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Press Release | June 05, 2012

Canadian "dream team" to tackle deadly brain cancer with $8.2 million from The Terry Fox Research Institute

The Terry Fox Foundation and its partners in Alberta and across Canada

ATTENTION MEDIA: CALGARY - They are a "dream team" comprised of some of the country's top minds in cancer research. They are harnessing their talent and technologies to find new treatments for the most common and deadly form of brain cancer among adults with an $8.2 million investment from The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), The Terry Fox Foundation (TFF), Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Genome Canada, Genome BC and the BC Cancer Foundation.

The investment, one of the largest ever made in Canada to research glioblastoma, will give hope to the approximately 2,600 Canadians annually who face a grim future when they are diagnosed with the disease. With current treatment, survival is about 15 months.

"Today the Terry Fox Research Institute, The Terry Fox Foundation and our partners in Alberta and across Canada are providing a total of $8.2 million over five years to this pan-Canadian collaboration of scientists and clinician-scientists from Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. We are pleased to have so many funders supporting this great new team in its work to find new and effective treatments for this deadly disease. This is very important and necessary research," says Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI's president and scientific director.

TFRI and TFF are contributing nearly $3.1 million to the project with Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS) providing $2 million, Alberta Cancer Foundation providing $1.9 million, and Genome Canada investing $612,000. Genome BC is contributing $306,000 and the BC Cancer Foundation is investing $250,000.

The announcement is being made at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Medicine. Researchers there will lead the national initiative and receive $4.1 million to fuel their research.

For over three decades, glioblastoma treatment has remained largely unchanged. The research team is focusing on developing promising new drugs. Currently there is no drug development pipeline that brings potentially useful new agents to the clinic for testing against glioblastoma. This team will help to address that gap and projects that the first of the new drugs discovered from this research will be ready for clinical trials in two to four years.

"We at AIHS are proud that our scientists and clinical scientists are leading this powerful national collaboration," says Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions CEO Dr. Jacques Magnan. "By pooling the considerable talents and expertise of a team of cancer biologists, neurologists and cancer specialists, we can better tackle this devastating disease."

"This is a deadly disease with so few treatment options that we are extremely pleased to be investing in a collaborative and focused research strategy that we believe will make a difference for patients," says Myka Osinchuk, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. "We are excited to be part of a national project that will push the pace of discovery, right here in Alberta."

"Today we are showing how the power of team work, 21st century technology and innovation - our very best research traits - combine to take on a deadly disease that strikes too many people much too soon," says Pierre Meulien, PhD, President and CEO of Genome Canada. "Only through our ability to advance the latest technology developments to the clinical setting can we demonstrate how genomics can help improve cancer survival."

Dr. Gregory Cairncross, head of the department of clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary and holder of the Alberta Cancer Foundation Chair in Brain Tumor Research, will lead the project. "There is nothing more personal than your brain. Although we've made some progress in treating glioblastoma, it has not been dramatic. This is a disease where survival is measured in months," says Dr. Cairncross. "Our team integrates researchers and centres in Canada with different and complementary strengths and we've come together to focus on the illness itself. We don't see any other way forward other than through research because there seems to be no way to prevent glioblastoma. We have a chance to make a difference and we are hopeful that we will."

The Alberta team involved in the project, led by co-investigators Samuel Weiss, PhD (University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute) and Stephen Robbins, PhD (University of Calgary's Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute and Clark H. Smith Brain Tumour Research Centre) and their colleagues, are focused on developing and providing laboratory cell models that closely resemble, from a molecular and microscopic perspective, glioblastoma tumours. Using tumours obtained from patients, the team is successfully growing brain tumour initiating cells (BTICs) in the laboratory that retain the genetic makeup of their cancer, thereby setting the stage for this new TFRI program.

Researchers in British Columbia and Ontario will analyse models of glioblastoma from the Alberta group to determine their molecular genetic composition and to target compounds that might help control tumour growth and development. The goal is to identify new drugs to test in the clinic on different brain tumour subtypes, advancing toward personalizing treatment for this form of cancer.

