Bringing cellular immunotherapy to solid tumours: made-in-Canada approach to be pioneered in biliary tract cancers thanks to $7.4M grant

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2023

Canadians with biliary tract cancer (cholangiocarcinoma and gallbladder) will have the first chance to benefit from a new made-in-Canada approach to personalized cellular immunotherapy, thanks to a $7.4 million grant from the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The grant will support the new Canadian Cholangiocarcinoma Collaborative (C3) and its flagship clinical trial of Tumour-Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs), to be conducted at The Ottawa Hospital and Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). This therapy involves extracting immune cells (called lymphocytes) from a patient’s tumour, purifying and expanding them in the lab and then injecting them back into the same patient along with immune-stimulating drugs.

“Cellular immunotherapy such as CAR T-cell therapy has been a game-changer for people with blood cancer and solid tumours are the next frontier,” said surgical oncologist Dr. Rebecca Auer, co-lead of C3, head of cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “We believe we can make a difference for people with biliary tract cancer and pave the way for breakthroughs in other cancers as well.”  

C3 will also create an immunotherapy discovery pipeline for cholangiocarcinoma and provide access to a “Research Navigator” who will help patients across the country access clinical trials, biomarker studies, biobank registries and other research opportunities.

“Research on  biliary tract cancer is urgently needed because the survival rate is so low, at less than two percent over five years when diagnosed at advanced stage,” said Dr. Carolina Ilkow, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, associate professor at the University of Ottawa and co-lead of C3. “Our unique collaboration will bring basic scientists and clinicians together with patients and caregivers to develop and provide access to new immunotherapies.”

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