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$12.6M supports cancer research projects and equipment


Toronto, ON — Scientists working on a number of cancer-research projects in Ontario will share $12.6 million for research projects and state-of-the-art equipment aimed at discovering new diagnostic tools and treatments for cancer. The announcement was made by Dr Tom Hudson, president and scientific director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).

OICR’s Cancer Research Fund awarded $6 million to 11 projects after a peer-reviewed competition in November 2009. This was the 13th grant competition for the fund, which has made a total of $83 million available to Ontario researchers since 2002 for projects covering the spectrum of cancer research, from cancer biology through to diagnosis and treatment. Investigators funded by the CRF are based at academic institutions across the province. The projects announced today will take place over the next three years in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Sudbury and Toronto.

OICR also awarded $6.6 million for equipment at Ontario institutions. This funding is part of the institute’s mandate to enhance Ontario’s capacity to conduct world-leading cancer research by equipping scientists with the high-tech tools they need to discover new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. The new equipment will be used in all stages of cancer research, from prevention to diagnosis to new treatments; and from laboratory discoveries to clinical trials to evaluation of the cancer care system.

The researchers who will receive CRF funding include:

– Dr Linda Penn, a senior scientist and head of the Division of Cancer Genomics and Proteomics at the Ontario Cancer Institute, part of the University Health Network in Toronto, who was awarded $526,499 to explore the use of statins to treat cancer. Statins are best known for managing cholesterol levels. However, preliminary studies have shown they could also be effective in treating certain types of cancer. Dr Penn is one of several OICR-funded researchers who are re-purposing existing drugs as cancer treatments, an approach that can significantly reduce the amount of time and money it takes to bring new treatments to patients.

– Dr Ian Lorimer, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, will receive $353,106 from the CRF to develop biomarkers that will predict the clinical benefit of a new therapy for advanced colorectal cancer. Previous research has shown that cetuximab can be a highly effective treatment for a certain subset of patients with advanced colorectal cancer; but it is not at all effective for patients who do not fall into this subset. Biomarkers would allow doctors to determine which patients are likely to benefit from cetuximab. Determining sub-types of cancer and assigning treatments accordingly is part of the broader movement toward personalized medicine – using knowledge about the human genome to design new treatments that target disease on the molecular level.

– Dr Amadeo Parissenti, a clinician-scientist at Hôpital régional de Sudbury Regional Hospital, will receive $381,847 from the CRF to validate his team’s previous observation that the level of breast tumour ribonucleic acid (RNA) integrity, a measure known as RIN, falls in response to chemotherapy. The project will use three independent cohorts of patients to validate the findings and try to gain an understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the drop in RIN. Research into cancer-related biological pathways and their response to therapy is an important first step toward developing new, more effective cancer treatments.

“Ontario scientists are leading the way in many fronts in the fight against cancer. The funding we’ve announced today will help find ways to prevent cancer by understanding the genetic basis of the disease. It also will improve diagnosis through better imaging, allowing doctors to treat the disease as effectively as possible. At the same time, we’re funding research into better treatments that offer new hope, especially for cancers that are currently difficult to treat,” said Dr Hudson. “OICR is proud to support these Ontario researchers and laboratories. Their work has so much potential to benefit people all over the world whose lives are affected by cancer.”

Cancer Research Fund, 13th grant competition results:

– Dr Jayne Danska, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, was awarded $618,668 to study the therapeutic manipulation of immune receptor SIRPalpha-CD47 interactions, which could improve outcomes of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and deplete acute myeloid leukemia stem cells.

– Dr Stewart Gaede, Lawson Health Research Institute, part of the London Health Sciences Centre, was awarded $537,142 to improve radiation therapy for lung cancer. The project will optimize the delivery of intensity-modulated radiation therapy to tumours whose position is affected by vascular motion.

– Dr Abhijit Guha, University Health Network, Toronto, was awarded $538,143 to examine the use of nilotinib as a therapy for growing vestibular Schwannomas.

– Dr John Hassell, McMaster University, Hamilton was awarded $526,500 to develop a novel selective compound targeting breast cancer stem cells.

– Dr David Hedley, University Health Network, Toronto, was awarded $576,035 to study the mechanisms and consequences of hypoxia in pancreatic cancer patients.

– Dr Robert Kerbel, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, was awarded $608,443 to develop preclinical translational research strategies for improving the clinical success of anti-angiogenic adjuvant therapies. Anti-angiogenic therapies aim to treat tumours by targeting their blood supply.

