Economics professor Dr. David Gray took part in a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to see whether an immunotherapy drug could keep his high-risk skin cancer from coming back. Four years later, he’s still cancer-free.
Dr. David Gray’s cancer was hiding in plain sight.
“It was a blemish on my cheek that just wouldn’t heal,” said the University of Ottawa economics professor and father of two. “My dermatologist didn’t like it, so he had it tested.”
When his dermatologist removed the pea-sized tumour from Dr. Gray’s face, further tests revealed that it was Stage 3c melanoma. He was at high risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of his body.
“During the initial visit, the surgeon told me that the five-year survival was below 40 per cent,” he said.
Faced with those odds, Dr. Gray decided to join a clinical trial that compared an immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab to interferon, the currently publicly-funded treatment used to keep melanoma from returning.
Ipilimumab helps the immune system attack cancer cells anywhere in the body. However, it can have serious side effects. After Dr. Gray’s fourth treatment, his hormonal (endocrine) system went into crisis, and he was hospitalized for four days. He continues to take hormone replacement medication today.
These kinds of side effects have motivated researchers to look for more effective and safer options, said his oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Xinni Song.
“Physicians treating melanoma are looking for something better to keep the cancer from coming back,” said Dr. Song, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “Our patients are very keen to take part in clinical trials, which can not only help them, but future patients as well.”
Four years after taking part in the trial, Dr. Gray is still cancer-free. The results of the trial are still to be published.
“You can’t attribute my survival 100 per cent to the treatment. But my wife certainly does,” said Dr. Gray.
“For me, it was very meaningful that he can enjoy his life with his family and go back to work and continue to teach,” said Dr. Song. “He’s remained cancer-free, and the hope is that he is cured from the disease.”
To spot melanoma early, Dr. Song recommended that you tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin, such as new spots or marks that grow or change in colour.
The Ottawa Hospital is a major centre for cancer immunotherapy clinical trials. Researchers at the hospital are also developing new kinds of immunotherapy, such as cancer-fighting viruses and genetically-engineered immune cells. Dr. Gray’s story was originally published on The Ottawa Hospital website.
Ontario research hospitals, including The Ottawa Hospital, make our province healthier, wealthier and smarter. Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. Learn more about how hospital-based research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter.
Shortly after receiving an asthma diagnosis, retired nurse Becky Hollingsworth joined a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital, which found that Becky—and 33% of adults diagnosed with asthma—did not have the condition.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?
A couple years ago, my two pre-school aged grandchildren shared their colds with me. Although they recovered quickly, I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. After I recovered from pneumonia, I continued to have a cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. My family physician diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed both oral and inhaled medication. Her diagnosis was based on my history and current symptoms. Shortly after the diagnosis, I received an invitation to join a clinical trial for people recently diagnosed with asthma that was being run by Dr. Shawn Aaron, senior scientist and respirologist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. I eagerly accepted the invitation, as I am a great believer in clinical trials. During the clinical trial, it was determined that 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not, in fact, have it. I was one of those people. My lungs just needed more time to heal from the pneumonia.
Why does health research matter to you?
Without health research, doctors are “shooting in the dark” when diagnosing and prescribing. Without information from clinical trials, it is possible people will be given treatments that do not work and may be harmful. I am a retired nurse, and perhaps have a bias toward science when it comes to practicing medicine. One needs a correct diagnosis in order to determine the correct treatment. Because my physician thought I had asthma, she prescribed both oral and inhaled medication, which I could expect to have to take for the rest of my life.
No one wants to have a chronic illness. It has implications for several aspects of a person’s life, including the negative side effects of drugs, increased pharmacy expense (for the patient and/or the government) and limitations on travel. A misdiagnosis is even more distressing, as one is exposed to the issues mentioned above and the real medical problem, should there be one, can go undetected, and therefore untreated, and potentially lead to a medical crisis.
How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?
Without research, we are doomed to continue the same old practices. We want our health care to evolve. We want to know if accurate diagnoses are being made. We need to know if treatments work or if there are better treatments. We need to know the ramifications of treatments: are they more or less effective than other treatments, do they have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, are they safe? Through research, we move forward.
