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Ovarian cancer vaccine project among five to get funding

Vancouver, BC – Genome British Columbia is funding a team of scientists led by Dr Brad Nelson at BC Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre in Victoria, who are exploring the possibility of using the inherent genomic instability of cancer to make it a target for such individualized therapy.

The project is one of five being funded by the agency. The funding comes from the organization’s Strategic Opportunities Fund, a program that provides one-time funding to help seed innovative projects of key strategic importance to the life sciences community.

“Modern genomics technology, specifically next-generation sequencing, allows us to identify all of the mutations in a patient’s tumour,” says Dr Nelson. “With this information, we can design a vaccine that helps the immune system recognize the mutations. Once activated, the immune system starts to attack the tumour as if it were a foreign body. In laboratory models, we have been able to eradicate even advanced tumors within a matter of weeks. While there is still considerable work to be done before this approach is used in the clinic, the results so far are very encouraging.”

To facilitate Dr Nelson’s work, close to 100 ovarian cancer patients in the Victoria area are donating tumour specimens and blood samples on a regular basis. These samples are being used to learn which tumour mutations are most strongly recognized by the immune system. It is expected that the first clinical trials of the ovarian cancer vaccine would be launched in three to five years.

It has been known for many years that cancers tend to accumulate mutations over time, and indeed some of these mutations are directly responsible for the aggressive ‘phenotype’ of cancerous cells. However, genomics technology has only now allowed researchers to fully exploit and amplify the natural process of the immune system in fighting foreign cells.

“As demonstrated by Dr Nelson’s work, and the tremendous work being done by other investigators, the investment being made by Genome BC is making a significant difference to the well-being of Canadians,” says Dr Alan Winter, president & CEO of Genome BC. “It will be very satisfying to see the tangible results from this work in as little as three years’ time.”

In addition to Dr Nelson’s project, four other projects are also being funded through this round of the Strategic Opportunities Fund, which are:

– Detecting and Characterizing Chimeric Transcripts in Mouse Tissues, a project by Drs Inanc Birol and Aly Karsan, of Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre. This group is working with RNA molecules and their connection to the underlying DNA sequence. Their findings will potentially have broad implications in our understanding of complexity in cell functions, as well as how genomic events with bad consequences start, especially in cancer cells through their project.

– The Vaccinomics for Animal Disease project is looking at developing a vaccine for Johne’s Disease, a disease that’s found in cattle and causes significant losses to Canadian beef and dairy farmers every year. This project is timely as currently there is no effective therapeutic intervention against Johne’s Disease. The project will be led by Dr Bob Hancock of UBC and Dr Andrew Potter from the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).

– Dr Paul Schaffer with TRIUMF at UBC, is leading the project Antisense PET Imaging of mRNA Expression Using F-18 Labeled CPP-PNA and CPP-Oligonucleotide Radiopharmaceuticals. His project aims to improve molecular imaging (MI) tools to help clinicians visualize and quantify genetic activity associated with a specific disease.

– Using Science, Technology and Society Studies Research to Move Genomics Discoveries from Bench to Bedside: Identification of Data Integration and Sociotechnical Issues Arising in Personalized Medicine & Translational Bioinformatics, is a new research project by Simon Fraser University’s Dr Ellen Balka. Her team seeks to demonstrate the value of science, technology and society studies in addressing applied problems facing BC’s genomics researchers and businesses. The results of which will help BC maintain a strategic position in realizing benefits from the data intensive genome sciences.