Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan

19
Feb 2015
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‘All we have to do is get it right’

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An article about the benefits of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is featured in the online version of Policy Options, Canada’s premier public policy journal.…

An article about the benefits of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is featured in the online version of Policy Options, Canada’s premier public policy journal.

Titled ‘How Canada can capitalize on its stem cell technology,’ the piece was written by Dr. Alan Bernstein, President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Chair of our Foundation’s Board of Directors, Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc., and James Price, our Foundation’s President and CEO. It illustrates how Canada can lead the way in stem cell science and translate research into five to 10 new therapies over the next 10 years.

“If we get it right, we can reduce human suffering from chronic, debilitating diseases, ease the burden on an overstressed health care system that is currently costing more than $200 billion a year, boost our economy by creating thousands of new high-skill jobs and own an area of advanced technology that was born in Canada.” said the authors.canada stem cells

“Canada’s role in all of this is vital. We have enormous scientific credibility, given that Canadians virtually founded the field: James Till and Ernest McCulloch proved the existence of stem cells more than 50 years ago at the Princess Margaret Hospital and went on to train and inspire subsequent generations of scientists who have positioned Canada at the leading edge.”

The print version of the article will be available soon in Policy Options, March-April 2015 edition.

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04
Feb 2015
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‘Cancer is not beyond us’

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Today is World Cancer Day. Under the tagline “Not beyond us,” the campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the leading cause of death in Canada.…

Today is World Cancer Day. Under the tagline “Not beyond us,” the campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the leading cause of death in Canada. Cancer is responsible for 30% of all deaths.

This year’s global campaign encourages prevention, early detection, treatment and care. Its message is a simple one: solutions to fight cancer are within our reach.

Stem cells represent a valid treatment option for certain types of blood cancers and solid tumours, and there is hope that more stem cell therapies for cancer will be available in the near future.blood

Canadian scientists are at the forefront of cancer research.  One of the major contributions to the field comes from Dr. John Dick, senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto. He was the first to isolate cancer stem cells — in leukemia in 1994 and in colon cancer in 2007. Recently, he and his team found a way to disarm a gene called BMI-1 that regulates colorectal cancer stem cells.

But there is potential to do more. The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, could lead to novel treatments for cancer. In fact, the goal of the Strategy is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

By making stem cell research a national priority Canada has the potential to show that cancer is “not beyond us.”

 

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01
Feb 2015
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Dr. Mick Bhatia

Dr. Mick Bhatia puts Howe case into perspective on Day 6

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Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, was the featured guest on CBC Radio’s Day 6 program on Saturday morning as it delved into the controversial subject of stem cell tourism.…

Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, was the featured guest on CBC Radio’s Day 6 program on Saturday morning as it delved into the controversial subject of stem cell tourism.

Host Brent Bambury interviewed Dr. Bhatia, a member of our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, to get his expert perspective on stroke survivor Gordie Howe’s so-called “miraculous” recovery after he travelled to Tijuana for an experimental treatment.

Along with the high costs people often pay for unproven therapies that often do not produce results, Dr. Bhatia warned of the physical dangers of untested treatments. He pointed out that unlike a drug that can be discontinued in the event of an adverse effect, “if a cell goes rogue in the body” there is no way of controlling it. “Cells can go anywhere and can grow uncontrollably,” producing tumours.

Foundation CEO & President James Price says Howe’s case underscores the need to implement the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. “Canada has a world-class stem cell sector and we are poised to bring new treatments to the clinic. It’s about bringing more clinical trials to Canada so that Canadians have early access to therapies that are proven to be safe and effective.”

 

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30
Jan 2015
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Doubts about Howe’s treatment underscore need for Strategy

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The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.…

The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.

According to Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University, Howe’s apparent recovery has many unknown factors. “Is this a transient effect, or is it really a perceived or somewhat of a placebo effect and is there something really happening? Scientifically and biologically that is important,” he told CP.

In addition, Dr. Bhatia is concerned that immunosuppression drugs or any other drugs Howe might have taken before the treatment could be showing some of the improvement effects. “We really don’t know.”

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO and Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network and a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, told CP  that while he couldn’t speak specifically about Howe’s treatment in Mexico as it’s not clear how much the hockey legend has improved or whether the stem cell treatment he received was responsible, some patients have suffered adverse effects from therapies received at clinics abroad. “There’s real potential for doing harm,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “And a person claiming to get better doesn’t prove anything,” he added.

