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Cancer Drug Screening

The combination of standard of care chemotherapy, coupled with novel drugs discovered by our group, is hoped to prevent cancer relapse.

One of the main clinical problems of cancer is disease relapse after standard or conventional chemotherapy. For example, many cancer therapies result in remission from chemotherapy, only for the patient to succumb when the cancer aggressively returns at relapse. The goal of this project is to use cancer stem cells, prime suspects for the reestablishment of cancer, to identify novel drugs towards clinical trial.

Preclinical candidates are initially identified using the SCC-RI’s high throughput drug discovery screening platform, established in 2009. We are seeking to identify compounds that target "cancer" stem cells but do not affect normal stem cells. This crucial comparison allows us to triage compounds that will not have adverse effects in the clinic while still eliminating the cancer stem cells.

The candidate drugs that pass this rigorous filtering process progress to the preclinical modelling platform where their efficacy against cancer is further explored in a more clinically relevant setting. Candidate drugs are tested in novel pre-clinical relapse models as monotherapies and in combination with front line chemotherapy to provide the best estimates for exploration in future clinical tests.

Drug response is stratified based on clinical hallmarks from the patient samples used in the preclinical models, allowing identification of target patient populations that may best respond to the new therapy.  Concurrent with preclinical testing, novel preclinical candidates are subject to a battery of tests to identify their molecular targets with the cancer stem cells themselves. This allows us to elucidate new Achilles’ heels for cancer for targeting and further research, to facilitate medicinal chemistry efforts to optimize the drug, and to expedite progress towards clinical trial opportunities for our patients.


Picture Name Organization
Rima Al-awar, PhD Picture Rima Al-awar, PhD Director and Senior Principal Investigator, Drug Discovery Program, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
Fred Capretta, PhD Picture Fred Capretta, PhD Associate Director, Biointerfaces Institute, McMaster University
Eric Brown, PhD Picture Eric Brown, PhD Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, McMaster University
Gerry Wright, PhD, FRSC Picture Gerry Wright, PhD, FRSC Director, Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, McMaster University



Mick Bhatia

Mick Bhatia

Director and Senior Scientist