New $25-Million National Cancer Network Includes OVC Profs

Two University of Guelph scientists are part of a new $25-million national research network of experts developing novel biotherapeutics for cancer.

Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) professors Byram Bridle and Paul Woods are the only two veterinary researchers involved in the BioCanRx Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) announced today by Ed Holder, federal minister of state for industry.

The network involves 42 researchers from 17 academic institutions, as well as researchers from 27 private-sector and community partners. The NCE will receive funding from the three federal granting agencies – the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — as well as from Industry Canada.

“Our involvement in this NCE confirms Guelph’s position among other Canadian institutions as a leader in cancer research,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

“This project highlights our unique infrastructure and expertise, notably the use of state-of-the-art therapies to treat cancers in companion animals. U of G will also contribute to Canada’s knowledge-based economy through the training of scientists and veterinarians in cancer biotherapy.”

Bridle and Woods, a veterinary cancer specialist at OVC’s Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer and co-director of Guelph’s Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation, belong to the NCE’s “launch project” on synthetic antibody therapy. They will make novel canine-specific antibodies designed to prompt a patient’s immune system to kill tumours.

They will test this approach in dogs with melanoma at OVC’s animal cancer centre. That work will help in designing human clinical trials.

“We’re excited that testing of novel cancer biotherapeutics in companion animals has been deemed a priority for this large national collaboration,” said Bridle, a viral immunologist in the Department of Pathobiology.

“Dogs suffering from otherwise incurable cancer will have access to very promising new treatments. By developing more effective and safer cancer therapies in dogs, we hope to apply results to improve the quality of life in human patients with the same cancers. It is yet another way in which dogs will serve as ‘man’s best friend.’”

Dogs share the human environment, including exposure to the same cancer-causing agents, Bridle said. “They also spontaneously develop cancers like we do, with almost identical clinical problems. Cancers in companion animals are very similar to the human version of the disease. The goal of this research is to develop safe, short-term and cost-effective ways to treat cancers for the mutual benefit of animals and people”

Another NCE launch project is based on Bridle’s earlier research combining two biotherapies to target cancer cells anywhere in the body.

The NCE scientific director is John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and its chief executive officer is Drew Lyall, formerly executive director of the Canadian Stem Cell Network.

“As an early career faculty member, I am excited about being able to work side-by-side with world-renowned leaders in the field of cancer biotherapy,” Bridle said. “The mentorship opportunities offered by senior researchers will be extremely valuable.”