The discovery of a rare subpopulation of tumor cells, termed cancer stem cells (CSCs), in many common malignancies has profound implications for treating cancer patients. Most current anticancer therapies were developed to kill the major tumor cell population that makes up the bulk tumor mass; however, these cells are not responsible for the growth and dissemination of tumors. CSCs are at the root of cancer and account for tumor growth and metastases. CSCs are resistant to the toxic effects of radiation therapy and current chemotherapies. Hence, it is not surprising that tumors often recur, leading to relapse of cancer patients treated with these agents. By developing new therapies that target CSC for eradication, long-lasting cures should be achieved.
According to a recent economic report, a 1% reduction in mortality from cancer would save nearly $500 billion to current and future Canadians and Americans. A “war on cancer,” which would cost an additional $500 million for CSC research and treatment over the next 5 years, would clearly yield an excellent return on investment.
Both Canadian and Californian researchers pioneered the discovery of CSCs giving them a powerful historical lead in this rapidly expanding field. Moreover, a significant percentage of the world’s CSC researchers are located in Canada and California. Thus, there is a natural alignment of research prowess and critical mass of researchers in both jurisdictions with which to surmount the challenges posed by CSCs.
The CSC Consortium’s research programs will focus on identifying CSC biomarkers and anti-CSC therapeutic agents. State-of-the-art infrastructure will provide live CSCs from various malignancies for study. This plan also envisions developing a number of novel high-throughput technologies. The scientific community believes that progress will occur more rapidly by supporting several large-scale efforts involving multiple Research Teams (see Figure 3), that will share cutting-edge core Technology Platforms and Facilities and common research goals to generate new knowledge. The CSC Consortium, a not-for-profit corporation with a strong governance and management structure, will provide funding and oversight of the research programs and supporting infrastructure.
This strategic plan recommends that the CSC Consortium invest significantly in translational activities that will accelerate the evaluation of CSC-specific biomarkers and the discovery of anti-CSC therapies. Both Canada and California host Comprehensive Cancer Centres that will provide the infrastructure necessary to validate CSC biomarkers and to clinically evaluate new anticancer therapies targeting CSCs including “First-in-Man” studies.
This plan describes strategically important CSC research and technology programs, and proposes CSC Consortium activities and an organizational structure to manage a budget of sustained and stable funding of $500 million (CDN) for an initial five-year period, which will be provided by a variety of agencies in Canada and California. Sustained funding is the key to the success of the CSC Consortium because of the unique nature of the expertise and technologies required for this research, and the imperative for rapidly moving discoveries to the clinic. CSC Consortium funding will be bolstered by world-leading business expertise and will lead an exciting wave of new biotechnology companies based on CSC discoveries.