How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?
The results of Dr. Aaron’s asthma research left me thinking about the opportunities for educating both the general public and health professionals. The results were dramatic and received a great deal of publicity. Those of us involved in the media coverage made a point to talk about spirometry testing. Like a blood test to corroborate suspicion of diabetes, spirometry is a relatively simple way to measure lung capacity and volume. It gives important pulmonary function information that is of great benefit when diagnosing and treating people with conditions that affect breathing.
I live in a small community and have a high profile due to my past career, volunteer work, and my husband’s visibility. Everywhere I go, someone stops to tell me that they saw me on TV or heard me on the radio. They all have a story to tell about themselves, a friend, or a family member who has been diagnosed with asthma. After hearing that over 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not have it, they want to know if they or their friends or family should ask their doctors for spirometry testing. I encourage them to do so.
Want to add your voice to the Patients + Research blog series? Email or call Elise Bradt at firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-205-1469, or direct message or tweet at us on Twitter at @CAHOhospitals.
Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter, visit our impact page, and check out our other blog posts and videos.
An Ontario biotech start-up, Turnstone Biologics Inc. (Turnstone), has secured $41.4 million in new private investments to continue advancing cancer immunotherapy.
Turnstone was founded in 2015 to advance the development of novel oncolytic viral immunotherapies for cancer. The company’s technology is based on research led by Dr. John Bell (from The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa – pictured middle), Dr. Brian Lichty (from McMaster University – pictured right) and Dr. David Stojdl (from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario [CHEO] and uOttawa – pictured left).
The company’s series B financing is led by new investor OrbiMed, the largest investment firm dedicated to the healthcare sector globally, with participation from new investor F-Prime Capital Partners – both private investors from outside of Ontario.
Turnstone’s financing success highlights the capacity of Ontario’s health research enterprise to draw significant investment into our province, helping to drive Ontario’s knowledge and innovation economy by creating new jobs and bringing new products to market. Turnstone continues to receive support from existing investors FACIT and Versant Ventures, which led the company’s series A financing.
Turnstone’s most advanced product is an oncolytic Maraba virus that is engineered to express melanoma-associated antigen A3 (MAGEA3). This is currently being tested in a clinical trial led by The Ottawa Hospital, sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Full results are expected to be released in 2017. Read more about it in this CAHO Catalyst story.
“This financing is incredible validation that we’re on the right track. We all want to be part of a scientific narrative that changes lives, and I believe that our immunotherapy approach is it.” –David Stojdl, senior scientists from CHEO and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.
“We have had tremendous success with our technology so far, but this financial support as a commercial venture is essential in enhancing our ability to bring it to the bedside. We know there is so much potential.”– Brian Lichty, associate professor at McMaster University
“Community support has been and will continue to be crucial for our research. However developing new therapies is extremely costly, so we also need to engage the private sector to take our research to the next level. I want to express my deep gratitude to all the people who have helped get us to this exciting place.” – John Bell, senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital; professor, University of Ottawa
A Few Facts
This is believed to be the largest venture capital (VC) deal in Ottawa since 2013, and the second largest biotech VC deal in Canada in 2016 (data obtained from Invest Ottawa).
Numerous organizations have supported the research team, including the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Angels of Hope, BioCanRx, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CHEO Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Research Institute.
Ontario’s 24 research hospitals contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other examples on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter website and blog, and join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.
By Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research, The Ottawa Hospital, Professor of Medicine, University of Ottawa
Ten years ago, The Ottawa Hospital opened its Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research with a promise that one day its scientists would play a lead role in harnessing the power of stem cells to develop new treatments for devastating diseases.
Today that promise is being realized, but we still have a long way to go. We now have more than 250 scientists, investigators, trainees and staff working in our Regenerative Medicine Program, which includes the Sprott Centre as well as the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine. We also provide leadership for Canada’s Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine. We are a key player in Canada’s thriving stem cell research community.