Although there is currently no stem cell treatment for stroke approved by Health Canada, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will lead the way to delivering five to 10 novel treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

If Canada makes stem cell research and development a national priority, the Strategy will ultimately ensure the access to stem cell treatments that are proven to be safe and effective.

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21
Jan 2015
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Toronto MDs ‘put skin in the game’ to try to cure arthritis

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Physicians at Toronto’s University Health Network have tapped their own savings to start the first North American stem cell trial for osteoarthritis.…

Physicians at Toronto’s University Health Network have tapped their own savings to start the first North American stem cell trial for osteoarthritis.

The trial, part of the UHN’s Arthritis Program, will involve 12 patients between the ages of 40 and 65 with moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their knees. Bone marrow extracted from the back of their hips will be used as a source of mesenchymal stromal cells, which UHN scientists will grow in an incubator for four to six weeks and inject into the patients’ knees.

The ultimate goal is to cure arthritis, which affects about 4.6 million Canadians and has a huge impact on the Canadian economy in terms of health care costs. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis, which can affect people of any age and ethnicity. Visit our Toward Treatments page to learn more about the disease and the stem cell research now underway to combat it.

To kick-start the network’s trial, 10 orthopedic surgeons at UHN’s Toronto Western site donated a total of $1.25-million of their own money over five years.

“We felt very strongly that we had to have our own commitment beyond just the time and effort we would all have to put in,” Dr. Nizar Mahomed, director of the Arthritis Program and one of the surgeons who donated $125,000 over five, years told Kelly Grant of the Globe and Mail. “We needed to make a commitment of actual dollars and put skin in the game.”

The doctors’ decision to start the funding campaign, which has now raised around $38 million thanks to other private gifts, was driven by the fact that landing Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) public grant funding has become an increasingly competitive process. As reported in the Globe and Mail, the success rate for applications to CIHR fell to 18% for 2014-2015, down from 33% less than a decade earlier.

But the philanthropic initiative is just the initial step. “The goal here is not to rely purely on philanthropic funding for the research program, but to get pilot data to then be able to prove to CIHR that what we’re proposing is going to be effective,” Dr. Mahomed told the Globe and Mail.

The UHN initiative illustrates a creative solution to a serious problem. While Canada is a world leader in stem cells, Canadian researchers often face challenges translating their discoveries into new therapies and treatments that can be tested through clinical trials. To pave the way for that to happen, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, developed by a coalition of researchers, medical professionals, health charities and business leaders, calls for a $1.5-billion private/public investment in stem cell research and development over 10 years. Its goal is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

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20
Jan 2015
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Strategy will streamline the process for clinical trials in Canada

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The controversy over the experimental stem cell treatment in India grabbed national headlines last week.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” However, another MS patient who took part in the experimental trial claims the treatment helped her.…

The controversy over the experimental stem cell treatment in India grabbed national headlines last week.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” However, another MS patient who took part in the experimental trial claims the treatment helped her.

The controversy points to the need for Canada to make stem cell research and development a national priority. Always a clear leader in stem cell research, Canada needs a coordinated strategy to bring health benefits for Canadians. The goal of the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

CBC News visited Foundation’s offices in Ottawa to ask President and CEO James Price about the goals of the Strategy. He told the CBC that the Strategy will streamline the process for clinical trials in Canada “so that Canadians that are suffering have access to treatments that are safe and proven to be effective.”

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15
Jan 2015
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Controversies over stem cell tourism underscore need for Strategy

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Two days after we blogged about the scientific concerns regarding Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana, another example of Canadians seeking unproven therapies abroad has hit the media.…

Two days after we blogged about the scientific concerns regarding Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana, another example of Canadians seeking unproven therapies abroad has hit the media.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” MS

Chuckry, who has been battling MS for over a decade, was recruited into the stem cell trial by Doug Broeska, founder of a Winnipeg-based company called Regenetek Research. Broeska recruited patients for the the so-called “liberation” therapy pioneered by Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni in 2008. The treatment, dubbed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, involves widening the patient’s neck veins to improve blood flow. The Indian clinical trial combines CCSVI and the injection of stem cells into the veins and spinal column.

In March 2013, Chuckry flew to India for the trial. “It comes to a point of sort of desperation of trying to find the next thing that might help me, so I’m always on the search for that and I came across this,” he told the CBC. But the attacks came back upon his return home. His attempts to get in touch with Broeska about his new MS symptoms were unsuccessful and he received none of the follow-up common in clinical trials, such as MRIs and physical examinations.

