative medicine to not just deliver cures for a number of diseases but significantly boost the economy. “

The Foundation champions the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, a 10-year private-public partnership that aligns the efforts of Canada’s  research scientists, medical professionals, industry partners and philanthropists to move therapies into the clinic, create thousands of high-quality jobs and secure a share of the burgeoning  regenerative medicine global market for Canada.

The Advisory Council favours such private-public partnerships, stressing that “government and business should work together to identify and remove the unnecessary obstacles to economic growth” and noting that such partnerships “would help raise our collective ambition and unleash Canada’s real and inclusive growth potential.”

As well, the report, the second of two the Advisory Council has submitted to Minister Morneau as he prepares the federal budget, suggests Canada “seize opportunities (for example by convening private and public actors and setting a sector wide aspiration).”

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy “creates a roadmap for government and business to work together to do exactly that,” says Mr. Price. “It would clear hurdles for Canada to commercialize more research, bring more clinical trials on stream, develop more therapies and products, and create more jobs.”

Canada stands among the top nations in stem cells and regenerative medicine. The building block cells were discovered by two Canadians — Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch — in Toronto in the 1960s and subsequent generations of researchers have made some of the most important discoveries in the field worldwide. Clinical trials are underway in Canada using stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and septic shock, while doctors at The Ottawa Hospital have successfully used stem cells to treat autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and scleroderma.

However, Canada is falling behind in terms of funding, with other jurisdictions, particularly California and Japan, investing billions to find new therapies, develop new products and reap the economic benefits.

Minister Morneau established the Advisory Council in March 2016 to develop advice on policy actions “for strong and sustained long-term economic growth.” The first report, released in October, gave recommendations on investing in infrastructure, attracting foreign investment and enhancing economic immigration.

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16
Jan 2017
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Canadian Press photo

Canadian Press photo

Globe series highlights Till & McCulloch’s remarkable stem cell discovery

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Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.…

Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.

The Globe & Mail’s ongoing Great Canadian Inventions series, which highlights people, products and discoveries that have changed the world, today features the two great men who proved the existence of stem cells back in the early 1960s. The series runs throughout 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

The Globe’s public health reporter André Picard reports that the discovery “is considered among the most seminal medical findings of the past century, on par with the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.”

Stem cells have revolutionized cancer treatment and set the stage for the emergence of new therapies for a wide range of currently incurable diseases. New treatments are already succeeding in overcoming autoimmune diseases like MS.

Stem cells are also good for the economy.  The article cites STEMCELL Technologies, the Vancouver-based biotech company founded by former Till & McCulloch postgraduate student Dr. Allen Eaves, as a key player in a burgeoning field that is expected to produce a $49-billion global market within four years.

James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, notes in the Globe piece that the Till & McCulloch discovery initially didn’t get the attention it deserved. “But they set the stage for all the current stem cell research and helped make Canada a magnet for talent and investment in biotech.”

The article comes after last fall’s unveiling of the Till & McCulloch statue outside doors of BC’s Telus Science World in Vancouver. A duplicate statue is to be installed in downtown Toronto this spring.  It marks a considerable turnaround in recognition. In 2004, CBC Television ran a series called The Greatest Canadian, compiling a list of the 100 greatest Canadians ever. They followed it with a 2007 series on 50 of the Greatest Canadian Inventions.  While Don Cherry was featured in the former and the Wonder Bra in the latter, Till & McCulloch and stem cells were left out of both.

The Globe series, however,  got right to it in recognizing Till & McCulloch: they are the second Canadians to be featured this year after a Jan. 9th article celebrated how Jacques Plante changed the game of hockey by popularizing the goalie mask.

Dr. Till, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, remains busy as a leading advocate for opening access to scientific journals. Dr. McCulloch died in 2011. The remarkable story of Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and their amazing legacy is told in Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press and available through their website or via Amazon books.

 

 

 

 

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03
Jan 2017
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CTV tells story of Dan Muscat’s ‘180-degree’ turnaround

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In this blog and in our Fall/Winter newsletter we told the story of Dan Muscat, the St. Thomas, Ontario jeweler who has seen remarkable reductions in the symptoms of his scleroderma — a painful and deadly disease that turns the skin of its victims into cement-like hardness and then petrifies their internal organs.…

In this blog and in our Fall/Winter newsletter we told the story of Dan Muscat, the St. Thomas, Ontario jeweler who has seen remarkable reductions in the symptoms of his scleroderma — a painful and deadly disease that turns the skin of its victims into cement-like hardness and then petrifies their internal organs.

Over the summer, Dan underwent an experimental stem cell therapy at The Ottawa Hospital under the care of Dr. Harry Atkins, who has done outstanding work in treating patients with other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Stiff Person’s Syndrome and Crohn’s disease using a combination chemotherapy/stem cell approach.

Avis Favaro reported on Dan’s “180-degree” turnaround on CTV National News last night, telling Dan’s powerful story. You can watch it here.

After the initial report, the CTV website provides a four-minute interview with Dan that goes into greater detail, along with interviews with Dr. Atkins and James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, who says “Dan’s story is an exciting one for the field.”

As Ms Favaro says at the end of her report, Dan continues to get improve and is now able to walk three kilometres on a treadmill. While the extreme treatment isn’t for all scleroderma patients — it comes with potentially fatal risks — it offers new hope where none existed before.

In the wake of the CTV story on Dan,  The Ottawa Hospital has produced an online resource for people seeking more information about chemo/stem cell treatments for scleroderma and other autoimmune diseases like MS and Stiff Person’s Syndrome. You can find it here.

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