– Dr Rama Khokha, University Health Network, Toronto, was awarded $647,669 to validate osteosarcoma targets using a genomic approach.

– Dr Ian Lorimer, Ottawa Health Research Institute, was awarded $353,106 to develop biomarkers that will predict the benefit from cetuximab for patients with advanced colorectal cancer.

– Dr Amadeo Parissenti, Hôpital régional de Sudbury Regional Hospital, was awarded $381,847 to develop tumour RNA integrity as a potential biomarker of chemotherapy response in breast cancer patients.

– Dr Linda Penn, University Health Network, Toronto, was awarded $526,499 to study the use of statins as anti-cancer agents. Statins are used in current practice to lower cholesterol but preliminary research suggests they could also be effective in treating certain types of cancer.

– Dr George Rodrigues, Lawson Health Research Institute, London, will receive $715,075 for a multi-institutional clinical trial for brain cancer treatment. The trial will determine the effectiveness of simultaneous in-field boost helical tomotherapy in patients with one to three brain metastases.

Recipients of equipment funding are:

– OICR’s High Impact Clinical Trials Program, led by Dr Janet Dancey, is enhancing Ontario’s capacity to conduct high quality translational research within cancer clinical trials by focusing on building research capacity in three areas: experimental therapeutics, biospecimen-based diagnostics and imaging of patient response to treatment. Six sites will receive funding: the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa ($249,000), McMaster University in Hamilton ($316,000), The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute ($4,000), Queen’s University in Kingston ($226,000), University Health Network in Toronto ($1,868,000) and the University of Western Ontario in London ($324,000), for a total of $2,987,000.

– OICR’s Medicinal Chemistry Program, led by Dr Rima Al-awar, is a state-of-the-art research platform in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District focused on discovering new therapeutic compounds and developing new chemotherapy drugs. It will receive $1.6 million;

– OICR’s Genomics Platform, led by Dr John McPherson and located in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, uses the latest genome sequencing technology to gain a better understanding of what causes cancer and discover new targets for treatment. It will receive $767,000;

– OICR’s Selective Therapies Program, led by Dr Robert Rottapel, is also the Ontario node of the Terry Fox Research Institute. It aids in the development of novel diagnostic tests to identify the best set of agents to treat each cancer patient individually, and is also identifying new compounds that can selectively kill cancer cells and minimize adverse reactions. Five research sites will receive funding: the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario ($165,000), McMaster University in Hamilton ($50,000), Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital ($71,000) and University Health Network ($36,000), as well as the University of Toronto ($15,000), for a total of $337,000.

– The One Millimetre Cancer Challenge Program, co-led by Dr Martin Yaffe and Dr Aaron Fenster, is an ambitious effort to give clinicians the ability to detect and image tumours when they are just one millimeter in size. Such an advance would allow diagnosis of cancer in its earliest stages, when treatment is most likely to be effective. Five research sites in two cities will receive funding: Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre ($43,000), University Health Network ($70,000), The Hospital for Sick Children ($19,000), as well as the University of Toronto ($51,000); and The University of Western Ontario in London ($67,000), for a total of $250,000.

– OICR’s Cancer Stem Cell Program, led by Dr John Dick, focuses on the promising field of cancer stem cells with the aim of discovering better therapies for many types of cancer. Three sites conducting research for this program will receive funding: McMaster University in Hamilton ($11,000), and The Hospital for Sick Children ($85,000) and University Health Network ($139,000) in Toronto, for a total of $235,000.

– The OICR Imaging Pipeline Platform, led by Dr Aaron Fenster, is dedicated to harnessing Ontario’s strengths in medical imaging to develop new tools to diagnose and treat cancer then move them rapidly into the clinic to bring benefits to patients as quickly as possible. Three research sites will receive funding: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre ($98,000) and University Health Network ($20,000) in Toronto and the University of Western Ontario in London ($100,000), for a total of $218,000.

– The Ontario Regional Bio-therapeutics Program (ORBiT) is an OICR program led by Dr John Bell which is researching new biologically-based therapies to fight cancer. Two ORBiT sites will receive funding: The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute ($81,000) and University Health Network in Toronto ($47,000), for a total of $128,000;

– The OICR/CCO Health Services Research Program, a province-wide program led by Dr Craig Earle, aims to improve outcomes for Ontario cancer patients through research into the health care system and knowledge translation. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto will receive $102,000.