And the survey shows…

By Heather Blumenthal


That, broadly speaking, was the message that emerged from a consultation survey conducted by BioCanRx earlier this year as part of an effort to set research priorities through 2029.


The survey provided affirmation that BioCanRx’s decision back in 2015, when it was first established – to focus on translational research, bridging the gap between promising early-stage technologies and clinical evaluation – was the right decision, succeeding at removing the barriers that prevent the benefits of Canadian research being brought to patients as quickly as possible and should be continued.


With new funding secured that will carry BioCanRx to 2029, the organization sought guidance from stakeholders, who were asked what emerging technologies, topics or themes it should support, what kinds of clinical, social and economic impact (CSEI) projects it should focus on and how its core facilities could best support the development and application of cell therapies.


A total of 74 individuals responded to the survey questions, including researchers (both those funded by BioCanRx and those not), people with lived cancer experience, members of cancer charities, advocacy or research organizations, and industry, among others. Encouragingly, the survey found common responses among all these different groups of stakeholders, providing yet further confirmation of the value of, and support for, BioCanRx’s approach


Among the more specific findings respondents told BioCanRx it should:

  • keep calls for research proposals open and broad, to allow for all types of innovative cancer biotherapeutics research, with a focus on innovative therapies and emerging cancer immunotherapy approaches as well as enhancements in biomanufacturing.
  • support affordable access to GMP manufacturing for vectors, lentiviruses and cell products to help researchers translate their discoveries into clinical applications, in particular to support the further development of CAR-T therapies;
  • ensure that core facilities, with their existing infrastructure, are better integrated into funded projects;
  • maintain a patient-centred approach to research; and
  • include economic evaluations, early health technology assessments and regulatory and policy issues surrounding access to innovative treatments in Canada, with a particular focus on last-stage translational proposals, as areas for CSEI studies.


In addition, respondents were interested in exploring alternative pathways for cell therapy adoption within the healthcare system, beyond the existing pathways of commercialization and partnerships with biotech in pharmaceutical companies. The majority supported the idea that BioCanRx could play a “convenor” role in engaging with regulators and provinces to further explore these pathways.


This convenor role was seen as crucial to addressing the complexity and high cost of cell therapies and ensuring broader and more equitable patient access. Specific pathways mentioned included pilot programs, public-private partnerships, regulatory innovations and centralizing efforts to navigate, negotiate and create systems for affordable access to immunotherapies. This was seen as essential for Canada to lead in this field and provide patients with timely and effective treatments.


More than a quarter of survey respondents were patients or others with lived experience of cancer, reflecting their continuing engagement in BioCanRx’s work since the beginning. As well as supporting the responses of other stakeholders, they provided input on suggested areas of focus, such as pediatric and lung cancers. Their experiences have provided important context to funded research projects and their involvement, until now recommended, will be mandatory for all funded research projects moving forward.


The results of this consultation will help shape BioCanRx’s future calls for research proposals, including an open call expected to launch this summer.