By: Dr. Kaley Wilson
Associate Director, Partnerships; CDRD
On Friday, September 19th, The Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) and Investigators from the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) brought the local academic immunotherapy community together with CDRD’s senior scientists to discuss how to bring British Columbia and Canada to the forefront of translating academic discovery in the area of immunotherapy into new therapies for patients. This Immunotherapy Symposium was a part of a larger initiative that CDRD is undertaking to enable and accelerate the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative treatments for human disease in the area of immunotherapy – a field in which Canada already has strong academic research, but little to no avenue to advance that research to new medicines for patients.
Immunotherapies are very different from the majority of traditional drugs, as they treat disease using the body’s own immune system. As such, they hold particular applicability and promise to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis and very recent clinical successes in the immunotherapy field have highlighted the potential of this approach for curative innovative therapies. The first cancer immunotherapies, antibodies targeting receptors that modulate the immune system are already showing great success in improving the lives of patients. For example, approaches such as combining ipilimumab (anti-CTLA4) and nivolumab (anti-PD1) antibodies, resulted in an objective response rate of 40% in a phase I clinical trial in patients with advanced melanoma. Among patients who received concurrent nivolumab and ipilimumab at the maximum tolerated dose of 1mg/kg, 53% had objective responses with tumour shrinkage of more than 80%. This highlights the potential of immunotherapy as a curative approach to cancer and other serious debilitating chronic diseases which are a large and growing burden on the Canadian and world healthcare systems. In a research report titled “Immunotherapy—The Beginning of the End for Cancer” issued by analysts at U.S. bank Citigroup in June of 2013, boldly predicts that the annual market for immunotherapies will exceed $35B, and become the backbone of treatment in up to 60% of cancers over the next decade.
Participants of the Immunotherapy Symposium, which included Investigators from UBC, SFU, UVic, BCCA, CFRI and the University of Cambridge, each provided a brief overview of their current research programs in the area of immunotherapy, followed by a roundtable discussion on areas for synergy / collaboration, strengths, weaknesses, competitive advantages and critical expertise and/or infrastructure lacking in the community to drive these discoveries forward and bring Canada to the forefront of translating its immunotherapy discoveries into new medicines. At the end of the discussion it was concluded that we have already established a strong foundation on which to build a competitive advantage for British Columbia and Canada in this cutting-edge area, however we now need to work collectively to secure the critical resources required to realize that advantage. Critical next steps identified included maintaining and expanding the network of immunotherapy researchers to also include local clinicians who can provide early thought and influence into discoveries as they are being made, and putting forth a concerted and coordinated effort to secure funding such that the critical infrastructure and the activities required for the development of these technologies (such as protection for intellectual property and support for pre-clinical studies and clinical trials) can be properly supported. As a part of its immunotherapy initiative, CDRD has thereby committed to working with the academic community to drive this forward and smaller, more focused discussions are in the process of taking place to address each of the issues identified.
For further information on this initiative, we welcome you to contact:
Dr. Gregorio Aversa
Senior Vice President, Drug Development
Dr. Kaley Wilson
Associate Director, Partnerships