The Cancer Research Society awards ½ million dollars in grants for research projects that aim to repurpose existing drugs for the treatment of cancer

Following the first request for proposals of the UpCycle program, five highly promising research projects will receive $100,000 in 2019. Launched in 2018 and unique in Canada, this Cancer Research Society new competition has generated much enthusiasm within the scientific community and led to over 60 letters of intent.

Focusing on drug repurposing, the selected projects will examine existing drugs used to treat other conditions, in order to evaluate their effectiveness in cancer treatments. The toxicity of those off-patent drugs is already known and therefore, any breakthrough in regards to these projects would rapidly lead to more effective and less expensive cancer treatments.

Summary of selected projects :

  • An antibiotic to treat Acute myeloid leukemia
    Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) kills over 1,000 people every year in Canada. Although effectively treatable with a chemotherapy drug, venetoclax, this aggressive cancer quickly stops responding to the drug, allowing the disease to return after only few months. As a tetracycline analogue, doxycycline is an off-patent antibiotic generally used to treat bacterial infections. Using doxycycline on AML patients could counter cancer cell resistance to venetoclax. Conducted by Steven Chan and his team at the University Health Network in Toronto, this project aims at assessing this new therapeutic option which combines two drugs to improve our chances at beating AML.
  • Improving immunotherapy using bicalutamide
    Bladder cancer is the 5th most common cancer in North America. It affects men 3 to 4 times more frequently than women, and it was shown that male sex hormones (androgens) could explain this imbalance. More recently, a newer form of immunotherapy led to significant success for the treatment of metastatic bladder tumors, although only effective for some patients. Enzalutamide, a drug which blocks the action of androgens, can improve the efficacy of these immunotherapies in males. Conducted by Yves Fradet and his team at Université Laval in Quebec City, this project aims to test the possibility of replacing enzalutamide with bicalutamide - a similar but older drug that is more accessible and much less expensive - in order to improve the efficacy of bladder cancer immunotherapy.
  • Allergy drugs that kill cancer cells
    In chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL - the most common form of adult leukemia - patients eventually develop resistance to their chemotherapy and die from the disease. At CancerCare Manitoba, Spencer Gibson and his team, discovered that antihistamines (seasonal allergy drugs) target and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. This project aims to understand how these antihistamines are working, and investigate if they will be effective in patients that have developed resistance to their current chemotherapy.
  • Fighting cancer with heart failure drugs
    A class of drugs used for heart failure treatment have been known to protect patients with heart failure from cancer by reducing cancer rate and mortality. At CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal, Noël Raynal and his team have managed to understand how these drugs target cancer cells and for which cancers they should be repurposed. To bring this exciting repurposing program to clinical trials, the team will demonstrate the efficacy of these drugs in vivo.
  • Counteracting bone degradation caused by breast cancer metastases
    The presence of metastases in the bones is lethal, usually after a long and painful illness. Therefore, it is essential to find treatments to improve the patients’ living conditions. Carrie Shemanko and her team at University of Calgary will assess all approved existing drugs to identify those able to reduce bone degradation caused by breast cancer metastases. The most promising drugs will be tested using human bones and identified for different cancer types. The most effective drug will be singled out and tested in a preclinical model.

The Cancer Research Society is the first organization in Canada, which seeks to systematically explore and implement the untapped potential of existing medication for the treatment of cancer. Of the roughly 1,500 drugs already approved for treating various human diseases, several have shown themselves able to reduce the risk of developing a particular cancer, to halt the progression of tumour cells or to reduce the number of relapses.