Biotechnology Focus

Bio Focus Feb/March 2017

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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oncology comBining strengths to fight cancer i t's been nearly 50 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer. Since then, some battles have been won, others lost. But the traditional weaponry – chemotherapy and radiation – while refined and improved, is still carrying the brunt of battle duty. In recent years, these two warhorses have been joined by a powerful new weapon. The most promising new approach to cancer to emerge, immunotherapy enlists the patients' own immune systems to fight their cancer. It's an exciting field, with new therapeutic ap- proaches being rapidly developed. BioCanRx was created to build on these dis- coveries and approaches, to help them reach the clinic, where they can save lives as quickly as possible. In Toronto, for instance, Dr. Pa- mela Ohashi of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has developed a novel method of tak- ing tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), a form of T-cells, from patients, growing them in the lab with dendritic cells, another kind of immune cell, and returning them to the patient, where they can attack ovarian cancer tumours. Now, the world's first clinical trial to use this type of adoptive cell therapy, as it is known, for ovarian cancer is giving women who are no longer responsive to conventional treatment another option. But there still remain challenges to the widespread implementation of immunother- apy. It is now clear that even within a single patient, cancer is a genetically complex and heterogeneous disease. Its ability to evolve during therapy coupled with its propensity to shroud itself with an immunosuppressive cloak makes metastatic or widespread cancers essentially incurable with the current thera- pies available to the oncologist. However, our immune systems have the "potential" to evolve in lock-step with the cancer and rec- ognize novel tumor specific antigens as they appear during progression from a normal cell to a malignant cancer. Strategies need to be developed to exploit the ability of our immune systems to recognize foreign cancer antigens while at the same time finding ways to overcome the barriers that tumours set up to block immune cell activity. Scientists within the BioCanRx Network believe that it is not sufficient to attack each of these barriers on its own. Our approach is to develop novel combination strategies creating a multi-faceted attack on cancer to enable immune recognition and destruction of tumours wherever they hide in the body. That's why, today, we are focusing our funding on exactly that – research into com- bination therapies that together are stronger than the sum of their parts. For example: • Dr. Julian Lum and his colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency are combining radioactive BioCanrx supports the translation of key immunotherapy discoveries to the clinic 22 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS Februar y/March 2017 | By Dr. John Bell

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