Transforming low survival cancer outcomes

Research funding

Transforming low survival cancer outcomes

Queen’s researchers are among five teams receiving $29 million from the Canadian Cancer Society to jumpstart innovative research and radically change the outcomes for six of the most common and deadly cancers.

April 13, 2023


[Art of Research photo Leaving Home depicting a cancer blue]
Art of Research photo "Leaving Home" by Eric Lian, PhD Student (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) captures his research into cancer cell invasion and migration.

Over the last few decades, significant progress has been made in Canada to increase the recovery and survival rates for many of the most common cancers. The ability to target investments for innovation and build capacity for research, tools, and infrastructure has played a pivotal role in realizing these advancements. However, where access to these resources has been limited by comparison, progress in the treatment and survivability of certain cancers have not made the same strides. For Canadians, six cancers (pancreatic, esophageal, brain, lung, liver, and stomach) currently have unmet needs resulting in less than 30 per cent survival rates. To accelerate progress and overcome these roadblocks, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has partnered with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to fund the largest ever collective effort in Canada on changing the outcome of these cancers.

The Breakthrough Team Grants: Transforming Low Survival Cancers program has provided $55 million in funding over five years to 10 teams of researchers around the country. Across five teams receiving a total of $29 million, seven Queen’s researchers are contributing their expertise to advance innovations in areas from disease detection to treatment and survival.

Breakthrough Grants

Chris O’Callaghan (Canadian Cancer Trials Group) is the co-principal investigator on the "Testing new treatments for people with incurable brain cancers" ($1,549,130) project with Keyue Ding (Public Health Sciences) and Harriet Feilotter (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) participating as co-applicants. This project supports Canadian collaboration on an international clinical trial to potentially improve outcomes for people with grade 2 or 3 glioma brain cancers. Currently, the five-year survival rate after recurrence approaches zero per cent for these tumours and there are no clinical trials in Canada testing new and promising treatments for these patients. This funding will support opening enrolment to Canadian patients in a study led by the Australian Cooperative Trials Group for Neuro-Oncology (COGNO) and builds on a growing collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) at Queen’s.

Maria Aristizabal (Biology) is a co-applicant for "Changing the narrative of lung cancer to improve prevention for non-smokers" ($5,197,879). Lung cancer can occur in people who have never smoked due to exposure to substances such as arsenic, radon gas, and air pollution. This project will examine the effects of environmental exposures in non-smokers to help detect lung cancer earlier and save lives. Currently, in several provinces screening programs for high risk of lung cancer are determined by a person’s age and smoking history. Using state-of-the-art infrastructure, the team will identify biological markers to develop a monitoring system and influence lung cancer screening programs to broaden assessments.

Sean Bennett (Surgery) is a co-applicant for "Building a national network to drive research discoveries and expand access to immunotherapies for people with biliary tract cancer" ($7,404,250). The project aims to expand access to clinical trials and personalized treatments for people with biliary tract cancers, the second most common liver cancer. Most are diagnosed in Stage 4, when surgery is no longer an option and chemotherapy may extend the duration of life but takes a significant toll on its quality.

Christopher Mueller (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) is a co-applicant for "Establishing a comprehensive research strategy to improve pancreatic cancer survival" ($7,500,000). The project will leverage existing resources to create a comprehensive pancreatic cancer research program focused on screening, earlier detection, better understanding of the disease biology, and facilitating the introduction of new therapies and personalized treatments to improve survival for one of the deadliest cancers. Dr. Mueller’s project will receive a part of this funding to support the use of his mDETECT blood test for pancreatic cancer to try and detect this cancer earlier, when it can still be treated. The ability to detect pancreatic cancer earlier could significantly change outcomes for the almost 7,000 Canadians diagnosed every year.

Neil Renwick (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) is a co-applicant for "Killing cancer cells by stopping them from using oxygen and sugar" ($7,500,000). The project will study a novel non-toxic cancer therapy based on two compounds that kill cancer cells without affecting normal ones. If successful, this project could deliver a life-changing, non-toxic treatment to save the lives of people with a large portion of low-survival cancers – without the debilitating side effects of many standard therapies – and put Canadian innovation at the forefront of this field.

To learn more about these projects and other Breakthrough Team Grants, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website.

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