McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Family springboards new cancer therapy from lab towards clinic

Published: June 9, 2016
Ksenia Bezverbnaya, Mark Samuel, Jonathan Bramson and Ken Mwawasi
Pictured (Left to right): Ksenia Bezverbnaya, Mark Samuel, Jonathan Bramson and Ken Mwawasi. Bezverbnaya and Mwawasi are the two Samuel Scholars.

A family foundation has stepped in to bridge the gap between cancer treatment discoveries in McMaster University labs and their development into therapies for clinical use.

In fact, two family members connected to the foundation have come forward with an additional personal contribution to ensure the work of the McMaster Immunology Research Centre gets a fast boost.

The partnership began in 2014 when the Samuel Family Foundation gave $500,000 to enable the centre's researchers to develop a personalized immunotherapy cancer treatment, involving using one's own immune cells to control and eliminate cancer.

Considered transformative, the treatment has the potential to treat a broad range of cancers, with the promise of long-term remission and without debilitating side effects of harsh chemotherapies.

Now the Samuel Family Foundation has added $250,000 to the investment, and Mark Samuel and Kevin Sanford have given an additional $200,000 to develop the clinical grade manufacturing process ensuring compliance and protocol development.

The gift is critical, as there is no formal funding mechanism to support bringing the early developmental work from university laboratories towards use in a clinic, said Jonathan Bramson, assistant dean, research for McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences. He is also a professor of pathology and molecular medicine and the Canada Research Chair in Translational Cancer Immunology.

"Although we had developed this revolutionary technology, we faced a new challenge of bringing this promising new therapy forward," Bramson said. "This is the gap where many new discoveries die, as the private sector is cautious about supporting such research, since many new drugs and therapies cannot be manufactured at a reasonable cost or fail in the first human trial.

"We thoroughly appreciate the Samuel Family Foundation's support for this high risk but high impact work, as we will now expeditiously springboard these remarkable therapies along."

Mark Samuel said he and Kevin were excited about the opportunity to accelerate the development.

"Our family has a long history of supporting cancer treatment," he said. "It is such a pleasure to now be able to invest in transformational research with such a great opportunity to make a material difference in the eradication of cancer."

The original gift from the Samuel Family Foundation supported the creation of a new technology, known as the 'T cell antigen coupler (TAC) receptor', which enables scientists to direct white blood cells to attack and destroy cancerous cells in the body. These white blood cells have the ability to circulate throughout the body and destroy cancerous cells wherever they are hiding. Importantly, the TAC receptor is a platform technology that, in principle, could apply to the treatment of any tumor.

Part of the funds also supports Samuel Family Scholars who are immunological research trainees. There are currently two, but more will be recruited.

Ernest and Elizabeth Samuel established the Foundation to give back to the community and to foster community building. Under the leadership of Kim Samuel, president and chair, the Foundation also engages in efforts aimed at global poverty alleviation, disability rights and human and indigenous rights, environmental sustainability, education and youth programs.

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