According to the CBC, Broeska claimed on his LinkedIn profile that he earned a PhD at the University of Manitoba, but the university could not confirm that and his LinkedIn profile was down yesterday. The International Cellular Medicine Society, of which Broeska claims to be a member, has no record of his membership. And the ethics committee at India’s Inamdar Hospital in India, where the clinical trial is underway, ordered Broeska to step down as principal investigator because his lack of credentials and follow-up “violated international ethical standards.”

In addition, the Winnipeg Free Press reported this morning that the University of Winnipeg has cancelled a joint project with Regenetek Research.

Over the last few years the much publicized potential of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases has raised hope among patients suffering from conditions for which there currently are no cures. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies that do not have the support of proven clinical evidence. For more information, please visit our Treatment Abroad page.

Both the Howe report and this week’s MS controversy point to the need for Canada to make stem cell research and development a national priority. As James Price, Foundation President and CEO, told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, with its goal of delivering five to 10 new treatments to clinics within 10 years. He told the paper that the Action Plan will give Canadians confidence “that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

Indeed, Canada is a world leader in stem cell research. MS survivor Jennifer Molson has been symptom-free for 12 years after receiving a stem cell transplant in a  clinical trial run by Dr. Harry Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital. “I’m living proof of the tremendous potential that exists with stem cell research. I got a second chance at life.” said Molson in declaring her support for the Strategy.

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13
Jan 2015
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Howe treatment points to need for Strategy

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The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.…

The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.

gordie howe

In mid-December, the star of Detroit Red Wings, received an experimental stem cell treatment in Mexico.

Howe’s son Mark told the Detroit Free Press that his father’s health has significantly improved since then. “His mobility was limited to shuffling his feet forward while sitting in a wheelchair. Within the past few days dad was pushing a cart at a grocery store, and he’s gone to the mall.” he said.

But what is the other side of Howe’s fast resurgence? Was the procedure safe? Does it send out the wrong message?

The scientific validity of the procedure Howe underwent is unclear. According to the newspaper U-T  San Diego Howe received the treatment from Novastem, a Mexican stem cell company, at a clinic in Tijuana. San Diego’s Stemedica, which provided the stem cells, says it follows U.S. law and requires those licensing its stem cells in foreign countries to obey the laws of those countries.

Regardless, over the last years the much publicized potential of stem cells has raised hope among patients suffering from chronic diseases. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to  capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies — often for a wide variety of diseases — without the support of proven clinical evidence.

Canadian scientists and medical ethics experts have warned that this phenomenon of stem cell tourism is on the rise and so are its risks.

As reported in Ottawa Citizen this morning, Howe is one of many Canadians who put themselves in danger by seeking experimental stem cell therapies in countries with softer regulations than in Canada.

“Patients go to places that offer stem cell therapies because they are looking for hope. And stem cells can offer that hope. Unfortunately, very often there is no proven benefit.” Dr. Duncan Stewart, chief executive and financial director of the regenerative medicine program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute told the Ottawa Citizen.

In past posts, Prof. Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta and a member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has said that unproven treatments create health risks for patients and undermine the credibility of stem cell research.

On this note, James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, told the Citizen  that “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which has a goal of leading the way to developing five to 10 new treatments to the clinic within 10 years.

As reported in the Citizen story, “A major emphasis of the stem cell Action Plan, which includes public and private funding, is giving Canadians confidence that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

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16
Dec 2014
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A wish for all Canadians

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By Stacey Johnson, Director of Communications, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

There is much joy and celebration in becoming a centenarian.…

CCRM

By Stacey Johnson, Director of Communications, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

There is much joy and celebration in becoming a centenarian. This March, my grandmother turns 100. If she had one wish, I know it would be for renewed physical vitality. Her mind is strong, but her body is giving out.

Despite huge progress in research, there won’t be a cure for age-related macular degeneration in time for her to benefit, nor will she be able to replace her electronic pacemaker with one made from stem cells, but she’s excited by the promise of stem cell research, even if it won’t impact her directly.

Now is a time for optimism in the regenerative medicine (RM) field, especially in Canada. In October, the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation announced its national Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan and barely a month later, the Province of Ontario awarded $3.1 million to launch the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM).

