Funding announcement: BioCanRx gives boost to cell-tracking research

Schulich Medicine & Dentistry researchers Paula Foster and Greg Dekaban are one step closer to being the first in Canada to use MRI cell-tracking in humans to determine the fate of cell-based immunotherapies for cancer. Thanks to a grant from BioCanRx announced today, the team at Robarts Research Institute will be able to move their research into human trials.

“This funding is essential to moving our research forward,” said Dekaban. “Having an organization like BioCanRx willing to support this kind of work and help move projects from pre-clinical into the clinical stage is immensely important and beneficial to research groups such as ours.”

Recently, immune-based therapies have been developed that control cancer progression by using injected immune cells that have been loaded with a tumor antigen. Those loaded cells activate the body’s own immune response in order to specifically target and kill tumor cells.

Dekaban and Foster are using a cell-labelling agent that allows them to track the movement of these injected therapeutic cells in the body using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This provides a non-invasive way to see in real-time whether the injected cells reached their target, and whether there is a large enough number of them to create the intended response.

The idea is that it might eventually allow physicians to assess the viability of the therapy in each patient and adjust treatment accordingly.

The project is one of 16 collaborative research projects funded through an $11 million investment by BioCanRx. BioCanRx’s research program invests in late-stage preclinical and translational research projects that will develop the most promising cancer biotherapies.

“BioCanRx is committed to investing in collaborative research projects aimed at improving the health and lives of thousands of Canadians currently living with cancer,” said Ken Newport, the Chair of BioCanRx Board of Directors, in a news release.

The team at Robarts received $89,000 from BioCanRx and its partners in order to complete safety testing and validation of the technology and compile and submit a clinical trial application to Health Canada by May of this year.