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January 2013

Collaborating on a vaccine for cancer

Immunovaccine Inc., a clinical-stage vaccine development company, had a specific project in mind when they applied to Mitacs Elevate for support for a two-year industry-academia research project.

The company is developing a novel cancer vaccine based on a specific antigen and needed the research expertise to help them understand, at a molecular level, how that antigen is expressed in different types of cancer. They turned to Dalhousie postdoctoral fellow Olga Hrytsenko for insight. Olga’s 17 years of molecular biology experience is the “perfect fit” for the project says Marianne Stanford, Director of Research, at Immunovaccine.

Olga’s Mitacs Elevate project is focused on the analysis of survivin, a protein that is involved in critical pathways of cancer cell growth and survival. Because survivin is present in almost all cancer cells, it’s an attractive target for different cancer treatments. Her research will help identify cancer types that are best suited for treatment with survivin-targeted therapies.

 “The project is a win-win for a company like Immunovaccine,” says Marianne. “We get access to a highly-talented postdoc who is at the top of her game to do a very technically-driven project, while meeting aggressive timelines. In the long term, this partnership will better our science, while exposing us to a highly-skilled trainee that we can then draw on as we plan to expand our company.”

For Olga, her fellowship with Immunovaccine offers her the opportunity to apply her knowledge in an area of research that combines both the creativity of scientific work with the applicability of obtained results. “Having close to two decades of molecular biology experience in an academic environment, I feel that purely scientific projects, even those very important for increasing general knowledge, often have little connection with real-life problems, like developing new approaches to treating diseases. This project gives me the advantage of exploring the process of advancing basic research from the bench to the clinic.”

By 2014, it is expected that the outcomes of Olga’s two-year Elevate project will help Immunovaccine determine which patient populations will benefit the most from survivin-based cancer treatment, helping to save thousands of lives in the future.

Mitacs thanks the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Government of Nova Scotia for their support of Mitacs Elevate.