Innovation Spotlight

Tumour Immunotherapy Program

Canada's most comprehensive immune therapy program

The Tumour Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre draws from the basic science and clinical strengths of one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world. 

 

It is currently the most comprehensive Immune Therapy Program in Canada.
 

Learn more about how The Princess Margaret is leading the way:
What is Immune Therapy?
First Clinical Trial in Canada of Adoptive T-Cell Therapy
Leaders in Treatment using "Checkpoint Blockade"
Testing a Broad Spectrum of Cancer Vaccines
"Teaching" New T-cells How to Attack Tumour Cells 
Leading features of Immune Therapy at The Princess Margaret

 

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What is Immune Therapy? 

Immune Therapy is based on the principle of using the body’s own immune system to combat disease.  

Although our bodies can attack many of the germs that we encounter, our immune system is often unable to fight cancer by itself.  Many people with healthy immune cells are still diagnosed with cancer.  Yet, it has been shown that treatments that manipulate the immune system can assist in controlling cancer.  

The type of strategy (or combination of strategies) that turns out to be the most effective will depend on the type of cancer and the individual patient. Our goal is to carefully evaluate each patient and develop a personalized cancer treatment plan, which would strategically include the most suitable combination therapies.  

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First Clinical Trial in Canada of Adoptive T-cell Therapy

In 2013, Drs. Pamela Ohashi, Linh Nguyen and Marcus Butler at The Princess Margaret opened the first clinical trial in Canada using a specific kind of Immune Therapy called “Adoptive T-cell Therapy”.  

WHAT IS ADOPTIVE T-CELL THERAPY? 


Adoptive T-cell Therapy

In Adoptive T-cell Therapy, T-cells from a sample of the patient’s cancer are isolated in the laboratory. T-cells are the chief type of immune cell that can directly attack and destroy cells that are infected with viruses. T-cells can also attack and destroy cancer cells.  

Scientists then use growth stimulants to dramatically increase the number of these anti-tumour T-cells and then transfer them back into the patient. T-cells that are found right inside tumours often have a “built-in” ability to kill off cancer cells, but often are too few in number to efficiently kill the tumour.

The goal is, in many ways, to provide a larger army (or a larger number of soldiers) to fight the tumour in the hopes of launching a stronger immune attack against the patient’s cancer. 



Adoptive T-cell Therapy is a truly personalized medicine since the T-cells are matched to each individual patient. The complex technology needed to produce T-cells for clinical use can only be developed in comprehensive cancer centres like The Princess Margaret.


OUR LEADERS
Dr. Pam Ohashi Dr. Pam Ohashi
Director, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Co-Director, The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Dr. Linh Nguyen

Dr. Linh Nguyen
Head, Translational Immunotherapy Laboratory

 
Dr. Marcus Butler Dr. Marcus Butler
Medical Oncologist

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Leaders in Treatment Using “Checkpoint Blockade”


There are many types of cells and molecules that act to inhibit the T-cell response, just like the brakes in a car.  This can be useful in some situations.  In the case of Immune Therapy for cancer treatment, however, these “brakes” are not desirable. Part of Immune Therapy is aimed at discovering ways to “release” these brakes, so that we can unleash the power of T-cells to effectively destroy cancer cells.
 

What is Checkpoint Blockade?

 

What is checkpoint blockade? The points at which the brakes are applied are called “checkpoints.”  Checkpoint Blockade is a type of Immune Therapy which blocks these checkpoints, which releases the brakes and gives a “go” signal so that T-cells can continue to effectively attack the cancer until it is completely gone.  This approach has been tested with impressive results as a form of treatment for certain cancers. 

Drs. David Hogg, Anthony Joshua, Marcus Butler, Pam Ohashi, Lillian Siu, and Natasha Leighl are leading their teams of world-class researchers at the frontier of this approach.

