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2016 Report to Our Donors

It’s not a new idea that our immune system can kill cancer

cells. From 60 Minutes to CNN, the popular press is abuzz

with stories. Immunotherapy is quickly emerging as

the ‘fourth pillar’ of cancer treatment alongside surgery,

radiation and chemotherapy.

Researchers in the laboratories at Princess Margaret

Cancer Centre have been studying how to harness

the immune system for this purpose for many years.

Drs. Tak Mak and Pamela Ohashi are world leaders

in understanding the individual components of the

immune system and how they interact to generate an

immune response against something foreign to our body.

Today, under the leadership of Dr. Lillian Siu,

immunotherapy research is also being conducted in

our patient clinics. We have four Phase I/II clinical trials

underway, and will soon be recruiting patients for four

more trials. Our team is working on multiple strategies to

train, boost and engineer the immune system to be more

effective in recognizing and eradicating cancer. Multiple

strategies are required because each person’s cancer and

each person’s immune system are different.

Pumping up and

stimulating the

immune system

Two years ago, Dr. Ohashi and her team initiated a clinical

trial that harvests T-cells found within a patient’s tumor.

A specially-trained cell production team ‘manufactures’

more of these cells that are then transferred back to

the patient. By starting with T-cells that have already

recognized and infiltrated the tumor, Dr. Ohashi’s research

indicates this approach will generate a stronger and more

robust immune system attack against their cancer.

Another approach involves the natural ‘accelerators’ or ‘gas

pedals’ that can be activated to stimulate the immune

system to attack cancer cells.

At The Princess Margaret, several drugs are being tested

to take advantage of these ‘gas pedals’ and boost the

immune response.

Making cancer cells look

more ‘foreign’

One of the reasons the immune system doesn’t mount

an attack is because cancer cells look too much like the

healthy cells of our body. So some of the strategies our

researchers are pursuing involve making cancer appear

more foreign so the immune system will go into attack

mode. Infecting cancer cells with viruses or substances

that can mimic viruses helps the immune system

recognize and hone in on cancer cells.

Making the immune

system work harder

Our clinical researchers are testing new drugs that are

able to ‘take the brakes off’ the immune system. The

points at which the immune system applies ‘brakes’ to

slow down or stop the immune response are called the

‘checkpoints’, so this immunotherapy approach is referred

to as checkpoint inhibitor.

Customizing the

immune system

Our team is working on several different ways to engineer

or genetically modify T-cells so that they can more

effectively recognize, target and kill cancer cells.

Drs. Naoto Hirano and Marcus Butler have developed a

cell called an artificial antigen-presenting cell that will be

used in the laboratory to grow T-cells that can hone in on

cancer cells and kill them.

Canada’s most comprehensive

immunotherapy program