cancer

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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25
Feb 2015
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connie eaves

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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06
Jan 2015
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Researchers find many cancers are ‘bad luck’

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Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

We all know that unhealthy lifestyles and genetics increase the risk of developing cancer, but a new study suggests that hereditary or environmental factors are not the primary cause of two-thirds of cancer types.…

Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

We all know that unhealthy lifestyles and genetics increase the risk of developing cancer, but a new study suggests that hereditary or environmental factors are not the primary cause of two-thirds of cancer types. Instead, misfortune plays a large part.

According to the study, published in Science and widely reported on in the media, 65% of adult cancers are mainly due to “bad luck,” or random genetic mistakes that occur during the process of cell division in the body.

“All cancers are caused by a combination of bad luck, the environment and heredity, and we’ve created a model that may help quantify how much of these three factors contribute to cancer development,” DrBert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said in a media release.

Cell division is constantly happening in the body to replace old cells. Sometimes genetic mutations occur during the process. As might be expected, the risk of mistakes increases with the increased number of cell divisions. Drs Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti, analyzed the total number of stem cell divisions in 31 tissue types during an individual’s lifetime, excluding breast and prostate cancers. They estimated that 22 cancer types were a result of genetic mutations occurring during the normal cell division process and could not be avoided. These include leukemia, pancreatic, bone, ovarian and brain cancers.

“If two-thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then we should focus more resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages.” said Dr. Tomasetti in a report by The Telegraph carried in the National Post.

According to the researchers, other cancers, such as colorectal, skin and lung cancers are heavily influenced by genes and exposure to cancerous agents, such as smoking for lung cancer, UV exposure for skin cancer and poor diet for colorectal cancer.

Does the new finding mean we should abandon our efforts to prevent cancer? Not at all.

“Everything we know about altering lifestyles to prevent cancer from the environmental point of view we absolutely need to continue doing. If anything our finding puts more stress on the need to spend even more money on early detection,”  Dr. Tomasetti told Time magazine.

“About half of all cancers can be prevented through healthy living and healthy public policies,” Gillian Bromfield of the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement. “We encourage Canadians to lower their risk of cancer by not smoking, eating well, being active, sitting less, maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol, being safe in the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.”

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18
Dec 2014
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donald metcalf

Saying goodbye to Professor Donald Metcalf

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The world of haematology research is mourning the loss of one of its giants, Prof. Donald Metcalf, who has died at the age of 85.…

The world of haematology research is mourning the loss of one of its giants, Prof. Donald Metcalf, who has died at the age of 85.

A native of New South Wales, Australia, Prof. Metcalf received a Carden Fellowship in cancer research at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in 1954.

Starting from an interest in leukemia, Prof. Metcalf focused his research on blood cell production. Following the findings of Canada’s Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who first isolated stem cells in 1961, Prof. Metcalf and his team discovered colony-stimulating factors (CSFs), hormones that regulate white blood cell production.

The discovery of CSFs has had a significant impact on the recovery of cancer patients after chemotherapy. The injection of CSFs can reduce susceptibility to life-threatening infections by increasing the number of blood cells responsible for fighting those infections.

“Over the past 20 years, more than 20 million cancer patients have been treated with CSFs and, as a result, have been given the best possible chance of beating their cancer. There can be no greater legacy for a medical researcher.” according to a tribute by Prof. Douglas HiltonDirector of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Of Medical Research, and Profs. Warren Alexander and Nicos Nicola, Heads of Institute’s Division of Cancer and Haematology.

Despite many opportunities across the world, Prof. Metcalf spent 60 years as a Carden Fellow at the Institute, even after his official retirement in 1996. He received several Australian and international awards for his work. Among these were the Companion of the Order of Australia (1993), the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (1993) and the Robert Koch Prize (1998).

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, Prof. Metcalf, also known as “the father of modern haematology,” performed his last experiment in October and died surrounded by his family on Monday.

 

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