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Keeping normal cells healthy, reducing negative side-effects of chemo-drugs are aims of team developing better therapeutics for patients

This project has been completed

Many chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancer result in tremendous toxicities for patients that can have many negative side effects - including some that are long-lasting - without ever actually curing the disease. Dr. Steven Jones’ TFRI funded PPG team is working to improve this reality for many patients and their clinicians.

“Chemotherapeutics are, in many cases, poisons that seem to affect the rapidly growing tumours more than normal cells,” says Dr. Jones, associate director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver. “We are trying to develop new ways of treating cancer patients to make drugs that are more targeted to the actual tumours, instead of poisoning both cancerous and normal cells.”

Cytotoxic effects from chemotherapy often have long-lasting consequences, including hair loss, nausea and vomiting, problems in the blood and bone marrow, and infertility.

Dr. Jones’ three-year PPG, which is funded in partnership with BioCanRx*, aims to identify protein markers on the surface of tumour cells that don’t exist in many normal tissues and cell types. Antibody drug conjugates will then be developed to bind only with these proteins and specifically target tumour cells, leaving the normal cells unharmed.

“The idea is that by attaching a drug to an antibody you’re specifically targeting it to a certain place or cell type in the body, decreasing the cytotoxic effects and increasing the concentration where you want it,” he adds.

An advantage to his team’s approach is they are not targeting any cancers in particular, says Dr. Jones. All data will be examined to determine the tumour type that has the best markers on it, making it most receptive to this method of treatment. Investigators on the project also come from the Centre for Drug Research and Development (BC) Brock University (ON), Simon Fraser University, and TRIUMF.

“I think this project encompasses the paradigms of personalized medicine,” says Dr. Jones. “Imagine a world where we could be identifying patients that have that particular markers, and then tailoring the specific antibody drug conjugate to that patient….It’s very exciting!"

*The TFRI has committed $1,500,000 to this project. In addition to this, BioCan Rx is providing $750,000 to the project, for a total award of $2,250,000.