More importantly, patients are benefitting from our research. Just this year, Dr. Harold Atkins and Dr. Mark Freedman published the results of a ground-breaking clinical trial in top medical journal The Lancet. They found that strong chemotherapy followed by blood stem cell transplantation could completely reset the immune system of patients with aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS), with striking results. There was no further evidence of inflammation or relapses in any of the patients for up to 13 years after treatment. In addition, 70 percent of patients did not develop new disabilities and many had improvements in pre-existing disabilities.
Learn more about this clinical trial from a patient’s perspective. Read Heather Harris’s Patients + Research blog post.
Today, The Ottawa Hospital offers this as a treatment option for appropriate MS patients. Dr. Atkins has also pioneered a similar therapy for other autoimmune diseases, with equally remarkable results. Not only is this research making our citizens healthier, it is also making us wealthier, because although the transplants are expensive, they eliminate the need for even more expensive medications and hospitalizations.
This research is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential of regenerative medicine. Here at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, Dr. Michael Rudnicki has developed a protein therapy that can stimulate muscle stem cells and double muscle strength in mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Dr. Jing Wang discovered that a common diabetes drug can promote brain regeneration in mice, and human clinical trials are already underway. Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre is leading the first clinical trial in the world of a stem cell therapy for septic shock. And my own research team has pioneered the first trial in the world of a genetically-enhanced stem cell therapy for heart attack. We’ve also recently published promising results of a similar therapy for pulmonary hypertension, and we have plans to start a larger trial within the year.
All of this reflects our overall focus on translational research – moving results from the lab to the clinic and beyond.Our success in this area has been possible because of a strong culture of collaboration, with basic scientists, clinicians and experts from our Methods Centre working closely together. Thanks to this approach, we now rank as one of the top research hospitals in the country.
Of course, translational research is fraught with challenges, particularly in regenerative medicine. We need to be realistic in our expectations because the first generation of stem cell therapies will likely have fairly modest effects. The key is to be persistent. Increased support for health research, and for our research hospitals, will make all of us healthier, wealthier and smarter.
Par le Dr Duncan Stewart, vice-président exécutif, Recherche, L’Hôpital d’Ottawa, Professeur de médecine, Université d’Ottawa
Il y a dix ans, l’Hôpital ouvrait son Centre de recherche sur les cellules souches Sprott dans l’espoir que ses scientifiques seraient des chefs de file dans l’exploitation du potentiel des cellules souches pour créer des traitements contre des maladies dévastatrices.
Aujourd’hui, cet espoir s’est transformé en réalité, mais il reste encore du chemin à parcourir. En tout, plus de 250 scientifiques, chercheurs, stagiaires et employés font partie du Programme de médecine régénératrice, qui comprend le Centre Sprott et le Centre de médecine régénératrice Sinclair. Nous jouons aussi un rôle déterminant au sein du Réseau de cellules souches canadien et de l’Institut ontarien de médecine régénératrice. Nous nous sommes taillé une place de choix dans le domaine de la recherche sur les cellules souches, en plein essor au Canada.
Mais ce qui compte le plus, c’est que des patients bénéficient de notre recherche. Cette année, les Drs Harold Atkins et Mark Freedman ont publié les résultats d’un essai clinique révolutionnaire dans la prestigieuse revue médicale The Lancet. Ils ont découvert qu’une forte chimiothérapie suivie d’une greffe de cellules souches sanguines permet de remplacer le système immunitaire de patients atteints de sclérose en plaques agressive, ce qui donne des résultats extraordinaires. Aucun signe d’inflammation ou de rechute n’a été décelé chez les patients suivis pendant jusqu’à 13 ans après leur traitement. De plus, 70 % des participants n’ont acquis aucune nouvelle incapacité et beaucoup ont même vu des incapacités préexistantes se résorber.
Pour en savoir plus sur cet essai clinique, lisez les propos de la patiente Heather Harris dans le blogue Patients + Research (en anglais).
Aujourd’hui, L’Hôpital d’Ottawa offre cette option de traitement aux patients qui ont la sclérose en plaques et qui y sont admissibles. Le Dr Atkins a également mis à l’essai un traitement similaire pour d’autres maladies auto-immunes et a obtenu des résultats tout aussi remarquables. En plus de procurer à nos patients une meilleure santé, cette recherche nous rend plus riches, car avec ces greffes, même si elles coûtent cher, il n’est plus nécessaire de prendre des médicaments ni d’être hospitalisé, ce qui est encore plus coûteux.
