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New OICR Strategic Plan Calls for Expanding Translational Efforts, Building Partnerships

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research will expand efforts to translate its research over the next five years, in part through a greater focus on personalized medicine and building partnerships with industry and other research institutions, according to its Strategic Plan 2010-2015 recently made public on the institute's website.

OICR said in the strategic plan that it will join with partners in academia, industry, healthcare organizations, and government on four priorities it identified for its translation effort: adopting more of a personalized medicine approach toward fighting cancer; developing solutions to clinical issues that could benefit patients in the next five years; digitizing and improving interpretation of cancer data; and accelerating OICR's Patents to Products Program, which encourages Ontario-based companies to develop, use, and commercialize products based on the institute's research.

The institute said it will also work to generate commercialization opportunities within the Canadian province through a new partnership it has formed with the Ontario Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS), a division of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MoHLTC); and Cancer Care Ontario, the provincial agency overseeing cancer services, including the nearly C$700 million ($692 million) public healthcare dollars to cancer care providers.

"The initial goals are to establish prognostic and predictive genetic tests in cancers that guide the proper and effective use of cancer therapies. The program will monitor efficacy and produce full economic analyses. Over time, other modalities of personalized medicine will be dealt with," the strategic plan stated.

OICR said its partnership with CCO and MoHLTC will focus on molecular tests used to guide the use of targeted therapies, such as the Her2 test for trastuzumab and K-RAS mutation testing for EGFR inhibitors. The tests will also help the partners decide if characteristics of tumors warrant more conventional cancer treatment, the report stated.

"Clinical and pathology laboratories will upgrade sample-processing and molecular testing systems (automation, instrumentation, and informatics upgrades may be necessary). The partnership may evolve to enable mechanisms that would measure the effects of treatments at earlier stages, and/or allow treatment optimization of targeted therapies at all stages (prior, during, or after)," according to the strategic plan.

It added that the partnership will build support for startups focusing on developing personalized medicine products — including pharmacogenomics, target identification/drug development, diagnostic, and imaging — and work with regulatory agencies to streamline reviews for new therapies and diagnostic and prognostic tests.

In the strategic plan, OICR also committed itself to addressing five clinical challenges over the next five years:

• Identifying targets and new therapies through its large-scale genomic analyses of pancreatic cancer.

• Discovering urine, serum, imaging, and pathological markers that predict prostate cancer, with the goal of preventing over-diagnosis of patients. OICR will team up with Prostate Cancer Canada and Cancer Research UK to generate comprehensive genome datasets from indolent and aggressive tumors, from which new candidate biomarkers would be identified.

• Developing imaging and pathological markers that predict the risk of breast cancer. OICR said it will work with CCO and MAS to validate the relevance of new guidelines developed as a result.

• Creating programs to increase the number of patients screened for colorectal cancer and increase participation in Ontario's five-year, C$193.5 million ColonCancerCheck initiative to establish a colorectal cancer screening program.

• Partnering with other Canadian agencies seeking to create a national program to improve quality of life for young cancer survivors. OICR could help by examining the long-term effects of cancer drugs and variation in follow-up practices, the report stated.

To promote digitizing and improving interpretation of cancer data, OICR said it will promote partnerships between academic teams and Ontario-based companies; stoke further discussions among cancer researchers, computer scientists, healthcare providers, and medical IT companies; develop a comprehensive tech platform for storing, exchanging, and analyzing datasets obtained from human subjects; and provide grants and other incentives to research groups able to create new algorithms, data storage solutions, and clinical tools for data visualization interfaces and decision support tools.

"OICR is uniquely poised to address these challenges as a result of the quality of its informatics expertise in basic and clinical research and the amount of data already available in hospitals throughout the province and at CCO," the institute stated.

The institute also said it will increase the size and scope of its commercialization program over the next five years, in part by working to attract industry partners and private investors to companies they and the institute will help create. OICR will also pursue large-scale collaborations with multinational therapeutics and diagnostics companies interested in a provincial presence, and create new networks of investors and business partners, drawing on existing programs like the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and Innovation Accelerator Fund, as well as Ontario-based clinical trials groups.

"OICR also recognizes a need for funding at the latest stages of pre-clinical studies, up to and including early clinical (first-in-man and proof-of-concept) studies," the report stated.

In the strategic plan, OICR offered five-year direction for several existing programs involving the institute. The Cancer Genomics Program, for example, will expand its scope to a large number of patients and several types of tumors through genomic studies of tumors collected from other programs, such as High Impact Clinical Trials, with the goal of developing future personalized medicine strategies for several common and rare cancers. The Cancer Stem Cell Program will identify new targets for discovery of specific anti-CSC agents designed to eradicat the stem cells of various tumors.

Initiatives over the next five years, according to OICR, will allow it to use and further develop its technology platforms – imaging pipeline, transformative pathology, genome technologies, medicinal chemistry, and informatics and biocomputing.

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