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New “window-of-opportunity” clinical trials explore cutting-edge treatments for cancers of the liver, head and neck

Two new studies join the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) portfolio of Window-of-Opportunity (WOO) Network clinical trials

( April 18, 2024, TORONTO – A new round of clinical trials supported by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) will harness a unique opportunity to test some of the newest treatment strategies for a range of different cancers.

OICR has announced two new clinical trials as part of its Window-of-Opportunity (WOO) Network, which brings together Ontario researchers, clinicians and patients to study the biology of newly diagnosed and recurrent tumours.

“‘Window-of-opportunity’ clinical trials take advantage of the two-to-eight-week period between the diagnosis of cancer and the surgery to remove the cancer, at a time when no treatment is happening,” says Surgical Oncologist, OICR Associate Scientist, and WOO Network Co-lead Dr. Angel Arnaout. “WOO Network trials capitalize on this window to study the biological effect of new cancer treatments without delaying or altering a patient’s primary treatment strategy.”

“Testing cancer therapies during this window of time allows us to understand and measure how they work against the tumour, and we’re very grateful to patients who participate in these studies and provide us this exceptional opportunity,” says WOO Network Co-lead Dr. Melanie Spears, who is also a Principal Research Scientist at OICR and Co-Director of the Institute’s Diagnostic Development program.

These latest WOO Network trials focus on liver cancer and head and neck cancers, and seek to understand how immunotherapies work alongside other innovative treatments to prepare a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. They will both also look for biological clues called ‘biomarkers’ that could indicate which patients would benefit most from different treatments.

Dr. Sara Kuruvilla and Dr. Anthony Nichols of the London Regional Cancer Program at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and Lawson Health Research Institute will investigate the effectiveness of a novel immunotherapy drug combination before surgery to remove head and neck tumours, including monitoring how patients’ immune systems respond and if they experience fewer side effects from surgery. Findings are expected to provide preliminary evidence to support further evaluation of this approach in larger clinical trials.

“Recurrence is common after surgery for mouth and throat cancers, and surgical treatment can severely impact patients’ quality of life. We hope that receiving immunotherapy before surgery can improve a patient’s immune response, improve their outcomes and reduce the side effects they face.” – Dr. Sara Kuruvilla, Medical Oncologist at LHSC, Associate Scientist at Lawson, and Associate Professor of Oncology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  Dr. Pablo Serrano and Dr. Brandon Meyers of Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University will study how a common immunotherapy (Durvalumab) impacts liver tumours after patients have stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) but before they have surgery, with hopes that the combination strengthens patients’ immune systems to fight cancer. 

“We aim to see if the combination of immunotherapy and radiation therapy can increase the number of immune cells that attack cancer, reduce the number of immune cells that allow cancer to grow, and potentially improve the prognosis of patients with liver cancer.” – Dr. Pablo Serrano, Scientist at Escarpment Cancer Research Institute (Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University) and Associate Professor of Surgery at McMaster University These new clinical trials join OICR’s existing portfolio of WOO Network trials, which explore various therapeutic approaches and the impact they have on immune response in patients with a variety of cancers including lung, breast, pancreatic and bladder cancers.

OICR created the WOO Network in 2020 to help build Ontario’s capacity for state-of-the-art clinical trials by funding studies, mentoring new investigators and connecting scientists, clinicians, patient and industry partners.

“OICR’s WOO Network is a landmark program that leverages our capabilities in genomics and biomarker discovery to improve the drug development paradigm and better understand how new therapies work,” says OICR President and Scientific Director Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi. “In its third year of operation, the network is already yielding important insights about different types of cancers and the best ways to treat them. These newest trials will drive even more innovations to treat cancer more precisely and give patients the best chance at longer, healthier lives.”

“The Ontario government is proud to support new discoveries and innovations in cancer research by funding the work of OICR,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “New clinical trials are key to testing therapies that have real-life impacts for patients in Ontario, ultimately helping them lead longer and healthier lives.”



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[] New “window-of-opportunity” clinical trials explore cutting-edge treatments for cancers of the liver, head and neck
Two new studies join the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) portfolio of Window-of-Opportunity (WOO) Network clinical trials