A group of Vancouver researchers will be playing a central role in a newly-formed international “pediatric cancer dream team.”
The announcement came Sunday during the 2013 annual meeting of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation at the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.
The Vancouver team will be led by Dr. Poul Sorensen, senior scientist at the B.C. Cancer Agency Research Centre. Sorensen is also with B.C. Children’s Hospital and a professor of pathology at UBC.
“The team’s objective is to investigate genomic data to discover which proteins are present on the surface of tumour cells but not on normal cells,” Sorenson said in a release.
“Then antibodies could be developed to target the tumour proteins while sparing normal cells.”
The Vancouver team — which also includes doctors Mads Daugaard, Marco Marra, Rob Holt and Kirk Schultz — has recently discovered a set of proteins that appear to be expressed on the cell surfaces of sarcomas, a type of high-risk childhood tumour.
The team is currently working on developing therapeutic antibodies that target these proteins only on cancer cells and not on normal cells.
There are seven institutions represented in the so-called dream team, which will unite the top North American researchers in genomics and immunotherapeutics — two highly productive disciplines of pediatric cancer research that have operated separately.
Making all this happen is $14.5 million in grants from the Stand Up To Cancer organization and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which will fund the project for four years.
The leader of the international team, Dr. John M. Maris from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said few new therapies have been developed over the last 20 years and this dream team has the expertise in each of the most lethal pediatric cancers.
“It is our goal, indeed our expectation, that we will initiate a sustained effort to maximize pediatric cancer cure rates through a genomics-anchored immunotherapeutic program,” said Maris.
The research project is anticipated to start on July 1, with clinical trials to follow in the first 12 months.
Sorenson says the Vancouver team will also function as the central validation centre for incoming data from other teams, and will decide which targets to move forward on.