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Translational cancer research programs share $52M funding


Toronto, ON – Numerous cancer research programs are sharing a total of $52 million in funding from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR). The funding focuses on key areas of translational research, including cancer stem cells, drug discovery, genomics, informatics and pathology.

“The funds announced today will help OICR researchers across Ontario continue to tackle some of the greatest challenges in cancer research,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, president and scientific director of OICR. “And because three [of the] programs funded today are supporting international initiatives, we are ensuring that OICR’s research findings contribute to large-scale research projects with global impact.”

The programs funded include:

Cancer Stem Cell Program: Led by Dr. John Dick at the University Health Network, the Cancer Stem Cell Program aims to better understand cancer stem cells by identifying and validating gene and protein signatures derived from leukemia, sarcoma, glioblastoma and other tumour types using genomics and other cutting-edge technologies.

Innovation in Target Validation Program: Led by Dr. Robert Rottapel at University Health Network, the objective of the program is to develop and deploy technologies to accelerate the identification and validation of new candidate targets against cancer, particularly ovarian cancer, using state-of-the-art high-throughput technologies.

Drug Discovery Program: Led by Dr. Rima Al-awar at OICR, the Drug Discovery Program identifies and validates new therapeutic targets for various cancers and participates in the development of new drugs aiming at these targets. The most advanced programs currently are focused on multiple myeloma and lymphoma.

Genome Technologies Program: Led by Dr. John McPherson at OICR, the Genome Technologies Program uses cutting-edge genomic technologies to characterize tumours and identify mutations by sequencing their DNA. The team focuses on pancreatic, prostate, breast and leukemic cancer in order to better understand the genetic events driving tumour development and growth and allow for more genes to be targeted with novel cancer treatments.

Informatics and Bio-computing Program: Led by Dr. Lincoln Stein at OICR, the goal of the Informatics and Bio-computing Program is to develop the sophisticated software needed to extract new information from large cancer data sets and to apply these methods to several OICR research projects. The resulting knowledge should lead to better care for patients with cancer through a deeper understanding of the genetic changes implicated in cancer development and progression, and of patient response to therapy.

IT infrastructure: Additional funds will go toward building the IT infrastructure that will help to support the next generation of cancer research and care in the province.

International Cancer Genome Consortium: IT infrastructure funds will also support the International Cancer Genome Consortium’s (ICGC) Data Coordination Centre (DCC). The ICGC was created to launch and coordinate a large number of research projects with the goal of unraveling the genomic changes present in many forms of cancer. The knowledge generated by the ICGC will lead to personalized cancer treatments.

The data produced by the ICGC project teams is housed on the ICGC website at www.icgc.org and is based at OICR. Almost 8,000 cancer genomes are currently in the ICGC database and are made rapidly available to qualified investigators around the world. As of June 2013, there are commitments from funding organizations in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America for 55 project teams in 15 jurisdictions to study more than 25,000 tumour genomes.

Transformative Pathology Program: Led by Dr. John Bartlett at OICR, the Transformative Pathology Program will advance the field of cancer personalized medicine by developing and validating new molecular diagnostic and biomarker approaches for breast cancer to better identify high risk patients and to understand the mechanism by which patients develop resistance to treatment. Training of the next generation of molecular pathologist and clinician scientists is also a central mission of this program.

Translational Research Initiatives

OICR integrates province-wide research teams and fosters collaborative efforts which are key to major achievements and have an impact on translational research. Funding will support two Translational Research Initiatives (TRIs). TRIs are led by an OICR program leader and are large collaborative efforts between several OICR programs and external partners.

One TRI is focused on pancreatic cancer and will capitalize on the International Cancer Genome Consortium’s effort to characterize the genome of pancreatic cancer. It will aim at developing a better understanding of the disease in order ultimately to address the high fatality rate of the disease.

The second TRI, Improved Management of Early Cancer (IMEC), focuses on developing new strategies (biomarkers, imaging technologies and others) to address the issue of over-diagnosis and over-treatment of early breast and prostate cancer.

Global Alliance to Enable the Responsible Sharing of Genomic and Clinical Data: More than 70 organizations worldwide are collaborating to establish a common international framework of international standards that will allow genomic and clinical data to be collected, managed and shared in an effective, responsible and interpretable manner.

Dr. Tom Hudson, OICR’s president and scientific director is one of the co-authors of the white paper that sets out the need for the framework of international standards as well as the goals and core principles of the alliance.

OICR is providing funds to support secretariat functions for the alliance under the leadership of Mr. Peter Goodhand, OICR’s Executive Lead, International Partnerships.