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$16M cancer research lab opens in Ottawa


Ottawa, ON – The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) recently opened a new $15.8 million laboratory that is designed to accelerate the development and testing of new cancer therapies.

“It typically takes more than a decade to turn a promising laboratory discovery into a new treatment that is ready for testing in patients, but with this new facility, we think we will be able to do it in half that time or even less in some cases,” said Dr Harry Atkins, a cancer scientist, physician and assistant professor of medicine who played a lead role in designing the CICR and is affiliated with OHRI, the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa.

The CICR is located in the Ottawa Hospital’s Cancer Centre. It includes equipment to analyze cancer cells at the molecular level and develop and test new treatments in laboratory models. Promising treatments can then be manufactured in a new clean room laboratory and tested in patients nearby. Another special laboratory allows researchers to analyze patient tumour samples and evaluate their response to treatment.

“We’re pioneering a whole new model of cancer research that is based on continuously improving new therapies through a cycle of laboratory and clinical research,” says Dr Michael McBurney, director of cancer research at OHRI and a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “We’ve always had a strong tradition of collaboration between our laboratory and clinical researchers, and with the Centre for Innovative Cancer Research, we will now be able to take this to the next level and hopefully make a big difference for our patients.”

One of the major areas of research in the new centre involves the development of biological treatments that use viruses, genes and cells to target cancer. For example, Dr John Bell and his team have developed of number of oncolytic viruses that infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal tissues, and their research spans the full spectrum from basic laboratory studies to clinical trials in patients.

“We’re very encouraged by the success we’ve had with these viruses so far, but I think we’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Bell, a senior scientist at OHRI and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “We’re developing a whole new suite of biological treatments for cancer and I believe that some day, they could truly transform how we care for our patients. The Centre for Innovative Cancer Research gives us a huge advantage and an opportunity to lead the world in this field.”

In addition, scientists working at the CICR have filed numerous patents and are involved in startup companies such as Jennerex Biotherapeutics.

The CICR is part of a larger CFI-funded project called Translation of Innovation into Medical Excellence. Referred to as TIMEx, this project is a partnership between The Ottawa Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the University of Ottawa and the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery. In total, it is providing $65 million in new research infrastructure to the partner institutions.

The Centre for Innovative Cancer Research (CICR) was built and equipped with $6.3 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) competitive peer-reviewed Research Hospital Fund Program. An additional $9.5 million was provided by community donors to the hospital’s foundation. The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are also major partners in the project.