Last night, CBC TV’s The National introduced its audience to a novel clinical trial currently underway in Canada. The trial has been partially enabled by support from BioCanRx to manufacture the engineered viruses being given to the study’s participants.
The clinical trial is testing a new investigational therapy called oncolytic virus immunotherapy, which was jointly discovered and developed by three BioCanRx investigators, Dr. David Stojdl (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, University of Ottawa), Dr. Brian Lichty (McMaster University) and Dr. John Bell (The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa). A partnership of these academic institutions plus the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research forms the basis of Turnstone Biologics Inc., a start-up company that is working to commercialize the biotechnology innovation.
Oncolytic virus immunotherapy uses two viruses in sequence. For this particular trial, researchers first engineer a version of the common cold that primes the immune system to recognize a specific protein found on most solid tumours. The second virus — the Maraba virus, which is isolated from Brazilian sandflies and also engineered with the same protein as the cold virus — seeks out, infects and kills cancer cells, while also revealing the cancer to the immune system and stimulating an anti-cancer immune response.
The phase I/II clinical trial featured in The National’s item is expected to enroll up to 79 patients at four hospitals across Canada. Up to 24 patients will receive one of the viruses and the rest will receive both, two weeks apart. At the time of this posting, the trial was not in need of any more patient volunteers and had waiting lists. (For up-to-date information on the trial’s status at The Ottawa Hospital, please see: Information for cancer patients about oncolytic virus therapy.)
BioCanRx has funded four projects that are developing variants of this oncolytic virus immunotherapy approach:
- Clinical Trial to test the oncolytic vaccine approach in combination with checkpoint inhibitor antibodies
- Combining oncolytic vaccine therapy with adoptive cell therapy to target cancers expressing MAGE-A3
- Advanced preclinical development of the oncolytic vaccine platform to prepare requirements for a clinical trial of patients with HPV-associated cancers
- Development of an oncolytic vaccine for brain cancer
While this trial is primarily funded by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, many other funding organizations have supported the research of Drs. Bell, Lichty and Stojdl, including The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, CHEO Foundation, Canadian Cancer Society, Terry Fox Research Institute, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, Angels of Hope, Pancreatic Cancer Canada, NAV Canada and several philanthropic donors.
BioCanRx has provided funding to manufacture the viruses for use in the clinical trial and support the infrastructure needed to produce the pharmaceutical-grade viruses.
Information for cancer patients about oncolytic virus therapy, The Ottawa Hospital
About biotherapeutics, from BioCanRx
Areas of research: oncolytic viruses, from BioCanRx
Dr. John Bell response to first FDA approval of a cancer-killing virus therapy
Oncolytic viruses: North American scientists test new therapy to fight cancer
Canadian study to use two cancer-fighting viruses in world first
Ottawa Hospital launches world’s first clinical trial of double-virus cancer treatment, Ottawa Citizen
Media release: Cancer Patients treated in world first clinical trial of Canadian viral therapy
McMaster partners in world-first clinical trial of Canadian viral therapy, McMaster University