Immuno-oncology Translational Research Initiative


Clinical: Dr. Marcus Butler, University Health Network
Scientific: Dr. John Bell, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa


The goal of the Immuno-oncology TRI is to develop and clinically test an OICR-supported oncolytic virus treatment in combination with two cutting-edge immunotherapy strategies in order to improve outcomes for cancer patients, specifically for those with advanced metastatic cancers.


The vast majority of advanced metastatic cancers remain incurable. Research into cancer biology over the past several decades has helped to make clear why this is the case. Tumours are genetically heterogeneous and constantly evolving. They use multiple different ways to hijack cellular growth regulatory pathways, which makes it unlikely a single therapy on a single molecular target will have a significant impact on patient survival. Recent clinical testing of a variety of immunotherapy strategies has demonstrated unprecedented and durable survival benefit even in advanced patients suffering from metastatic cancers. These results are now being rapidly translated into clinical products. But the overall excitement for this potentially “curative” approach to cancer therapy is tempered by the observation that, in general, these kinds of responses are limited to a minority of cancer patients and cancer types. There is an urgent need to build on the tremendous promise of immuno-oncology to more rapidly clinically test rational combinations of these exciting therapeutics..


The ACTION TRI will use three complementary approaches to uniquely contribute to the field of immunotherapy. First, researchers will test, in the clinic, combinations of two leading immunotherapeutic strategies (immune checkpoint inhibitors and adoptive cell therapy) together with a “made in Ontario” virus therapeutic technology in order to determine if the immunotherapies can synergize with the virus therapy in order to enhance patient response. Second, they will carry out in-depth genomic and immune cell analysis of cancer patients undergoing therapy with an immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI), with the goal of better understanding the mechanism of response, rapid progression or resistance to ICI treatment in order to identify patients who best respond to immunotherapy. Finally, they will continue to support new discoveries in leading Ontario research institutes in order to help foster the next generation of therapies. The ACTION team includes a highly interactive team of scientists and clinician scientists, with expertise in cancer and immune biology, virology, translational science, manufacturing, genomics and bioinformatics.

Patient impact

Harnessing the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer has become a worldwide cancer treatment priority. Ontario is world leader in immuno-oncology, especially in the emerging field of oncolytic viruses, and has a cohort of world-class researchers and clinicians in the field. The ACTION TRI unites Ontario-based scientists, clinicians and research institutes to develop and test novel products and immuno- and viral therapies in combination with other therapies to help patients in Ontario-based clinical trials. The TRI will provide new knowledge that can help more patients benefit from immunotherapies, especially those with metastatic cancers.