Voilà qui illustre l’importance que nous accordons à la recherche translationnelle, qui consiste à traduire en résultats concrets les résultats obtenus en laboratoire. Nos réussites dans ce domaine tiennent à la culture de collaboration qui unit les chercheurs en science fondamentale, les cliniciens et les experts du Centre de méthodologie. Grâce à cette collaboration, nous sommes l’un des meilleurs centres hospitaliers de recherche au pays.
Certes, la recherche translationnelle est chargée de défis, surtout en médecine régénératrice. Nos attentes doivent rester réalistes, car la première génération de traitements à base de cellules souches aura probablement des résultats modestes. Quoi qu’il en soit, la persistance portera ses fruits, surtout si la recherche en santé et les hôpitaux où elle se poursuit reçoivent plus de soutien. Ainsi, notre population sera plus en santé, plus riche et plus informée.
The Ottawa Hospital is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Read more RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.
L’Hôpital d’Ottawa est l’un des 24 hôpitaux de recherche qui contribuent à faire de l’Ontario une province plus en santé, plus riche et plus informée. Vous pouvez lire d’autres articles (en anglais) sur la recherche dans le blogue Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter ou participer au débat sur Twitter au sujet de l’importance de la recherche en santé en Ontario (mot-clic #onHWS).
Heather Harris was one of 24 people who took part in a ground-breaking clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital for patients with early, aggressive multiple sclerosis.
Heather Harris and daughter Zoe
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?
I noticed a numbness in my foot one morning that had traveled up the right side of my body by the end of the day. That was my first attack. I was given a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), months before my wedding and my 25th birthday. My disease progressed quickly, with a number of attacks every year despite the disease-modifying drugs I was taking. It became difficult to walk, to stand for significant periods of time, and to lift my arms above my head. I lost my vision completely in each eye at different times and was numb all over. My coordination and balance began to be affected and I was extremely fatigued. I felt like my disease was out of control—that there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable—which was spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
Why does health research matter to you?
Health research gave me a chance to fight the inevitable. It is the reason I am not in a wheelchair today.
A clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital was my chance to fight MS. I underwent an intensive combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in a procedure known as immunoablation and autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (IAHSCT). It was a difficult and risky process, but it was worth it.
Today I am able to do all of the things that I want to do. The research conducted by Dr. Harold Atkins and Dr. Mark Freedman has given hope to patients like me, who had a rapidly progressing disease that did not respond to the more traditional medications and therapies. Life in a wheelchair is now not the only alternative for us. MS is such an individual disease, and everyone experiences it differently. What works for one patient doesn’t necessarily work for another. Hopefully this clinical trial will lead to research and breakthroughs that help more people with MS.
How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?
Health research allows us to do things that no one thought possible. If I had my same disease 20 years ago, I would have been in a wheelchair by the time I was 35 years old. Because of health research, I am able to walk, to work full time, and to run after my two-year-old daughter.
Patients depend on health research for new and improved treatments that will change the course of their disease or condition, and alter the outcome for the better. Health research will ensure that we are able to move forward and develop more effective, safer treatments for patients in Ontario.
How can the patient voice support, improve or empower health research?
Hearing the stories of patients who have been directly impacted by health research will raise the profile of research with the public. It will encourage other patients to seek out and participate in clinical trials and other research, the results of which bring hope to so many.
It is important that as patients, we stay connected to the research that is happening in different medical fields, and that we are advocates for health research. Status quo is not an option for many who are suffering. Health research will provide hope for all.
If you would like to participate in the Patients + Research blog series, please email or call Elise Bradt at email@example.com, 416-205-1469, or tweet us at @CAHOhospitals.
Stay tuned on our blog for more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about why health research matters for Ontario and how you can support it, download the Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Policy Platform and check out our other blog posts and videos.
Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class research happening across our province, we kicked off our newest series, HWS Field Trips. Our first stop? The nation’s capital! We got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the research labs at the Bruyère Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, The Royal Ottawa, Montfort Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).