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By stojdllab, Jul 10 2015 02:00PM

The Stojdl Lab's clinical trial, in one glorious infographic
The Stojdl Lab's clinical trial, in one glorious infographic

An immune-stimulating cancer-killing virus therapy has made its debut treating cancer patients in Ottawa, Canada.

The therapy was jointly developed by 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) and their respective research teams and colleagues. The clinical trial, which is funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and coordinated by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, is expected to enroll up to 79 patients at four hospitals across Canada.

The trial is designed to test two viruses, MG1MA3 and AdMA3, administered as either single or double treatments. MG1MA3 is derived from Maraba virus, which was identified as an oncolytic agent in 2006 by Dr. Stojdl and his team at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, Ottawa.

Dr. Stojdl described the process that led to this discovery: “We had gone looking for a "next generation" oncolytic virus by sifting through a panel of viruses identified all over the world. When the data started pouring in, Maraba jumped out as the most potent tumour killer we had ever seen.”

The second virus, AdMA3, is derived from a common cold virus called adenovirus, and has been developed as an immune-stimulating agent for combination cancer therapy by Dr. Lichty and Dr. Yonghong Wan at McMaster University, Hamilton.

Both of these viruses have been re-designed to bolt on extra hardware designed to stimulate the patient's own immune system against a protein called MAGE-A3. This protein acts as a beacon that lights up the patient's tumour to guide immune destruction. The Maraba virus also achieves an extra layer of anti-cancer activity by replicating inside many kinds of cancer cells and killing them directly.

A four-institute academic partnership has driven this technology to reach patients. The dual virus platform, designed between the CHEO RI, McMaster University and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) was developed into a clinical-grade drug using a world-class virus manufacturing infrastructure helmed by Dr. John Bell at the OHRI, and McMaster University, with support from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).

Dr. Stojdl thinks the four partners have now created a great cancer-fighting weapon. As he highlights, "A really difficult issue in cancer is dealing with a disease that morphs over time and in response to treatment. Having a therapy that can attack from multiple angles all at once is key to addressing this challenge. Our Maraba virus vaccine technology has proven to be a purpose built multi-purpose tumour killer that adds anti-cancer power without adding toxicity". He adds: "we, and our supporters, are thrilled to see this therapy finally start to reach cancer patients".

The founding scientists and their institutions, in co-operation with the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust, have also formed the biotechnology company, Turnstone Biologics, in order to engage the private sector and advance the development of these therapies into new clinical trials. As Dr. Stojdl highlighted, "We’re continuing to push very hard to develop a suite of biological therapies with the goal of launching similar trials tailored to other types of tumours, including brain cancer and several devastating childhood cancers". Dr. Bell and his colleagues also recently launched the $60M BioCanRx National Centres of Excellence network to advance research into cancer biotherapies and immunotherapies.

The trial is recruiting patients at sites across Canada, including the Ottawa Hospital (Ottawa), the Juravinski Cancer Centre (Hamilton), the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (Toronto) and the British Columbia Cancer Agency (Vancouver). It is primarily funded by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research; many other funding organizations have also 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, BioCanRx, Pancreatic Cancer Canada, and several philanthropic donors.

Image credits: somersault1824​, David Goodsell, Cronodon

The original press release is available on the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute website. Further details about the trial are available at clinicaltrials.gov. Patients wishing to participate in the trial should speak with their own oncologist and ask for a referral to one of the participating hospitals. Further details for patients at The Ottawa Hospital are available online.

You can find out more about the Stojdl lab on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube, or online at www.stojdllab.ca.

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