Ottawa Hospital cancer trial receives $4 million funding injection

A clinical trial at the Ottawa Hospital that is changing the lives of cancer patients is receiving an injection of money to expand a Canadian-led Immunotherapies in Cancer program.

Camille Leahy has a new shot at life.

“It feels really good to be able to say that I’m cancer free, especially when I’ve been told that I wasn’t supposed to be here,” Leahy said.

Three years ago, feeling unwell and in pain, Leahy went to her local emergency room in Newmarket, Ont., where she received the diagnosis she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“Some days, I don’t even think it’s sunken in yet, because it’s been such a crazy three years – the ups and downs.”

Leahy says earlier treatments, including a stem cell transplant, failed.  Her rollercoaster journey eventually led her to a Canadian-run program for cancer treatment called CAR T-cell therapy at the Ottawa Hospital.

“It changed my life, it gave me a life and my daughter still has her mother,” she says.

CAR-T custom designs a therapy using the patient’s own immune cells.  T-Cells are taken out, modified in a lab, and then put back in a patient – so they’re able to recognize the cancer and kill it off.

“What we’re targeting is patients who have had really no other options,” says Dr. Natasha Kekre, Ottawa Hospital Hematologist. “These are patients who have failed cancer therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, even a bone-marrow transplant – and we’re seeing in those patients, over half of them are getting into a remission state, meaning that they’re cancer free.”

Now, thanks to a $4-million grant, more people across Canada will have access to the therapy.  It’s part of approximately $60-million being awarded to 22 newly-funded research projects across the country.

“It shows a priority to Canadian manufacturing for cancer therapies and that is, right there, a huge win for me to see we are getting the attention we hoped, we’d always hoped we’d receive,” Kekre said.

The goal is to take it even further.

“So, I don’t use the word cure very lightly, but that is really ultimately goal,” Kekre said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to reserve this just for patients who have no options. Eeventually, we can use it in patients as an upfront standard of care.

“My goal is not this trial, it’s beyond that and getting this to every cancer patient who needs it.”

So there can be more success stories, like Leahy.

“I definitely have a new lease on life, I want to do so much more, and I have the opportunity to do that now and my daughter is so thankful to have me here as well.”

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