Empowering and Harnessing the Power of the Immune System
"To actually do these trials is extremely expensive and we can only rely on [government] grants for so long. We've come to the point where we need to attract money from outside investors."
"In mice, when we combine these two viruses and pembrolizumab [Keytruda], it's really very striking. We get mice with extremely advanced cancer ... and we can rescue essentially all of them."
Dr. John Bell, senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital, Turnstone founder
"Metastatic lung cancer is a very serious cancer -- and the people who have progressed after a first chemotherapy [round] are often pretty sick."
"So anything that can prolong life, and improve the quality of life for these people [suffering from metastasized lung cancer], is important."
"In recent years, immunotherapy has shown great promise in treating certain kinds of cancer, but we’re still at the early stages of understanding and optimizing this approach. We hope that this new combination of immunotherapies will make a difference for people with lung cancer."
Dr. Garth Nicholas, oncologist, The Ottawa Hospital
"I thought I might have pneumonia [of her troubling symptoms, before the diagnosis of metastasized lung cancer]."
"It's wonderful [the immunotherapy drug protocol]. I've been very fortunate: Immunotherapy is a new era of cancer treatment, but it's not working for everyone. There's more work to be done."
Andrea Redway, 47, Stage 4 lung cancer patient
Lung cancer qualifies for the dread recognition of representing the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, killing greater numbers of people in the country than any other form of cancer. An estimated 20,800 Canadians died of lung cancer last year alone; a greater total number than those who succumbed to breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
The Ottawa Hospital has launched an initiative to use a new treatment protocol called immunotherapy through a new clinical trial where fifty-five patients from Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto will be treated with three immunotherapy agents. The combination of two viruses along with an immunotherapy drug meant to charge up the body's immune system is the goal; to direct a patient's personal immune system to battle the cancer cells afflicting the body.
The "combination therapy", is a new approach deploying a mix of agents to accelerate and give greater strength to the response of the body's immune system to the presence of cancer cells. The three immunotherapy agents are represented by an oncolytic virus AdMA3, (engineered using a common cold virus); a modified version of the Maraba virus (extracted from Brazilian sandflies); and pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda) which is a checkpoint inhibitor.
Eligible patients must be seen to be resistant to chemotherapy to battle their advanced cancer, spread from the lungs to other bodily areas. In a new direction for Canada, the trial is being funded in large part by a private Ottawa biotech company, Turnstone Biologics. Last year $41-million in venture capital came its way. Scientists in Canada generally must rely on government agencies for the funding of human clinical trials.
In Andrea Redway's experience, with her diagnosis of lung cancer in 2015, it came as a complete surprise. She had never smoked in her life, and nor had roughly fifteen percent of others diagnosed with lung cancer. The chemotherapy, radiation and surgery meant to halt the spread of the disease all failed. She was in rapid decline when she began taking Opdivo. The immunotherapy drug succeeded in eliminating the cancer outside of her lungs, and shrank her original tumour less than half its size at diagnosis.
Both Opdivo and Keytruda function through blocking PD-1, a protein that tumours use to bypass detection of their presence by the body's immune system. Lab research suggesting the benefits of Opdivo and Keytrudawould be useful once the immune system is primed by viruses stimulating an immune response to the presence of cancer cells, propelled the new clinical trial.