Lab Canada

$60M national initiative for innovative cancer treatments

Vancouver, BC – The BC Cancer Agency researchers will play a key role in the first Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) devoted to cancer research, announced this month with a $25 million commitment from the federal government and an additional $35 million from partners across the country. 

The NCE, called BioCanRX, will focus on the development of new biotherapeutics – therapies derived from biological agents – which is one of the most promising areas of research in oncology. The national team of leading scientists will zero-in on three specific areas of biotherapeutic development: oncolytic viruses, immune cells and synthetic antibodies.


Dr. Brad Nelson, director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre is co-lead of the NCE’s cell therapy program. “The NCE and our B.C. funding partners will allow for major advancements in cancer care,” he said. “With Canada’s major research centres working collaboratively on the three hottest areas of oncology, we’ll be able to translate today’s most innovative and promising treatments from the lab to the clinic.”


As co-lead of the cell therapy program, Dr. Nelson will advance his cutting-edge investigation into adoptive T cell therapy – a personalized treatment that enables a patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Support through the NCE will enable a series of adoptive T cell therapy clinical trials for Canadian cancer patients.


In addition, Dr. Nelson and colleague Dr. Rob Holt, head of sequencing, Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency, will run an Immune Monitoring Program straddling all three focus areas in the national program. The BC Cancer Agency has leading-edge expertise in genomic sequencing and multi-parameter immune profiling, – technologies that give researchers unprecedented insight into the patient’s immune response to their cancer.


“With expertise developed at the BC Cancer Agency, we’ll be able to quickly and comprehensively measure how strongly patients’ immune systems are responding to these new therapies,” said Dr. Nelson.


While different biotherapeutics function in different ways, one thing they have in common is the ability to mobilize and activate the body’s natural defense mechanisms to attack cancer cells.


“Biotherapeutics hold great promise because they have the potential to completely eliminate even advanced cancers with far fewer side effects than many of our current treatments. That in itself is very exciting,” said Dr. John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, professor at the University of Ottawa and the NCE’s scientific director.


In B.C., Dr. Nelson and Dr. Holt’s research areas will be supported over the next five years through the NCE grant and funding from the BC Cancer Foundation, Genome BC and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.


The new NCE team of more than 40 researchers from 17 academic institutions, as well as eight industry partners and nearly 20 community partners (including provincial organizations and national and regional charities) will work to accelerate the development of biotherapeutics from laboratory discoveries to manufacturing to industry sponsorship to clinical trials.


The funding strategy will allow the Canadian consortium to develop several therapeutic strategies in parallel, and then test these alone and in combination, with the goal of finding the most effective way to help a patient’s own body eliminate cancer.