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Sensitizing compounds for cancer-treating viruses find new use in vaccine production

At a glance
The challenge

Production of vaccines must be efficient yet high quality to meet demand

The solution

Investigate if cancer-treating compounds can also be used in vaccine production

The outcome

Commercial-level vaccine production using viral sensitizers

What's next?

New industry partners and new research into vaccine production

In her work at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Rozanne Arulanandam explores how oncolytic viruses (viruses that treat cancers) work. These viruses, Rozanne explains, offer a natural way to target tumours and are often safer than traditional therapies like chemotherapy or radiation. Her research on how oncolytic viruses can target tumour blood vessels has been recently published in the journal Cancer Cell.

Beyond understanding how oncolytic viruses work, Rozanne and other researchers at the University of Ottawa have studied how these viruses can be enhanced with “viral sensitizers,” small molecules that increase their efficacy. Recently, her research into how viral sensitizers can therapeutically enhance oncolytic viruses has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

The 2009 H1N1 outbreak and subsequent vaccine shortage gave the Ottawa-based company ChemVirion R&D the idea to use these viral sensitizer compounds to enhance vaccine production, explains their president Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo. But as a small company, it needed additional resources to move this research forward. So ChemVirion partnered with Rozanne and her supervisor, Dr. John Bell, at the University of Ottawa to undertake a Mitacs Elevate fellowship (then called a Mitacs Industrial Fellowship), which focused on commercial-level vaccine production using the viral sensitizers.

Rozanne’s research into vaccine production attracted the interest of new industry partners.  As a result, a new Mitacs Elevate fellow at the University of Ottawa is now furthering her research into viral sensitizers and vaccine production.

Rozanne benefitted from her fellowship’s professional development component. She developed new skills to bring to her collaboration with ChemVirion:

The [Mitacs] Step workshops, especially the Project Management ones, helped me bridge the differences between working in academia and working with an industrial partner,” Rozanne says.

Although the Mitacs project has since concluded, both Rozanne and Dr. Diallo say the impact of its work is still being felt. “It was a great opportunity to develop with this project and the collaboration is still evolving,” Rozanne advises.

For ChemVirion, the fellowship helped propel the research and attract interest from new industry partners. Dr. Diallo says the program is beneficial not only to companies like his, but to emerging researchers like Rozanne: “Mitacs fills a gap to help academia leverage existing investments and connect with industry. It gives researchers the opportunity to move into industry if they want—this is critical, as there are fewer jobs for researchers in academia alone.”


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, along with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Nova Scotia, and the Government of Quebec for their support of Elevate.