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Using immunotherapy to bring hope to prostate cancer patients

john_stagg_webNew investigator Dr. John Stagg’s recent breakthrough in immunotherapy, or stimulating a patient’s own immune system to destroy tumour cells, could lead to a “promising” new treatment for prostate cancer patients.

His team at L’Université de Montréal has discovered that a protein molecule called CD73 is involved in suppressing the immune system’s ability to kill cancerous cells. Blocking CD73 with therapeutics may allow the immune system to more effectively kill tumour cells, says Dr. Stagg. His award permits him to test this theory.

“It’s important to talk about the potential of immunotherapies to treat cancer,” he says. “We are developing therapeutics that block the CD73 molecule, and hope to bring these therapeutics into a clinic trial for cancer patients within the next five years.”

In 2014, 10 per cent of Canadian male cancer deaths were from prostate cancer. Around 65 men are diagnosed with the disease every day.

Dr. Fred Saad, L’Université de Montréal, who leads TFRI’s Canadian Prostate Cancer Biomarker Network (CPCBN), is Dr. Stagg’s mentor for the duration of the three-year award.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to work with John, a talented young leader in the field of cancer immunology,” says Dr. Saad. “Despite being at an early stage in his career, his work is internationally recognized…and he is truly deserving of support from the TFRI New Investigator Award.”

One of the most important aspects of the award, adds Dr. Stagg, is accessing the panCanadian prostate network. His team will be able to compare the molecules they have identified to more than 1,500 tissue samples from the CPBN project, donated by men with prostate cancer.

“Things are evolving rapidly and there’s more hope now than a year ago for cancer patients,” says Dr. Stagg. “This award is a major step for us, and we are excited to see what the future holds!” 

Project Title: T
he role of the CD73 adenosinergic pathway in prostate cancer
Award: $450,000 over three years
Mentoring Program: Canadian Prostate Cancer Biomarker Network (CPCBN)
Mentors/PIs: Dr. Fred Saad

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