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Research Highlight | November 13, 2014

Glioblastoma team makes good progress with nine compounds in the pipeline

Cairncross_GregoryCalgary, Alberta -- Glioblastoma (GBM) is a deadly adult brain cancer that has eluded major treatment advances. Our Terry Fox pan-Canadian project, led by Dr. Gregory Cairncross at the University of Calgary (UofC), brings together some of Canada’s top researchers to develop and deliver new drugs to patients.

The project benefits from the talents of some of the top scientists and clinicians in Canada, while capitalizing on the resources of our research partners. With drug screening occurring at The Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, Ontario, pre-clinical testing here at the University of Calgary, Alberta, and genome sequencing at the BC Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver, BC, the project is well-placed to reach its goals.

As project manager, I am based at the UofC and act as the project’s focal point. Ensuring regular dialogue and information flow between all of the researchers who are working on different parts of the project is a key role for me. I also closely monitor our project goals, operations, milestones, and budget, and update our funders regularly on progress and finances.

Our researchers use an extensive collection of human brain tumour initiating cells, developed here in the lab of co-principal investigator Dr. Sam Weiss. These cell lines are being tested against known and new drugs to find new therapies. As a complementary strategy, the cell lines and the tumours from which they were taken are having their genomes sequenced. This enables us to search for new therapeutic targets and increase our understanding of the genetic basis of GBM.

Now in our third year, we have nine lead compounds (potential new drugs) at various stages in the drug 'pipeline'. Four of these compounds are being tested in pre-clinical studies at UofC, with results expected shortly. We have developed a close relationship with the National Cancer Institute of Canada’s Clinical Trials Group (Queen’s University, Ontario) so any compounds that prove successful can rapidly move into clinical studies.

Genome sequencing has been completed on 55 cell-line genomes and 46 tumour genomes. Our bioinformatics team (who use mathematics and computer programs to study biological data) is analyzing this data to look for new therapeutic targets, as well as to correlate the data with drug screening results, to predict drug responses based on genomic changes in the cells. Our team continues to work exceptionally well together. The project has evolved to ensure that information, data, and experimental discussion flow seamlessly, regardless of the distances between team members.

Recently, UofC’s Terry’s CAUSE on Campus team held their annual Terry Fox Run. This year’s run was in memory of Andrew Szpecht, a student here who died of glioblastoma in 2012, just months before our research project started. Currently we are on target or ahead of our milestones and it is stories like Andrew’s that give inspiration to our team as we work toward our goals.

Optimism within our whole team remains high that the program’s objective will be reached, and new drug therapies for GBM will be discovered that will improve tumour control and quality of life for patients with this disease.

Michael Blough 
Project Manager 
TFRI Translational Cancer Research Project in Modelling and Therapeutic Targeting of the Clinical and Genetic Diversity of Glioblastoma