In Vancouver, Dr. Marco Marra (BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre, the University of British Columbia) will lead the genome analyses with co-investigators at the BC Cancer Agency's Genome Sciences Centre. In Ontario, University of Toronto researcher Dr. David Kaplan (The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)) will oversee the laboratory work where thousands of potentially helpful drugs will be screened for activity against BTICs from Calgary. Also in Ontario, Dr. Warren Mason (University Health Network) will lead the human clinical trials in association with the NCIC Clinical Trials Group and clinical colleagues at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and BC Cancer Agency. The British Columbia and Ontario teams will share the remainder of the funding.

Other partners involved in the project include: Genome Alberta, the University of British Columbia, the BC Cancer Agency, SickKids (Toronto), Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto) the University Health Network (Toronto), the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the University of Toronto, and the NCIC-Clinical Trials Group.

Dr. Cairncross says inherited genes and the aging process likely play a role but that there is currently no way to modify the risk of getting glioblastoma, most often diagnosed in older adults. "It's not an illness over which we have much control. One can't avoid it. It comes out of the blue, often to people who are previously healthy, just minding their own business."

About The Terry Fox Research Institute
Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the research arm of The Terry Fox Foundation. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with over 50 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada as MOU partners. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, BC.

About The Terry Fox Foundation
The Terry Fox Foundation maintains the vision and principles of Terry Fox while raising money for cancer research through the annual Terry Fox Run, National School Run Day and other fundraising initiatives. To date, over $600 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry Fox's name. The first Terry Fox Run was held in 1981, with The Terry Fox Foundation being created in 1988. Its national headquarters are located in Chilliwack, BC and it has offices in 9 provinces.

About The University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction - "Eyes High" - to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, grounded in innovative learning and teaching and fully integrated with the community of Calgary.
For more information, visit

About Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions
AIHS is a publicly funded corporation with a vision to transform health and well being through research and innovation. We provide leadership for Alberta's health research and innovation enterprise by funding and fostering research and innovation. Alberta's Health Research and Innovation Strategy provides the framework for how we provide support in three core areas: highly skilled people; knowledge translation; and innovation platforms (systems to optimize the impact of research).

About The Alberta Cancer Foundation
The Alberta Cancer Foundation is Alberta's own. It was established to advance cancer research province-wide and to directly support Alberta's 17 cancer centres, including the Cross Cancer Institute and Tom Baker Cancer Centre. The Alberta Cancer Foundation acts on the knowledge that a cancer-free future is achievable and that when we get there depends on the focus and energy we put to it today.

About Genome Canada
Genome Canada is a non-profit corporation employing an innovative business model based on funding and managing large-scale, multidisciplinary, internationally peer-reviewed genomics research projects in areas such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, the environment and human health.
For more information, visit

About Genome BC
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $550M in research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada.

About BC Cancer Foundation
The BC Cancer Foundation is the bridge that connects philanthropic support and research breakthroughs in cancer knowledge. As the fundraising partner of the BC Cancer Agency and the largest charitable funder of cancer research in this province, we enable donors to make contributions to leading-edge research that has a direct impact on improvements to cancer care for patients in British Columbia. We fund with the goal of finding solutions.


For more information, contact:

Kelly Curwin
Chief Communications Officer
Terry Fox Research Institute
778-237-8158 (cell)

Marta Cyperling
Media Relations Manager
UCalgary Faculty of Medicine

Karen Thomas
Media Relations Specialist
Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions
1-877-423-5727 x 225
1-403-651-1112 (cell)

Phoebe Dey
Communications Manager
Alberta Cancer Foundation
780-700-6120 (cell)

Marlene Orton
Genome Canada
Director, Media and Communications
(613) 751-4460 ext./poste 119
(613) 295-1476 (Cell/Cellule)

Julia White
Communications Officer
Genome British Columbia
Allison Colina
Communications Specialist
BC Cancer Foundation
604-802-6984 (cell)

Doris Sun
Communications Officer - BC Cancer Agency
Provincial Health Services Authority
604-675-8257; 778-877-6643 (cell)

Suzanne Gold
Senior Communications Specialist - Media Relations
Communications & Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
416-813-7654 ext. 2059

Jane Finlayson
Senior Public Affairs Advisor
Princess Margaret Hospital
University Health Network

Jim Oldfield
Communications Officer
Office of Strategy, Communications and External Relations
University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine