A McMaster researcher is co-leading a new project to develop a national research platform to coordinate the development of new cancer cell therapies.

Jonathan Bramson, professor of medicine, is co-lead with the Annette Hay of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) on the ExCELLirate Canada project which is receiving $5.19 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The federal funding was announced today.

Minister Champagne of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced more than $518 million in research infrastructure support through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). More than $35M was awarded to McMaster University projects.  

There has been a paradigm shift in cancer treatment driven by new cell-based therapies that use modified immune cells to fight cancer. Adoptive cell transfer involves taking a patient’s immune cells from their blood and modifying them in a lab so they can target cancer cells more effectively — enhancing the patient’s immune system to attack their cancer. 

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has successfully treated children and adult patients with forms of leukemia and lymphoma and there is growing evidence that engineered immune cells have the potential to be broadly applicable across more types of cancer.

“Cell therapies are demonstrating meaningful and lifesaving remissions for some people in whom chemotherapy and stem cell transplants have not worked. However, the current costs and access to these treatments are an issue,” said Annette Hay, project co-lead and senior investigator at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group.

“The ExCELLirate Canada platform proposes to revolutionize the manufacturing of cell therapies, including CAR-T cells, and address the challenges that prevent this lifesaving therapy from being used to its full potential.”

ExCELLirate Canada will develop and optimize distributed point-of-care (POC) manufacturing that will improve efficiency, quality, and capacity to test innovative “made in Canada” cell therapies, such as the TAC-T cell developed by Bramson’s lab, that will lead to new products and better outcomes for Canadians.

Many patients do not survive the month required to produce CAR-T cells using the current system. Through ExCELLirate Canada, Canadians will have rapid access to innovative cell therapies.

“The delivery model that we are developing through ExCELLirate Canada will provide rapid, low-cost cell therapy solutions which, in turn, will make cell therapies broadly available to those who need them,” said Bramson, who is also vice-dean, research of the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

“If successful, ExCELLirate Canada will serve as a model that will undoubtedly be copied by jurisdictions beyond Canada’s borders.”

ExCELLirate Canada will bring together partners and renowned leaders committed to accelerating the evaluation and adoption of cell therapies for cancer within Canada by coordinating their activities and resources to enable international caliber research and development of cell therapies for cancer.

The collaborating institutions and researchers supporting this national platform include: Rebecca Auer, University of Ottawa; Douglas Mahoney, University of Calgary; Denis Claude Roy, University of Montreal; and Heidi Elmoazzen, Canadian Blood Services.

This infrastructure award will address current gaps in cell therapy infrastructure at ExCELLirate Canada sites in Kingston, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary.

Partner organizations and institutions with expertise in cell therapy production, preclinical testing, standards development and training, and health policy include BioCanRx, CellCAN, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, Centre for Commercialization of Cancer Therapy, National Research Council, Cell Therapy and Transplant Canada, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and Universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, McGill and Toronto.






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