2021 Progress Report

Winter 2021 Progress Report

Thank you for making life better for Albertans facing cancer. Your generosity has accelerated innovation, enhanced patient care and most importantly – created more moments for our loved ones.

We are proud to share some examples of the exciting work taking place right here in Alberta. Your support benefits patients facing all types of cancer, throughout every corner of the province. Thank you for making this incredible work possible.

View Our Other Progress Reports To Learn More About Impactful Investments

Winter 2021
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Channeling the power of the immune system

Immunotherapy – using the immune system to attack cancer cells – has become a revolutionary development in cancer treatment. CAR T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy where a patient’s own T-cells are used to treat their cancer. By genetically modifying the patients’ cells, the cells are then enabled to detect and attack cancer once they are put back into the body.

Cross Cancer Institute researcher and medical oncologist, Dr. Michael Chu, is pioneering a provincial cellular therapy program that will be a groundbreaking clinical trial benefitting Albertans facing blood cancer who have no treatment options left. This project is made possible thanks to Alberta Cancer Foundation donors, Alberta Health as well as clinical material support from pharma.

In this trial Dr. Chu and his team will treat about 60 patients with relapsed leukemia and lymphoma using “point-of-care” CAR T-cell manufacturing over five years (around 30 in Edmonton and 30 Calgary).

By using point-of-care CAR T-cell manufacturing, Dr. Chu will use two manufacturing sites in Edmonton and Calgary to create the treatment for each patient in the study, rather than outsourcing the entire process to companies outside of Canada.

Although CAR T-cell manufacturing is happening elsewhere in the world, the cells are frozen for shipping, which is not ideal. This project will be local, and point-of-care-made CAR T-cells do not need to be frozen because the freshly created treatment can be taken directly from the lab, to the treatment sites and given to patients quickly and efficiently. This is real progress.

“I think of it like buying groceries at the supermarket,” says Dr. Chu. “We think the fresh cells actually work better than the frozen, so that’s a major plus.”

The first patient is scheduled to be treated in the spring of 2021 when the clinical trial is underway. This homegrown, transformative project is made possible thanks in part to donors like you. Thank you for helping to bring advanced, personalized patient care to Alberta.

➥ Read more in Leap Magazine

Dr. Michael Chu

Mobili-T: Care closer to home

Quality of life is an important, yet sometimes overlooked aspect of the cancer journey. Although outcomes for patients facing head and neck cancer continue to improve, there is still a need to support patients and survivors through some of the physical changes that can lead to discomfort or isolation.

The current swallowing therapy for head and neck cancer patients requires time away from home and extensive rehabilitation sessions at a cancer centre, where clinical equipment is located. Many Albertans abandon their therapy, especially those living in rural communities as a result of the time commitment required and travel needed. All of these factors can lead to Albertans being limited in receiving the help they need to regain their quality of life. Enter ‘Mobili-T’ – a small portable swallowing device that can replace the large clinical equipment and provide the needed therapy at home so patients don’t have to travel. Placed on the chin, it records muscle activity and feeds the information back to an app that can be downloaded onto the patient’s phone. A clinician can then use that data to put the patient into specific therapy exercises and track how they’re progressing each day.

Successful feasibility studies for this project have recently been completed, and patient feedback has led to new and improved technology updates, including a new interface that is more accessible for the user. This piece of technology has had a remarkable impact on the many Albertans who were part of the study. Although the product is not widely available in Canada yet, people are learning to swallow again or have family suppers without needing to worry about being able to breathe properly.

“When I started with this product, I was drinking a cup of coffee, but it took me over five hours to drink it without aspirating. I just drank a cup of coffee in half an hour! This is a big improvement for someone like me.” – Mike M, Mobili-T user

“I love Mobili-T. It has completely changed my life in a positive way.” – Ted Power, Mobili-T user

With all of the software and hardware fully finalized, clinical trials are set to take place in the near future, and feedback from this trial will glean even more insight into how patients are using the device as well as clinician participation success rates. The plan is to bring this technology to market by the end of 2021.

Your support of this project has provided Albertans with the therapy they require to safely recover in the comfort of their own home, allowing them to regain their quality of life no matter where they live in the province. Thank you for improving the lives of head and neck cancer survivors.

