Two Researchers at Université de Montréal’s IRIC are each Awarded Major Multi-year Personalized Healthcare Research Grants from Génome Canada/Génome Québec

Seed fundings from IRICoR to Dr. Claude Perreault’s project on cancer immunotherapy and to Dr. Guy Sauvageau’ project on new tools for diagnosing and treating acute myeloid leukemia lead to multimillion dollar investments to advance innovative personalized cancer therapeutics 

Montreal, April 17, 2013 –Genome Quebec has announced two 4-year multi-million dollar grants awarded to Drs Claude Perreault and Guy Sauvageau, both principal investigators at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of Université de Montréal (UdeM) and practicing clinicians at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (HMR), a reference center in hematology-oncology.  The two projects developed by IRIC scientists with the support of UdeM’s drug development and commercialization unit, IRICoR (IRIC-Commercialization of Research) have been approved for funding through the Large Scale Applied Research Competition in Personalized Medicine.

Both IRIC projects address the key health issue of hematologic cancers (HCs, commonly called ‘blood cancers’) which represent about 10% of all cancers. The lifetime risk of developing an HC is 5% and the number of new cases of HCs in Canada is 16,000/year (incidence). No known measures can be taken to prevent these cancers and while about 50% of patients with HC can be cured by chemotherapy, 50% are resistant to chemotherapy and are likely to die from HC. For these patients, stem cell transplant (previously called ‘bone marrow transplant’) is the sole curative treatment. Unfortunately, conventional transplantation induces only an attenuated reaction against cancer cells and relapse is frequent. In addition this effect lacks specificity and can be highly toxic, inducing a severe immune reaction that is frequently lethal.

Dr Perreault’s project aims to overcome these two major limitations of stem cell transplantation to offer new hope for patients with HCs that are resistant to chemotherapy. In one arm of the study, Dr Perreault’s team will use gene expression profiling to develop a test that could be used in the clinic to identify donors that represent the lowest risk for the patient. The second arm of the study, aims to dramatically improve the curative efficacy of transplant by using immune cells already trained to recognize the patient’s cancer cells. Dr Perreault and his colleague Dr. Denis-Claude Roy, an Associate Investigator at IRIC and Head of the Research Institute of HMR, will develop a new form of immunotherapy in which immune cells from the donor will be harvested and ‘trained’ in the laboratory to recognize specific protein markers on the patient’s leukemic cells before being injected in the patient.

“We are very confident that with this support from Génome Canada and Génome Québec we can significantly reduce the risk of stem cell transplant to patients and improve its effectiveness, thus making it an option for many patients who cannot currently benefit from this life saving procedure” confirms Dr. Perreault.

Dr Sauvageau’s project aims to develop novel tools for comprehensive classification of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) patients in order to improve prognostic accuracy and guide the choice of treatment options available.  AMLis diagnosed in approximately 13,000 new patients in Canada and the US each year and the overall survival rate is only ~20%. Current prognostic tests remain inaccurate for risk assessment and therapy guidance in most AMLpatients, with important consequences for them, their families and the health care system. Researchers involved in this project, including Dr. Josée Hébert, Associate Investigator at IRIC and Director of the Cytogenetics Laboratory and the Leukemia Cell Bank of Québec at HMR, will use personalized DNA sequence data from AML patients to develop a more predictive model based on the genetic make-up of their tumor. The second goal of this project is to develop better methods for tracking the small number of residual disease cells that often remain after a patient is treated, and which can lead to a relapse.

According to Dr Sauvageau, “A large scale multi-facetted project like this one is only possible because of the strong commitment of Genome Canada and Génome Québec to personalized medicine and the dedication of our multidisciplinary team of scientists and physicians at IRIC and HMR. We are extremely fortunate to have both and we look forward to significantly improved outcomes for our patients.”

At the end of the 4-year grant period, both projects are set to lead to novel therapeutic approaches resulting in significant benefits for patients and to multi-million dollar health care cost savings per year. These projects also illustrate the importance of original funding mechanisms put in place at IRIC, including philanthropy such as the B2Discovery program, to support high risk-high impact research. “Both projects, from their initial stages, were identified for their scientific excellence and treatment paradigm-shifting potential” comments IRICoR’s CEO, Dr Michel Bouvier. “IRICoR has participated in the seed funding and addition of value to Dr Perreault’s and Dr Sauvageau’s projects which led to the success announced by Génome Québec”.

About IRICoR | Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer — Commercialization of Research
IRICoR is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to accelerate the discovery, development and commercialization of novel drugs that originate from Université de Montréal and collaborating centers. IRICoR, as a Center of Excellence in Commercialization and Research, invests in highly innovative projects to rapidly transition them from academia to the market, while identifying the best development partners for these commercially-promising projects. For more information about IRICoR, please visit www.iricor.ca.

About IRIC | Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer
An ultra-modern research hub and training centre of Université de Montréal, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) was created in 2003 to shed light on the mechanisms of cancer and discover new, more effective therapies to counter this plague. IRIC operates according to a model that is unique in Canada. Its innovative approach to research has already led to discoveries that will, over the coming years, have a significant impact on the fight against cancer. For more information about IRIC, please visit www.iric.ca.

About B2Discovery
B2Discovery (B2D) is a new research funding model that brings together the private sector and the biomedical research community to help accelerate the discovery of new anti-cancer therapeutics. Our mission is to bring entrepreneurs together with IRIC investigators to finance novel and promising research projects not currently funded by public granting agencies. Once these projects reach a more advanced stage with higher chances of success, they can be financed by traditional granting agencies. B2D acts like a spark plug by creating a leverage effect and paving the way to discovering novel therapies to fight cancer. For more information about B2Discovery, please visit www.iric.ca/en/supporting-iric/b2discovery/.

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IRICoR | Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer — Commercialization of Research
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Email: steven.klein@iricor.ca

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