Lab Canada

$14.6M funding supports cancer research projects

Toronto, ON – Announced just in time for the 2014 Terry Fox Run, cancer researchers in Toronto will receive the lion’s share of $14.6 million in funding from the Terry Fox Foundation.

The funds will go to investigators at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (University Health Network), The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Sunnybrook Research Institute, the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (Mount Sinai Hospital), Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.

“Toronto has long been a hotbed of excellent cancer research, with many of the country’s top scientists and clinicians based here. This year, the Terry Fox Foundation is investing $14.6-million into innovative team research and, of this, $13.8-million will support work in the research laboratories of six major Ontario partners,” says Dr. Victor Ling, president and scientific director of The Terry Fox Research Institute. “Each of the three new Ontario-based projects we are funding has the potential to revolutionize care for patients with hard-to- treat or advanced cancers through a personalized approach to treatment.”

“Terry’s run down University Avenue and the memorable hero’s welcome he received in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on July 11, 1980 is still warmly remembered throughout the country today,” says Mr. Bill Pristanski, Terry Fox Foundation board chair. “Thanks to the continued generosity of our supporters in Toronto, throughout Ontario and across Canada, we are able to support these brilliant minds and great teams and the work they do each and every day to help us achieve Terry’s dream of a world without cancer.”

At the University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, a team led by Drs. Bradly Wouters and Robert Bristow, will use a five-year award totalling $6.6 million to address previous findings demonstrating that low oxygen levels (a condition known as hypoxia) in tumours cause resistance to treatment and increase the spread and aggressiveness of cancer. “The team has created a pipeline to develop and test new personalized therapies that target tumour hypoxia in patients with cervical, head and neck, and prostate cancers,” says Wouters, a senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and professor of radiation oncology and medical biophysics at the University of Toronto.

Advanced cancers are difficult to cure because they evolve and resist efforts to kill them. Dr. Sean Egan is leading a project involving research teams at SickKids, Mount Sinai Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre with a five-year award of $4.4 million to study the similarities and differences between primary and secondary tumours for both breast cancer and medulloblastoma, a common form of childhood brain cancer. “Most deaths from cancer occur after the disease has spread to other sites within the body, yet most research studies are still focused on primary tumours. Through our new genetic approach to identifying similarities between primary and secondary tumours, and developing therapies to target those similarities, we hope to help revolutionize future therapy,” says Egan.

The third project to receive support is headed by Dr. Gregory Czarnota at the Sunnybrook Research Institute, in collaboration with Ryerson University. His team will use a new, three-year, $2-million award to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, using state-of-the-art ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging. “Our goal is to develop this technology to assess the effectiveness of therapy sooner than is done with conventional imaging methods. A more accurate and faster determination means better potential to individualize treatment for the patient,” says Czarnota.

In addition, the foundation is providing one-year funding of $750,000 each to two other long-funded research programs in Ontario and Quebec. One project is studying how the immune system can help recognize and eliminate cancer cells; the other is looking at ways to improve treatment for women diagnosed with hard-to-treat forms of breast cancer.

The Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grant program was created over 30 years ago. A highly competitive program, funds are awarded annually to groups of investigators to support breakthrough and transformative biomedical research which may form the basis for innovative cancer prevention, diagnosis and/or treatment. The foundation says the program is unique in Canada for its sustaining support for a small but significant number (currently 12 in three provinces) of the most productive and internationally recognized cancer research groups.