OUR LEADERS
Dr. David Hogg Dr. David Hogg
Medical Oncologist
Dr. Anthony Joshua Dr. Anthony Joshua
Medical Oncologist
Dr. Marcus Butler Dr. Marcus Butler
Medical Oncologist
Dr. Pam Ohashi Dr. Pam Ohashi
Director, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Co-Director, The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Dr. Lillian Siu Dr. Lillian Siu
Co-Director, BRAS Drug Development Program
Director, Phase I Clinical Trials Program
Dr. Natasha Leighl Dr. Natasha Leighl
Medical Oncologist

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Testing a Broad Spectrum of Cancer Vaccines

Testing cancer vaccines at The Princess Margaret

 


The goal of cancer vaccines is to alert T-cells to the presence of cancer and to initiate a strong T-cell response against the tumour. There are different ways that this can be achieved. For instance, Dr. Amit Oza is leading a clinical trial using the vaccine DPX-Survivac for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

In another example, Dr. Jeffrey Medin has established the expertise to alter viruses so that they can potentially be used as cancer vaccines. Working with Dr. Christopher Paige, Senior Scientist and Vice President of Research at UHN, and Medical Oncologists Drs. Mark Minden and Andre Schuh, Dr. Medin has made viruses which secrete molecules called cytokines which tip off the immune system that cancer cells are present. A clinical trial to test this vaccine in patients with acute myeloid leukemia is currently being designed.

OUR LEADERS
Dr. Amit Oza Dr. Amit Oza
Director, Cancer Clinical Research Unit
Co-Director, BRAS Drug Development Program
Dr. Jeffrey Medin Dr. Jeffrey Medin
Senior Scientist, University Health Network
Dr. Chris Paige Dr. Christopher Paige
Vice President, Research, University Health Network 
Senior Scientist
Dr. Mark Minden Dr. Mark Minden
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Dr. Andre Schuh Dr. Andre Schuh
Director, Clinical Services for Malignant Hematology
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre


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"Teaching" new T-cells how to attack tumour cells

As mentioned, T-cells found inside tumours often have a “built-in” ability to kill off cancer cells.  However, some tumours may not have any T-cells in them, or the T-cells found may not be “fit” enough to multiply in the laboratory setting.  But what if we could “teach” new T-cells to attack tumour cells? Following this idea, Drs. Naoto Hirano and Marcus Butler have developed a biological tool called artificial Antigen-Presenting Cells (APCs). 

What are artificial APCs?

In order for T-cells to be fully equipped to mount a strong immune response, they require “go” signals from a specialized population of immune cells called antigen-presenting cells (APCs). Artificial APCs have been developed as a biological tool to “teach” new T-cells how to recognize and attack cancer cells. This approach was proven by Drs. Hirano and Butler while they were at Harvard Medical School.

Once “taught”, these “educated” T-cells were given to patients in a clinical trial of “Adoptive T-cell Therapy”.  No drugs were given to patients during the treatment, which meant that patients were able to avoid hospitalization and instead could be treated safely as outpatients.  Drs. Hirano and Butler have brought their expertise to The Princess Margaret to create new and more potent cancer-targeting T-cells that have been “educated” by specialized artificial APCs.  
 
OUR LEADERS
Dr. Naoto Hirano Dr. Naoto Hirano
Associate Director for Research, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Dr. Marcus Butler Dr. Marcus Butler
Medical Oncologist

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Leading features of the Tumour Immunotherapy Program at The Princess Margaret

Cutting-edge research expertise spanning from basic immunology discoveries though clinical trials of Immune Therapies.
Established technologies to produce various types of T-cells for clinical use that can destroy cancer cells.
Dedicated team of researchers for detailed analysis of patients’ immune responses against cancer.
World-class teams to support all aspects of the development and implementation of clinical trials.
Access to agents sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program for use in early phase clinical trials.
Large patient population size, allowing the evaluation of Immune Therapies in many different types of cancers and individuals.
A specialized facility for manufacturing cell products for clinical use under "Good Manufacturing Practices" (GMP). 
Participation in a wide variety of industry-sponsored clinical trials. 
Extensive, proven expertise in drug development and conduct of practice changing trials. 
Full repertoire of complementary modalities (chemotherapy, clinical genomics, epigenetics) to enable rapid testing of combination therapies.


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For more information, please contact:  
Shannon Stuart, CFRE
Senior Campaign Director
The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation 
Tel: 416.946.6571
Email: shannon.stuart@thepmcf.ca

Read more about our innovative research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.