New Ottawa lab could speed up cancer treatments


It’s been four years since Sue Bothwell was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

“I’ve had six months of chemotherapy and I qualified right from day one for a drug called AZD2171,” said Bothwell, who lives near Perth.

“I take it every morning. I’m still cancer-free.”

But not everyone is so lucky to see such quick results.

A groundbreaking Ottawa cancer lab could drastically speed up the development and testing of new cancer therapies — which generally take 10-plus years to get to patients.

“But with this new facility, we think we will be able to do it in half that time or even less in some cases,” said Dr. Harry Atkins.

“That means better treatments for our patients sooner.”

The $15.8 million Centre for Innovative Cancer Research at the Ottawa Hospital was unveiled Wednesday.

Biological treatments are being studied using viruses, cells and genes to target cancer.

“The idea behind it is we can discover things, we can quickly test the patient samples, and if they look good, we can manufacture them and hopefully take them downstairs and test them in patients who are willing to volunteer in the trials,” said senior cancer scientist Dr. John Bell.

He’s leading a team to develop “oncolytic” viruses which infect and kill cancer cells, leaving normal tissues intact.

“It sounds amazing,” said Bothwell, 63.

“It’s a treatment that doesn’t destroy healthy tissue and healthy cells because, you know, when they inject chemo into your body it goes everywhere.”

Bothwell volunteers as a counsellor for the Canadian Cancer Society, providing peer support for those living with stage four lung cancer.

“When I look around, I think of my clients. Although I may not qualify for this virus injection, I sure hope they do.”

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