ON THE FRONT LINES OF IMMUNOTHERAPY
Dr. Lillian Siu
Co-Director, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Dr. Lillian Siu is always prepared to take on a challenge. A medical oncologist for the past 20 years, she is determined to advance treatment to provide patients with the best possible care.
For Dr. Siu, that comes in the form of personalized cancer medicine. This uses molecular profiling and genomics to target cancer cells specific to each patient. Immunotherapy is no different. Dr. Siu is focused on identifying patient-specific markers to determine whose immune system will respond to a particular drug.
Dr. Siu is involved in three major programs focusing on drug development, cancer genomics and tumour immunotherapy. As both a scientist and clinician, Dr. Siu is actively involved in immunotherapy clinical trials and leads genomics initiatives and immunotherapy trials at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Dr. Pamela Ohashi
Co-Director, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Dr. Pamela Ohashi is driven by the desire to cure cancer. Her positive outlook and dedication to innovation pushes her research forward. As a graduate student, Dr. Ohashi worked with Dr. Tak Mak when he cloned the T-cell receptor in 1984. Being part of that key discovery allowed Dr. Ohashi to continue to build her career doing research in this new, exciting field.
Dr. Ohashi’s research focuses on understanding ways to regulate and improve the immune response to cancer. New strategies and mechanisms are being uncovered that will help control immune responses and may be applied to enhance the immune attack on cancer. Her team has developed techniques to grow tumour-infiltrating T-cells. This is important in two ways: it gives us insights into what is going on inside a tumour and can also be used as a therapy to treat patients.
Dr. Ohashi and her colleagues at The Princess Margaret are implementing new clinical trials and building a team of experts with a goal to provide personalized cancer medicine.
Dr. Linh Nguyen
Head, Cell Production Team
Dr. Linh Nguyen has been part of The Princess Margaret’s immunotherapy efforts since they started a decade ago. The field has changed rapidly and Dr. Nguyen says a number of breakthroughs have helped it take flight. She’s excited to see a growing number of approved immunotherapies that can be used to treat patients – and how they may be combined in future.
Dr. Nguyen went to graduate school at the University of Toronto, before pursuing post-doctorate studies at Harvard Medical School. She came back to Toronto to join The Princess Margaret.
Today, Dr. Nguyen leads the Tumour Immunotherapy Program’s Cell Production Team. Much of her current work involves adoptive T-cell therapy.
Dr. Christopher Paige
Throughout his four-decade career, Dr. Christopher Paige has seen the field of cancer immunotherapy rise and fall, but he believes it’s finally having its moment. Studies of experimental models have given scientists a better understanding of the immune system and the therapies that can be derived from it. His hope is for immunotherapy to become a standard form of cancer treatment.
In his lab, Dr. Paige and his collaborators have learned how to use viruses to alter cancer cells to make them more visible to the immune system. They are using these methods to develop cancer vaccines. These vaccines have reached the clinical trial stage.
Dr. Paige says it has taken more than a decade of work to get to this point.
Dr. Daniel de Carvalho
Since he was young, Dr. Daniel De Carvalho always had a keen interest in science. That continued into his university years in Brazil and has carried into his work in cancer research at The Princess Margaret.
Today, Dr. De Carvalho does research on cancer treatments involving epigenetics - the study of changes in gene activity that can be passed on, but which also occur without changes in the DNA sequence - and immunotherapy. He is currently working on treatments that make cancer cells appear as virus-infected cells, so the immune system can take action. A clinical trial is taking place right now at The Princess Margaret which combines that approach with immunotherapy drugs, to boost the immune system to attack cancer.
Dr. De Carvalho is also interested in researching blood-based methods of cancer detection in hopes of finding the disease earlier.
Dr. Marcus Butler
clinical head, immune profiling team
Dr. Marcus Butler is motivated to help patients and, in his own words, is cautiously optimistic about immunotherapy. For Dr. Butler, the challenge he currently faces is determining how immunotherapy can be tailored to treat each type of cancer effectively. He’s excited about the possibilities of his work in adoptive T-cell therapy. In his lab, Dr. Butler and his team work to engineer an immune response by taking cells from a patient’s own immune system and modifying them to fight cancer more effectively. Essentially, they supercharge the immune system.
Dr. Butler was drawn to The Princess Margaret for its international reputation and commitment to immunotherapy as a powerful tool to treat cancer. He was recruited from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The collaborative culture at the Cancer Centre inspires Dr. Butler to push forward with innovative research. “This is the kind of environment that anyone would want to be in to help move the field forward.”
Dr. Naoto Hirano
Associate Director, Research, Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Dr. Naoto Hirano and his team aim to turn discoveries into practical solutions for patients and make adoptive T-cell therapy available for every cancer patient who could benefit. His research aims to invent new and personalized anti-tumour immunotherapeutic models that can cure cancer. Dr. Hirano attended medical and graduate school at the University of Tokyo. He was an Assistant Professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, before joining The Princess Margaret six years ago.
Dr. David Brooks
Dr. David Brooks got his start studying immune responses to persistent viruses – an interest that came from seeing his parents’ work with AIDS patients. Through his understanding of the immune system’s response to chronic infections, the transition to cancer research was natural. It became clear to him that many suppressive strategies of chronic viruses are also present in cancer. He leads a team at The Princess Margaret that seeks to manipulate the immune system to take on cancer.
Dr. Tracy McGaha
Dr. Tracy McGaha likes a challenge. What motivates him is the opportunity to help people through his research. Years ago, he lost his father to prostate cancer. While his father battled cancer, Dr. McGaha realized just how much was left to discover about cancer’s ability to co-opt immune processes to protect itself. This is now his area of study.
He studies how the body protects itself from immune attack and how immune protective mechanisms affect attempts to fight tumours.
Dr. Marco Iafolla
Fellow, Drug Development Program and Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Dr. Marco Iafolla has always been intrigued by new methods that exploit the differences between normal cells and cancer cells. To him, this is the goal of effective cancer detection and treatment. This has led him to join the Drug Development Program and Tumour Immunotherapy Program located at The Princess Margaret. Here he is expanding his knowledge of immuno-oncology with a predominant focus in both early phase experimental therapeutics and biomarker development.
Dr. Ben Wang
Head, Immune Profiling Team
Dr. Ben Wang joined the Tumour Immunotherapy team in August 2017 after completing his PhD in immunology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Wang works with clinicians, scientists and skilled technicians involved with clinical studies and manages the workflow, distribution and analysis of patient samples. One of his research interests involves understanding how the tumour microenvironment and anti-tumour immune response are affected by targeted immunotherapies.
Clinical Research Nurse Coordinator
Sarah Boross-Harmer is on the front lines of immunotherapy clinical trials at The Princess Margaret. She is a passionate advocate for her patients during their clinical trial experience and ensures everyone is included in the multi-disciplinary team approach. Sarah maintains excellent communication with her patients during their participation in the clinical trials program to ensure their journey is a little easier to endure for both patients and their family.