There are exciting times for cancer researchers in Canada, particularly a leading edge team here in Ottawa. They are forming a nation-wide partnership and they are talking cure. Ottawa's own Dr. John Bell takes the lead on this research.

With $60 million dollars in funding, they are setting out to find ways that a patient's own body can help cure their cancer.   For decades, the treatment protocol for cancer has been powerful chemotherapy drugs that are sometimes as harsh as the diagnosis itself.  And radiation that can leaves burns and scars.

For years, Dr. John Bell, senior scientist with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, has been researching a more biological approach to attack cancer using immune cells and viruses.

‘That’s the power of this whole approach,’ says Dr. Bell, in his lab, ‘that we're re-educating the patient’s own immune system or re-programming biological agents to attack the cancer and help the patient fight their own cancer.’

Biotherapeutics, as these treatments are called, have been used in the United States on even advanced cancers with impressive results. Bell would even say cures in some cases and he is confident the same can happen here in Canada now, with a nation-wide team of 42 scientists working together on this concept.  The new research network is called Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment (BioCanRx).  The federal government has committed $25 million dollars over five years to this research.  Partners, including the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, have provided another $35 million.

‘I believe, and I’ve dedicated my career to this area of research, that we will see patients cured by these kinds of approaches.’

This news is especially exciting for cancer patients in the Ottawa region. It means early access to brand new forms of cancer treatment. It is the kinds of news cancer patients like Drew Lyall cling to. Lyall, who is also the CEO of the Network of Centres of Excellence, has been fighting melanoma for six years.

‘It wouldn't be hard to see in five years,’ Lyall says, ‘where you could be given a vaccine from your own cells, from your own tumors, and that would not only turn back cancer but stop it from coming back again.’

The Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation has backed Dr. Bell’s research for many years and contributed $6-million dollars towards the research.

‘Today is about hope, says Linda Eagen, the president of the Foundation, ‘the work being done in this community is changing the way we are going to experience cancer in the future.’

Dr. Bell hopes to start trials within a few months, hitting a broad range of cancers including melanoma, lung cancer, and even pancreatic cancer.  If the therapies are as good as they think they are, says Dr. Bell, the aim will be to get them to patients quickly.