Lab Canada

$6.3M funding links researchers developing oncolytic virus therapies for cancer

Ottawa, ON – Seven Canadian research teams, led by Dr John Bell of Ottawa, will share a $6.3-million grant to collaboratively develop and test oncolytic viruses as cancer therapeutics. The grant was awarded by the Terry Fox Foundation through the National Cancer Institute of Canada after a competitive peer-review process.

“Canada is a leading country for oncolytic virus research. This grant will allow us to expand our efforts and work together to ensure that cancer patients benefit from our research as soon as possible,” says Dr Bell, a professor and senior scientist at the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa Health Research Institute and the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre.

Oncolytic viruses infect and destroy cancer cells without harming normal cells. They work because many anti-cancer genes are also anti-viral genes, so when cells develop genetic mutations that lead to cancer, they often lose their viral defenses at the same time. While oncolytic viruses have been known to exist for decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in recent years as scientists have discovered new oncolytic viruses and engineered them to be better and safer. Studies in laboratory models have shown that these viruses are very effective against many cancers and early clinical studies in patients have been encouraging.

Along with Dr Bell, researchers funded by this grant include:
– Dr Harry Atkins of the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa Health Research Institute and the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre.
– Dr Peter Forsyth of the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute, the University of Calgary and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
– Dr John Hiscott of McGill University and the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research.
– Dr Patrick Lee of Dalhousie University.
– Dr Nahum Sonenberg of McGill University and the McGill Cancer Centre.
– Dr David Stojdl of the University of Ottawa and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

These researchers, along with several others, form the Canadian Oncolytic Virus Consortium, which is unique in Canada and in the world. It includes a discovery pipeline, pre-clinical models, virus manufacturing, correlative studies and a clinical trial group, all interacting dynamically to maximize and exploit discoveries at every level. The consortium was created in 2004 after receiving an initial grant from the Terry Fox Foundation.