Top cancer researcher arrives

(Edmonton) A renowned prostate cancer research scientist who has been recruited to the University of Alberta says that within five years the research from his team’s lab will be making a difference in the lives of patients.

“Some of the most popular cancer drugs available today may have been discovered in a lab 20 years ago,” said John Lewis, the new Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair in Prostate Cancer Research in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, at his appointment announcement Nov. 21, but thanks to translational research, that is about to change.

“It may cost upwards of $650 million per drug to take that out of the lab, test it in animals, put it into clinical trials and eventually get it into patients. What a translational research program attempts to do—and is successful doing in many cases around North America and the world—is to compress that time and reduce that cost in order to get important medicines into patients more quickly and faster.

“A translational research program is what we’re going to build here in Edmonton.”

Lewis, who is appointed to both the Department of Oncology and the Division of Urology in the Department of Surgery, thinks this approach will lead to real advances in the treatment of prostate cancer. He is bringing specialized equipment and key members of his Ontario research team with him to Alberta.

Thanks to the fundraising and partnering efforts of a team of volunteers, known as the “Bird Dogs,” Lewis has a $14 million investment in labs and research funding to build one of Canada’s leading centres for evidence-based prostate cancer research and treatment. (The Bird Dogs nickname is a result of the fact that Frank and Carla Sojonky rescue German Shorthaired Pointers, known as bird dogs. These animals find game, flush them out and retrieve the game.)
The Bird Dogs fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Frank Sojonky and Bob Bentley, worked with the Alberta Cancer Foundation and Cross Cancer Institute to create the endowed $5 million chair. The Bird Dogs used a wide network of community leaders to identify donors and raised an additional $3 million for ongoing research—$1.1 million through a joint funding initiative with the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alex Hospital Foundation.

Frank Sojonky and the Bird Dogs have made a commitment to continue to raise funds for Lewis’s lab. Sojonky encouraged others to join his team in the fight against this disease “to make sure no man need die from prostate cancer.”

During the press conference to announce Lewis’s appointment and to celebrate the generosity of the Bird Dogs, provincial Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne said Frank Sojonky is a hero and noted Lewis’s recruitment “is a coup for Alberta.”

Myka Osinchuk, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, said they are “enormously grateful to Frank, Bob, the volunteers and partners they brought on board. Our promise to donors is progress and these donors have ensured that Alberta will be among the top in the world for prostate cancer research and treatment.”

The Prostate Cancer Research Lab, housed in the Katz Group Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research at the University of Alberta, was also equipped with $6 million from the Province of Alberta through the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund. The new Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair research lab will be housed in the same building, in close proximity to collaborators at the Cross Cancer Institute.

Video provided by Lindisfame, for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.