Alberta Cancer Foundation announces new Breakthrough Fund recipient, driving commercial success of cancer research breakthroughs

Local startup Oncobiotix to receive $100,000 to advance cancer and microbiome research

CALGARY, Alberta, May 31, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Alberta Cancer Foundation is pleased to announce the latest recipient of the novel Breakthrough Fund—Calgary start-up Oncobiotix will be awarded $100,000 to further advance its project focused on cancer and microbiome research. The Breakthrough Fund is a transformative approach to philanthropy, designed to propel Alberta’s most promising cancer research from the lab to the market, leading to improved patient outcomes.

This project, led by Dr. Saif Sikdar, CEO of Oncobiotix and postdoctoral research fellow at the Riddell Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy, aims to harness microbiome-derived compounds to enhance cancer immunotherapy. Immunotherapies, particularly immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapies, offer new hope for patients with certain cancers. However, the efficacy of ICB therapy is limited, with only 20-30 per cent of patients responding to treatment. One factor contributing to this is the composition of bacteria in the patient's gut, referred to as their microbiome, which is often very different from patient to patient. A microbiome is a ‘community’ of tiny organisms—bacteria, viruses, fungi—that live in and on a body, particularly in the gut. Microbiomes play a crucial role in digestion, immunity and mood regulation, acting like a mini ecosystem that supports your overall health.

Oncobiotix is looking to overcome these limitations by identifying the chemical mediators of ICB enhancement that are secreted by the “good” bacteria and develop them into adjuvant drug treatments for immunotherapy. These drugs would be more affordable than bacterial transplantation, easier to manufacture, delivered in hospitals and unaffected by antibiotic treatment.

“Our drug holds the promise to improve the lives of cancer patients by harnessing the power of their microbiome to enhance their response to immunotherapy,” says Saif Sikdar. “The Breakthrough Fund will significantly help us optimize our drug dosing regimen before initiating the IND-enabling studies and subsequent clinical trials. This is a crucial step towards bringing a promising therapy to patients. We deeply appreciate the support from the Alberta Cancer Foundation and Breakthrough Fund investors.”

“Congratulations to Dr. Sikdar and his team on this well-deserved recognition,” says Wendy Beauchesne, CEO, Alberta Cancer Foundation. “The Breakthrough Fund was created to bridge the gap between research and practical application, ensuring that big ideas like theirs reach the market, becoming accessible and beneficial to patients with cancer. This project aligns with the Foundation’s mission to enhance the quality of life for Albertans facing cancer by supporting advancements in early detection and treatment.”

Alberta is home to some of the world's brightest scientific minds working on innovative cancer treatments for better patient outcomes. The Breakthrough Fund supports these innovators by providing the financial backing needed to move ideas from research labs to global markets. By harnessing the business instincts of Alberta’s private sector and donors, the Fund aims to accelerate the commercialization of these projects, which may include new therapeutics, diagnostics or medical devices, all of which focus on improving how cancer is treated.

“The Breakthrough Fund combines the strengths of philanthropy and investment to propel promising research towards commercialization,” says Cory Janssen, chair, Breakthrough Fund and co-founder and co-CEO, AltaML. “This model not only supports the development of new cancer treatments but also attracts investment to our province, driving economic growth and enhancing our global competitiveness in health innovation.”

The Breakthrough Fund’s model invites local investors to make a five-year commitment, supporting proof of principle grants annually, helping advance research to a stage where venture capitalists and partners can bring the solutions to market. Successful commercialization will lead to returns reinvested into the fund, creating a sustainable cycle of innovation and support.

This is the inaugural year of the Alberta Cancer Foundation Breakthrough Fund, with the first two recipients named in Edmonton earlier this year.

For media inquiries, contact: Ryan Kelly | VP, Communications and Community Partnerships
Alberta Cancer Foundation | 780.220.8791 |

About the Alberta Cancer Foundation
Creating more moments for Albertans facing cancer by inspiring our community to give to innovation in detection, treatment and care. Albertans helping Albertans is at the core of everything the Alberta Cancer Foundation does. As the official fundraising partner for every cancer centre in Alberta, our very purpose comes from our desire to create more moments for all Albertans facing cancer, no matter where they live or the type of cancer they are facing. From the Canmore mountains to the canola fields in Lloydminster, we make life better for Albertans facing cancer by supporting world-class research and patient care, close to home. For more information, visit