A new partnership between Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Cancer Research Society recently announced funding for 10 new projects testing treatments that show potential to help people with this disease live longer and better. The review process in support of this ground-breaking collaboration engaged researchers and oncologists from across the country and internationally. Importantly, seven people with ovarian cancer enriched and informed deliberations with their deep insights and lived experiences.
“All of us on the review panel were empowered by our experience. We realized the importance of our voices as we communicated our research priorities from a perspective that only comes from a lived experience of ovarian cancer,” says Donna Pepin, who was diagnosed in 2006. “In this journey, we are not helpless — we are helpful. This collaboration is proof of that.”
“There’s an urgency that underpins all our work, a certain practicality that demands attention. These women raised pressing questions about how findings will improve treatment options and when,” says Alicia Tone, Scientific Advisor at Ovarian Cancer Canada. “Ovarian Cancer Canada is looking to advance research that’s built to improve outcomes. Real change is needed and with these projects getting underway, I’m confident it’s within reach.”
Following a call for submissions, a review panel convened to score project proposals based on an extensive set of criteria. Reviewers submitted separate scoring and discussed rationale to reach a shared understanding and consensus. Throughout the process, thoughtful discussion ensued among those living with ovarian cancer, those studying the disease, and others who focus on treating it.
While this partnership set out with the goal to fund six projects, new potential emerged as deliberations continued. The review panel – women with ovarian cancer, scientists and clinicians alike – reached a standstill of the very best kind.
“We had a number of submissions that ranked very highly, scoring was extremely close,” explains Dajan O’Donnell, Director of Scientific Affairs and Partnerships at the Cancer Research Society. “The panel agreed that all of the submissions in question were incredibly relevant, and that it would be highly beneficial to support these research projects. There was only one thing to do, and so it was that Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Cancer Research Society both stepped up to provide funding for an additional four projects.”
“This feels like a victory for our entire community! It’s so exciting because Canada has some of the top ovarian cancer scientists in the world, and the capacity for research here is phenomenal,” says Donna. “Change is on the horizon and we have to thank Ovarian Cancer Canada for moving research forward in this country.”
Each of the following researchers will receive a $225,000 grant in support of their projects:
- Mark Carey, University of British Columbia: Anti-estrogen therapy and ER/PR expression in low-grade serous ovarian carcinoma
- David Huntsman, BC Cancer, part of the Provincial Health Services Authority: CTH in clear cell ovarian cancer: A targetable legacy of endometriotic origins
- Marilyne Labrie, University of Sherbrooke: Overcoming resistance to chemotherapy and immune checkpoint inhibitors in ovarian cancer
- Brad Nelson, BC Cancer, part of the Provincial Health Services Authority: Supercharging CAR-T cells for ovarian cancer using engineered cytokine receptors
- Michael Olson, Ryerson University: MRCK inhibition for high-grade serous ovarian cancer therapy
- Trevor Shepherd, University of Western Ontario: Preclinical development of LKB1 inhibitors as a novel approach to impair cytoprotective stress responses implicated in advanced ovarian cancer
- Huang Sidong, McGill University: Developing optimal treatment combinations for small cell carcinoma of the ovary
- Peter Stirling, BC Cancer, part of the Provincial Health Services Authority: Next generation DNA repair inhibitors for ovarian cancer treatment
- Barbara Vanderhyden, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute: Evaluation of fibrinogen-like protein 2 (FGL2) as a critical onco-immune target
- Franco Vizeacoumar, University of Saskatchewan: Applying synthetic dosage lethality to develop therapeutic strategies for ovarian clear cell carcinoma
Because ovarian cancer represents a variety of diseases that have different origins and vary in response to treatment, deliberations prioritized research on rarer forms of ovarian cancer. Five of the selected projects have a focus on less common types, others still may advance knowledge in support of work across various forms of this disease.
“My own experience is with a rare type of ovarian cancer called low-grade serous carcinoma. So I was particularly encouraged to see consideration for all of the rare types, encompassing the entire breadth and spectrum of our disease. That, in and of itself, is unique in terms of grant competitions,” explains Donna. “I wasn’t aware of any Canadian clinical trials for people with my type of ovarian cancer, but now I know they are coming. And they are coming because of us.”
“We are very fortunate to have been able to partner with the Cancer Research Society to action even more research based on the quality of the proposals received as a result of this competition,” says Alicia. “The bar is being raised continually, we know that more research is still needed, but this is a clear signal that it can happen. Frankly, there isn’t a moment to spare as thousands of people are diagnosed in Canada each year.”
The Cancer Research Society is among Ovarian Cancer Canada’s longstanding partners. It has a vital role in leading the review process of grant competitions like this one. Typically, scientists and clinicians participate on the review panel. But having now worked together with people directly impacted by the disease, the Cancer Research Society is exploring a new opportunity.
“The women who shared their experiences of the disease provided important feedback that took deliberations to another level. They asked questions about real-life impact and the near-term benefit to those living with ovarian cancer today,” says Dajan. “So the review process was very unique, and a first for the Cancer Research Society. We’re grateful to Ovarian Cancer Canada for convening such a valuable collaboration. It’s inspired us to take a look at how we run reviews in the future, so that patient voices are well represented.”
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