The regenerative medicine community in Canada is very connected thanks to more than a decade’s worth of targeted encouragement from the federal government – in the form of funding – and efforts by the Canadian Stem Cell Network to break down silos and promote collaboration. With all the key stakeholders working together to develop products and shepherd them through clinical trials to reach patients, the community has research excellence and political will on its side.

The Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), a unique not-for-profit group that is solely focused on developing and commercializing RM technologies, was involved with both of the recent announcements. The goal of the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is to produce five to 10 therapies within the next 10 years. The OIRM has been established to translate stem cell research into curative therapies for major degenerative diseases. CCRM is the commercialization partner for both groups and is co-leading OIRM with the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative.

With an aging population and Canadian health care costs – direct and indirect – estimated at $190 billion annually, finding treatments and cures is imperative. The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, OIRM and CCRM will coordinate efforts to move promising stem cell treatments from the bench to the bedside.

My grandmother is unlikely to see cures in her lifetime, but success is feeling closer every day. And that’s something worth celebrating.

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27
Nov 2014
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Two sure signs of the increasing importance of investing in stem cells

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Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

“I don’t want any other person’s parents going through what my parents went through,” says Charlotte Desbiens, a remarkable little girl who underwent three heart surgeries before age three.…

Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

“I don’t want any other person’s parents going through what my parents went through,” says Charlotte Desbiens, a remarkable little girl who underwent three heart surgeries before age three.

Charlotte, with a sense of compassion well beyond her years, tells her story in a powerful video announcing a $130-million gift to create the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Disease.  The unprecedented donation will allow researchers to explore “the mechanism of what goes wrong in heart function,” says Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research at the Hospital for Sick Children. Hers is one of the three Toronto-based organizations partnering to create the Centre.

Stem cell research and development is a major component of the work the Centre will undertake. While SickKids will focus on harnessing the genomics to decode the genetic foundations of cardiac disease and the University Health Network (UHN) will target the translation of research discoveries into the delivery of care for patients, the University of Toronto (U of T) will combine stem cell technology with new approaches in cellular and tissue engineering to find ways to regenerate heart muscle, coronary vessels, and heart valves.

The Centre is named after Edward Samuel “Ted” Rogers, Jr., the telecommunications pioneer and President and CEO of Rogers Communications Inc. until his death in 2008. According to the UHN press release, the Rogers family’s donation is the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health care initiative. It will be matched with $139 million funds from SickKids, UHN, and U of T for a total investment of $269 million.

The Nov. 20th Rogers Centre announcement was one of two significant endorsements of stem cell R&D in recent days. On Tuesday, the Government of Ontario awarded $3.1 million to the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative (OSCI) and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) to establish the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM).

OIRM will focus on translating stem cell research into new cures and treatments for degenerative diseases.  Specific “disease challenge” teams have been identified:  Dr. Valerie Wallace at the U of T leads a team tackling age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world; Dr. Gordon Keller, also at the U of T, is focusing efforts on treatments for ventricular fibrillation, the leading cause of cardiac arrest; and Dr. Mick Bhatia at McMaster University will advance the use stem cells to get the immune system to destroy tumours.  The announcement was covered in the Globe and Mail.

The key takeaway from both these announcements is that it will take a concerted effort from many different players to tackle diseases that have baffled medical science for too long. And it will take time. As noted in the Globe piece, OIRM’s $3.1 million only covers the awarded projects for a single year. “In comparison, California has invested $3 billion in regenerative medicine in the past decade and has several promising treatments now in clinical trials.”

As the newspaper reports, the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, representing a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, health charities, industry experts and philanthropists, “called on the federal government in October to commit half a billion dollars over a decade to boost stem cell research and development in Canada.”

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is a 10-year plan to accelerate the safe translation of research discoveries into new cell-based therapies, products and technologies. Just as the Rogers Centre for Heart Disease has set specific goals — to reduce hospitalization for heart failure by 50% in the next 10 years — the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy keeps an eye on the prize: it’s an aggressive Action Plan for Canada to lead the way in bringing up to 10 breakthrough therapies to the clinic by 2025. It will mean Canadians will have access to effective new treatments and will reduce the burden of disease on caregivers. It will also create jobs, enhance productivity and strengthen our economy.

Find out more about the Strategy here.

Because, ultimately, it is all about finding ways to cure diseases so that wonderful little girls like Charlotte live long and happy lives. And so that parents don’t have to worry.

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