➥ Learn more at trueanglemedical.com

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has changed the world more than we could have ever imagined, but thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we are able to invest in promising research and programs that seek to ease the burden of COVID-19 for Albertans facing cancer. Here are some examples.

  • During the pandemic, Albertans faced with sudden job loss added an incredible financial strain on top of a cancer diagnosis. The Emergency Voucher Program, available at each cancer centre in the province, provided immediate financial support to patients in need of gas, groceries or assistance with travel to medical appointments.

“I am a single mom of a 2.5 year old that got diagnosed with breast cancer at 29. Through {social worker} Tricia Hutchison at the Cancer Clinic at Red Deer Regional Hospital, I applied for assistance with my hours being cut with Covid-19 and received gift card for groceries. I just wanted to send a note to thank you so much for the support during this extremely difficult time in my life. I had a tight budget prior to having hours cut with Covid-19 and having the grocery gift card helps to off-set some of the loss in income. I am truly grateful for the support the Alberta Cancer Foundation offers.” – Christine L, Grateful Patient

  • In 2020, Text4Hope, a free SMS-subscription service, helped thousands of subscribers develop healthy coping and resiliency skills in response to the global pandemic. The program sent out daily messages written by mental health therapists using cognitive behavioural therapy methods.
  • The COVID-19 Biorepository gives Alberta’s researchers local access to biological material, allowing them to take a deeper dive into COVID-19 through clinical and academic research. By building a safe biorepository to preserve COVID-19 samples, you are not only advancing research to better understand and treat the virus, but also improving patient care and helping to ensure Alberta is able to respond to future outbreaks.

➥ Read more in Leap Magazine

Alberta’s Tomorrow Project

Alberta’s Tomorrow Project (ATP) is the province’s largest health research project investigating why some people get cancer and others do not. Since its launch in 2000, it has helped recruit 55,000 Albertans to participate in collecting data and biological samples so researchers can examine how lifestyle, behaviour and health over time impact risks of cancer and chronic disease. This project recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020.

In response to the pandemic, ATP has conducted two COVID-19-related studies which will show how the pandemic is affecting the lives of Albertans. The first invited participants to complete an online questionnaire on their lifestyle and behaviours during COVID-19, including diet, physical activity, mental health, and access to health services. In total, just over 19,000 participants completed the questionnaire.

The second is a COVID-19 antibody testing study sponsored by Alberta Health, where 4,000 participants were invited to provide blood samples at four time points over a year, along with completing a questionnaire each time. The blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, and some will be saved in the ATP biobank for future research projects. Data will be provided to Alberta Health on a continuous basis to help inform public health and policy decisions related to COVID-19.

Thank you for powering research projects that will have an incredible impact on Albertans now, and in the future.

➥ Learn more about Alberta’s Tomorrow Project
➥ Read more in Leap Magazine

New therapy aimed at treating multiple types of cancer

Your generosity means we are able to unlock solutions and provide the best treatment and patient-centred care possible.

Dr. Luc Berthiaume, cell biologist at the University of Alberta, and Dr. John Mackey, medical oncologist and researcher at the Cross Cancer Institute are dedicated to developing new and potentially life-saving cancer therapies. This team has already demonstrated great success in a new therapy to treat blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and have now extended those discoveries to similar, exciting results for breast cancer. By better understanding these proteins and how they express themselves, researchers will be able to use this new approach to target patients more effectively.

As part of pharmaceutical oncology company, Pacylex Pharmaceuticals, much of their research is based on inhibiting myristoylation – a cellular process critical for the regulation of cell survival. By inhibiting this process, cells, such as cancer cells, cannot grow or multiply and therefore won’t survive. Their novel drug compound, called PCLX-001, successfully interferes with myristoylation. This groundbreaking advancement was recently published in medical journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment and the first human clinical trial is set to begin in early 2021 at the Cross Cancer Institute as well as both BC Cancer and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Both lymphoma and solid tumour patients including breast cancer will be enrolled in this initial study.

Thank you for helping to accelerate research across Alberta.

➥ Read more in Leap Magazine

➥ Target of new cancer treatment valid for breast as well as blood cancers: study

Dr. Luc Berthiaume

Dr. Luc Berthiaume

Dr. John Mackey

Dr. John Mackey