Putting BC on the cutting edge

22 July 2011

For Dr. Martin Gleave and his team, an MSFHR Research Unit award opened the door to a novel treatment for prostate cancer, a NASDAQ-listed company, and a solid foundation for innovative, multi-disciplinary science in British Columbia.

The 2004 award enabled Gleave and the then-newly formed Prostate Centre's Translational Research Initiative for Accelerated Discovery and Development (PC-TRIADD) to attract more than $50 million in national and international funding, including $40 million from Industry Canada and a $15-million grant from the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research.

"This funding has been instrumental in building on the programs and systems approach to translational research that we established with MSFHR’s Research Unit award," says Gleave, Chief Executive Officer of PC-TRIADD, distinguished professor in the UBC Department of Urologic Sciences, and Executive Director of the Vancouver Prostate Centre. The funding also enabled PC-TRIADD to successfully partner with industry to help move new products forward with the ultimate goal of improving the treatment of complex diseases like cancer.

An example of the success of this multidisciplinary, translational research model is the development of a compound called OGX-011, which Gleave and his colleagues have found effective in treating prostate cancer. OGX-011 acts to inhibit production of clusterin, a protein associated with the development of treatment resistance in cancer patients.

"In the phase I and II trials, we showed that the drug worked the way we thought it did — it suppressed its target protein and prolonged survival by more than seven months," says Gleave. "Based on this promising data, the drug is now in global phase III trials in prostate and lung cancer."

The PC-TRIADD success story has broad implications for British Columbia's health research enterprise. "The research developed out of the research unit awards has directly benefitted the health of British Columbians and Canadians by helping to attract and retain the very best physicians and scientists to treat our public,” says Gleave. "Moreover, it creates economic benefits through the development of new products, new companies, and new jobs related to those companies and the attraction of global wealth through partnership with industry."

Gleave subsequently founded OncoGenex, which out-licensed two drug products — OGX-011 and OGX-427 — discovered at the Prostate Centre; both are currently in clinical trials around the globe. The company has attracted about $120 million in global capital to date and is now listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. In 2010, OncoGenex was named Canada’s Biotech Company of the Year.