A team science approach to translational research into prostate cancer treatment

A multi-disciplinary team approach has been the foundation for the success and advances made by PC-TRiADD (Translational Research Initiative in Accelerated Discovery and Development) in understanding the mechanisms of treatment-resistant prostate cancer.

Under the leadership of founder Dr. Martin Gleave, PC-TRiADD is embedded within the Vancouver Prostate Centre at Vancouver General Hospital. Early stage funding by Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research through a 2004 MSFHR Research Unit Award played a role as a catalyst for the creation of PC-TRiADD. MSFHR support helped Gleave and a small group of colleagues build translational programs centred on five research “cores”: genomics, molecular pathology, functional genomics, therapeutics development, and clinical trials.

The five cores serve as platforms to allow PC-TRiADD’s research program to generate discovery science, identify genes and pathways associated with treatment resistance, conduct validation-type studies, identify therapeutic targets and create inhibitors against those therapeutic targets, and then actually test them in clinical trials–all in one location.

The team has now grown to more than 20 research scientists who work together with clinicians to translate discovery research into treatment for patients with prostate and other cancers.

As the most common cancer among Canadian men, prostate cancer afflicts than 24,000 men annually. An estimated 4,100 die each year, representing 10 percent of all cancer deaths in men. While recent research has led to a reduction in the number of prostate cancer deaths, recurrence remains a significant hurdle, with tumours commonly developing resistance to cancer therapy.

PC-TRiADD’s research into discovering how prostate cancer progresses on a cellular and molecular level and why it resists therapies has helped identify new gene therapies that specifically target these mechanisms. The development of new services and products tested first in BC will not only improve outcomes for men with the disease, but promote the regional growth of biotechnology.

As a National Centre of Excellence and a designated Centre for Commercialization and Research, PC-TRiADD’s track record of success has attracted more than $90 million in national and international funding, most notably, a $40 million Canada Foundation for Innovation grant. These investments have enabled significant expansion of its physical research space and recruitment of global research talent.

The success of PC-TRiADD’s is also evident in its outputs. In addition to numerous patents and an average of 150 peer-reviewed papers published annually, three spin-off biotech companies are generating venture dollars. As well, eight new intellectual property-protected cancer drugs have been developed and licensed. In December 2015, a potential treatment for advanced prostate cancer was licensed to pharmaceutical company Roche. The deal marks the largest licensing agreement to come out of a Canadian university. Developed at the Vancouver Prostate Centre, the new drug technology, in pre-clinical development, could in the future be used to treat prostate cancers that have become resistant to existing treatments.

“For translational research to occur you really have to tackle larger problems, and that means you have to assemble people with different skill sets and have those people truly function as a team,” says Gleave, who was the recipient of MSFHR’s Aubrey J. Tingle Prize in 2013 for his internationally-recognized research. “I think the Michael Smith Foundation focusing on the development of research units helped to stimulate an environment where teams assembled and through that really enabled translational science.”