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Team co-led by Sunnybrook Research Institute scientist awarded grant for cancer clinical trial

By Matthew Pariselli  •  Aug 22, 2019

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Dr. Helen MacKay and colleagues receive $1 million to personalize treatment for women with ovarian and breast cancers

Exactis Innovation has awarded a team co-led by Dr. Helen MacKay, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), a grant to support a multicentre clinical trial in cancer. Worth $1 million, the award will fund efforts to personalize treatment for women with ovarian and breast cancer.

Women with high-grade serous ovarian and triple-negative breast cancer, both of which come with a poor prognosis, have few therapeutic options. Co-led by Dr. Diane Provencher of Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM), the team will address this by evaluating a combination of therapies, with the goal of personalizing treatments. The trial will draw on research carried out in the labs of Dr. David Andrews, director of Biological Sciences at SRI, and Drs. Anne-Marie Mes-Masson and Francis Rodier of CHUM Research Centre.

“The trial Helen and her team will spearhead in partnership with Exactis is critical to improving precision oncology therapeutics,” says Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook. “Translating discovery into treatments that help patients live longer, healthier lives drives our research teams, and Helen is exemplary of this dedication,” he says.

“Dr. Provencher and I, together with the scientific leads for this project, Drs. Andrews, Mes-Masson and Rodier, are very excited to have the opportunity to bring our work into the clinic,” says MacKay, who is also the head of the division of medical oncology and hematology at Sunnybrook. “In combining a clinical trial with patient-derived ‘avatar’ models in the laboratory we hope to bring a new approach to personalizing treatment for women diagnosed with these cancers. We hope this will benefit not only women with breast and ovarian cancers, but be applicable to those diagnosed with other types of cancer,” she says.

Dr. Gerald Batist, chief medical officer of Exactis Innovation, champions the aims of MacKay and her team. “I am excited that the funding of this proposal will help bring together a world-class clinical research team to support access to an important clinical trial for Canadian patients. The therapeutic combination described in Dr. MacKay’s proposal integrates exciting recent preclinical evidence with a well-proven treatment paradigm and unites them in the Exactis Network research framework to provide access to precision oncology treatment for patients,” he says.

The trial will be open to patients at CHUM, Jewish General Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, Ottawa Hospital and Sunnybrook.

A panel of international experts in personalized medicine evaluated applications for the award from teams across Canada. The fund is made available through the Exactis Innovation Investigator-Initiated Trial Grant Competition.

Exactis Innovation, founded in 2014, is a not-for-profit organization. It is funded by the Canadian Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence and leading pharmaceutical, biotech, not-for-profit and research organizations. It manages a pan-Canadian network of 11 cancer care institutions via Personalize My Treatment (PMT), a patient registry that gathers clinical and molecular data to identify and contact patients whose cancer characteristics make them eligible for a clinical trial. More than 4,000 people with cancer are enrolled on PMT. Sunnybrook Research Institute is a lead molecular profiling site within the network.


In a nutshell

  • A research team co-led by Dr. Helen MacKay, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences at SRI, has received $1 million from Exactis Innovation to support a multicentre clinical trial.
  • The team will assess a combination of therapies in ovarian and breast cancer, with the aim of personalizing treatment for women with these forms of the disease.
  • The trial was born out of research done in two labs, including that of Dr. David Andrews, director of Biological Sciences at SRI.