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Research Highlight | June 01, 2018

Harmonizing T-cell production across multiple Canadian sites will potentially bring immunotherapy trials to more patients in more places

Ovarian cancer patients across Canada may soon have access to promising immunotherapy trials thanks to a new collaboration fostered by The Terry Fox Canadian Comprehensive Cancer Centres Network (TF4CN).

The collaboration, which is part of a TF4CN sub-project called Optimizing and Harmonizing Adoptive T-Cell Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer, is bringing together researchers from two of the country’s top immunotherapy labs to harmonize how they create T-cells, a type of white blood cell with cancer-fighting potential used in immunotherapy treatments.

“While for an outsider this may not seem like a very big deal, harmonizing our processes actually opens doors for fascinating new collaborations between the two teams that could have a real impact on patients,” said Dr. Brad Nelson (BC Cancer), a Victoria-based immunologist who co-leads the sub-project with Dr. Pamela Ohashi (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre) in Toronto. (Editor’s Note: the duo also works together on another TFRI-funded project called The Immunotherapy Network).

According to Dr. Nelson, harmonizing T-cell production across the two sites is important because it will let investigators from both centres administer clinical trials in the exact same way. This means they will be able to reach more patients in more places, and compare results in ways that will help improve treatments.

“Until now, we were pretty much siloed, which meant that trials could only occur in one centre,” said Dr. Nelson. “Our vision is that we will soon be able to do immunotherapy trials at different centres throughout the TF4CN network and generate data that is comparing apples to apples from centre to centre.”

This collaboration is one of four sub-projects that make up the TF4CN, a two-year pilot led by the TFRI that brings together investigators from Vancouver’s BC Cancer and Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine in Canada. The other three projects include genomic profiling for colorectal cancer, molecular imaging for prostate cancer, and the creation of an IT infrastructure that will allow researchers from both institutions to store, share and analyze “Big Data” derived from patients.

Launched in February of 2017, the TF4CN is the first major collaborative precision network project of its kind in Canada.  In June of 2018, a second network, the Montreal Cancer Consortium (MCC), was also launched. The idea is that these two networks will eventually link up, and serve as a model on which the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network will be built.

Dr. Nelson is excited about this prospect, as it will mean adding new centres to immunotherapy trials, giving hope to more ovarian cancer patients across Canada.

“If we pull this off, Canada would be one of the only places in the world that is organized this way for immunotherapy research,” he said.