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A pair of Northern lights
TORONTO—Actium Research Inc. and McMaster University have announced a collaboration centered on McMaster's proprietary adult human stem cell lines, cancer stem cells and the directed differentiation platform developed by Dr. Mick Bhatia, director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, and his team.
Initially, Actium will develop anticancer stem cell drugs directed against a newly identified cancer stem cell market in leukemia and breast cancer. Actium will also work through research agreements with McMaster and the Stem Cell Institute to identify drugs that can make regular stem cells specialize into different tissue types to promote healing. The ultimate goal is to begin commercializing some of these therapies. No additional terms or financial details were disclosed.
"Much has been written about Canada's commercialization gap and desperate need to move our research from the bench into the clinic so that we benefit from medical innovation both as patients and as a society," David Young, founder and CEO of Actium, said in a press release. "The federal government placed a lot of emphasis on addressing this gap in the most recent budget and our agreement with McMaster represents a great example of academia working with the private sector to achieve these goals. Actium is pleased to join the other companies and groups working to see Ontario's medical research advanced to provide our physicians with new tools to achieve better outcomes."
Though the collaboration marks the first agreement between the two organizations, they are hardly strangers. In addition to heading up McMaster Stem Cell Institute, Bhatia joined Actium as its chief scientific officer this year. Bhatia has worked extensively with stem cells, both in seeking to develop sources of human hematopoietic progenitors and in using stem cells as treatments to prevent tumor reoccurrence.
"These discoveries from Dr. Bhatia's lab show great promise, and we're delighted with his efforts to commercialize the results of his research, from which many will benefit," Mo Elbestawi, vice president of research and international affairs at McMaster University, said in a press release.
"We're absolutely convinced that this is great technology and there's a great team that we can put together around moving it forward," says Helen Findlay, co-founder, president and chief operational officer of Actium.
One of the focal points of the collaboration's efforts will be cancer stem cells, which are also a key focus of Actium's. Findlay identifies cancer stem cells, also known as tumor-initiating cells, as one of the key targets in the treatment of cancer. Like normal stem cells, cancer stem cells can renew themselves and differentiate into multiple cells types. The issue, Findlay notes, is that these cancer stem cells often prove to be more resistant to existing cancer therapies, and while current treatments might kill the 'bulk' tumor cells, the survival of cancer stem cells allows for tumor relapse.
"If you can target those cancer stem cells and either turn them into your common, garden, bulk tumor cells, they will eventually die of their own accord, or they will respond to conventional chemotherapy or radiation," she explains. "If you cannot target the cancer stem cells … they are probably the ones that make the metastases or the relapse of disease and ultimately are probably a big part of the reason why we're not seeing quantum leaps in being able to cure cancer and having people living much longer."
"There are some areas of medicine where we've done very well in terms of treatment, but there's other areas where I think that there will be some real benefits coming out of being able to use stem cells to screen for drug therapies or use stem cells as materials that would promote tissue regeneration and healing," says Findlay of the potential of stem cell-based treatments. "I think that there's some real opportunities to really improve people's quality of life and health using these new innovations."