Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Innovation Acceleration Fund Announces New Recipients of Funding in Support of Early Stage Technology Development

The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation’s Innovation Acceleration Fund (IAF) Leadership Board has announced the first three funded projects of 2019.  The IAF was established by The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in collaboration with University Health Network’s Technology Development and Commercialization Office in January 2016 to help investigators at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre accelerate their early-stage research discoveries towards commercialization.  The fund provides a maximum of $250,000 per proposal, helping to take novel technologies from bench-to-bedside. The three selected projects of this round include:

Preclinical Testing of Novel TCR-based Treatment for Cancer

Dr. Naoto Hirano, a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, was selected for an additional round of IAF funding to support the commercialization of an immunotherapy-driven novel HLA/antigen-specific immune T cell, to address Synovial Sarcoma (SS).

Synovial Sarcoma, most prevalent in young adults in their 30s, is a rare cancer occurring in the extremities, joints and tendon sheaths, and is the 3rd most common soft tissue sarcoma, comprising 5-10% of all cases.  Current treatments are limited to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy; with these, the 5-year survival rate is only 50%, proving a substantial unmet need for more effective treatment.

The $250k Innovation Acceleration Fund investment will be used by Dr. Hirano and his team to conduct essential in vivo preclinical experiments in mouse models to validate the efficacy of the identified TCR genes and advance them to clinical development. Once proven in SS, the team hopes to expand this approach to treat other cancers.

Antioxidation Activity Inhibitors for Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Dr. Marianne Koritzinsky, Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and her team were chosen for IAF support for on the development of a novel therapeutic for pancreatic cancer, which is one of the deadliest solid malignancies and has one of the highest unmet needs in oncology.

Pancreatic cancer incidence is increasing at 2% per year, and has a survival rate of approximately 7%, which has seen little improvement in the last decade.  Pancreatic cancer is expected to soon surpass breast cancer as the second leading cause of cancer-related death-- more than 60% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at a late stage, half of which have metastatic disease; and only 20% of diagnosed cases are eligible for surgery – which is currently the only curative option.  Unfortunately, currently approved and marketed therapies only result in marginal improvement of survival period.

Dr. Koritzinsky and her team have discovered a promising potential drug target, a molecule used by cancer cells to protect themselves from oxidative damage. While normal cells appear unaffected by the loss of this anti-oxidative molecule, Dr. Koritzinsky’s team has shown that it’s loss causes cancer cells to die and tumors to shrink when tested in mice.  The target also shows promise for treatment in other cancer types, including ovarian and head and neck cancers.

With the funds awarded by the IAF, the team will pursue the identification of a small molecule inhibitor for the target that can be further developed into a lead compound for further testing.

ExoMiR Prostate: The World’s First Blood Test to Guide Treatment Decisions in Prostate Cancer

Dr. Neil Fleshner, Clinician-scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and his team have been advanced $150K from the IAF to continue development of a liquid biopsy test which will guide clinical decisions in patients diagnosed with prostate cancer.  The ExoMiR Prostate blood test could replace biopsies for annual follow-up for the 1 in 7 Canadian men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer and second leading cause of death in men worldwide, with approximately 1.1 million new cases each year, and over 300,000 deaths annually.  Currently, there are two approaches to prostate cancer treatment: definitive therapy requiring a radical prostatectomy and/or radiation therapy, or the more conservative approach of active surveillance.

Follow-up of patients by active surveillance currently requires an invasive annual 12-core biopsy; approximately 30% of patients managed by active surveillance are subsequently reclassified as high risk, and undergo surgery or radiotherapy.  However, there are no reliable criteria currently available to guide decision making as to the best treatment approach for each patient at any given time. Using Dr. Fleshner’s innovation, patients would simply undergo an annual blood test, the results of which would provide information as to relapse probability as well as aggressiveness of the entire tumor, not just the biopsy core. This information would enable clinicians to more reliably subject patients to aggressive treatment such as surgery, or allow continued monitoring.

The team will use the IAF investment to conduct market and health economics research, and other preparations for regulatory filings and approval. This support will help the technology progress from a highly effective lab test to an inexpensive, simple-to-perform patient blood test that can guide decision making and greatly improve management of prostate cancer in patients on active surveillance.