Lab Canada

$13M in grants to impact cancer research

Toronto, ON – The largest single grants ever offered by the Canadian Cancer Society, the society’s Impact Grants have a maximum value of $1.25 million per grant over five years. They are intended to fund the best, most promising cancer science in the country and move it significantly forward.

Eleven new impact grants were awarded this week by the society for a total value of more than $13 million. This new funding program is designed to provide a mechanism for scientists to adopt innovations and accelerate the application of new knowledge to address problems in cancer research.

“We are thrilled to be able to fund these outstanding new research projects that have such tremendous promise,” says Dr Siân Bevan, director of research, Canadian Cancer Society. “In our 75th anniversary year, we remain committed to making a difference in the lives of Canadians by funding the best research and making the most impact against cancer.”

The grants awarded include:

Dr Sam Aparicio, Vancouver, $1,250,000 – Dr Aparicio and his team will answer questions about how breast cancer arises, grows and mutates. The researchers will use sophisticated techniques to analyze DNA from individual breast cancer cells and then observe how the cells change in response to different conditions, such as chemotherapy drugs. The research has the promise for global impact in terms of understanding the disease as well as improving diagnosis, treatment and patient outcomes.

Dr Artem Cherkasov, Vancouver, $1,208,824 – Hormone resistant prostate cancer and breast cancers do not respond well to currently available drugs and represent the leading cause of death for these two cancers. Combining modern computational and experimental technologies, Dr Cherkasov is developing an entirely new class of anti-cancer drugs for treating these resistant cancers that focuses on targeting a new site on the hormone receptors.

Dr David Huntsman, Vancouver, $1,250,000 – Using advanced genomic approaches including whole genome sequencing, Dr Huntsman is leading a study to identify driver mutations in two of the most deadliest forms of ovarian cancer. Dr Huntsman’s team will pinpoint the genetic mutations that underlie these cancers to identify new biomarkers and treatments as well as strategies to prevent these cancers from occurring in women with pre-cancerous endometriosis.

Dr Torsten Nielsen, Vancouver, $1,250,000 – Dr Nielsen has made major progress in the understanding of a rare soft tissue cancer synovial sarcoma – which mainly affects children and young adults and for which standard anticancer therapies offer little benefit. Dr Nielsen is building this work to explore the fundamental biology of similar sarcomas by constructing mice models to study the diseases and identify effective drugs to move new therapies to clinical trials and improve outcomes for patients.

Dr Anand Swaminath, Hamilton, $1,230,186 – Radiotherapy is recommended for lung cancer patients who are not suitable for surgery. Dr Swaminath will be conducting a Phase III clinical trial to determine if a new form of radiotherapy, stereotactic body radiotherapy, is more effective than conventional radiotherapy for a specific type of lung cancer with the goal of improving the standard of care and minimizing health care related costs in Canada.

Dr Neil Fleshner, Toronto, $1,250,000 – Metformin, a common diabetes drug, has been shown to have cancerfighting properties. Dr Fleshner is leading a clinical trial to test whether metformin can delay the progression of cancer in men diagnosed with lowrisk prostate cancer undergoing “active surveillance”, a treatment strategy involving no immediate radical therapy, in order to spare them from radical therapy in the future.

Dr Ming-Sound Tsao, Toronto, $1,248,401 – The current overall survival rate for lung cancer patients is 15% with a high risk of recurrence and cancer-related deaths. Dr Tsao will be using a strategic combination of advanced genomics techniques to profile 144 nonsmall cell lung cancers with the goal of identifying markers that can be used for improving targeted therapies.

Dr Claude Perrault, Montreal, $1,075,000 – Currently, 67,000 Canadians are living with a blood cancer, but only 50% of these patients will be cured using the standard chemotherapy treatment. Dr Perreault is testing a state-of-art immunotherapy approach, which has already shown to be effective in mice, to target specific proteins in patients for the treatment of chemotherapy-resistant blood cancers.

Dr Guy Sauvageau, Montreal, $1,248,275 – Approximately half of all leukemias have a defective network of three proteins, known as HOX, MEIS and PBS, which have significant potential for targeted therapies. Dr Sauvageau will build on his work showing the importance of these proteins by characterizing their cancer-causing properties in detail and identifying small molecules that disrupt the complex to pave the way for new leukemia drugs.

Dr Robert Day, Sherbrooke, $1,228,710 Dr Day has shown that the protein PACE4 is highly over-expressed in prostate cancer and is looking for drugs that target the protein to discover the first new therapies for the disease in over a generation. This work is also exploring whether levels of PACE4 in the blood could be used as an alternative to PSA testing to improve diagnosis for patients and distinguish aggressive from nonaggressive forms of prostate cancer.

Dr Yves Fradet, Quebec City, $999,470 – Bladder cancer is a common cancer in Western countries and has a high rate of recurrence. A bacteria called BCG can be injected into the bladder to stimulate the patient’s immune system in order to fight the cancer cells and prevent recurrence, although only 60% of patients respond to this therapy. Dr Fradet is searching for new strategies to prevent recurrence by improving the response rate to BCG with new immunotherapy-based compounds that trigger a stronger immune response, and developing a vaccine against markers specifically found on bladder cancer cells.