CQDM, OCE grant $1.5M to speed up drug discovery and development in Quebec-Ontario Life Sciences Corridor

CQDM and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) will fund five highly innovative and unconventional game-changing research and development projects to accelerate drug discovery in the Quebec-Ontario Life Sciences Corridor. Partners are granting $1.5M to Quebec-based and, for the first time, Ontario-based researchers thanks to the partnership with OCE through CQDM's 2014 Explore Program, one of CQDM's flagship programs focusing on early concept validation of cutting-edge technologies that address the most crucial needs in drug discovery and development.

This exciting announcement was made today at the 2015 BIO International Convention in Philadelphia by CQDM and OCE in the presence of Dr. Gaétan Barrette, Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services; and Dr. Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The five project teams, which include 10 public and private researchers from four organizations, will be led by Dr. El Bachir Affar from the Research Centre of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (Université de Montreal), Dr. Tomas Babak from Queen's University, Dr. Derrick Gibbings from the University of Ottawa, Dr. Craig Simmons from the University of Toronto and Dr. Igor Stagljar from the University of Toronto.

CQDM's unique mentoring program will provide these researchers the opportunity to collaborate with senior scientists from CQDM's pharmaceutical members, who bring industrial expertise and support to the projects, to help better align research with the needs of industry and patients.

Partners also took advantage of this occasion to announce that a new edition of CQDM's Explore Program in partnership with OCE will be launched in July 2015.

"This invaluable partnership that we have built with OCE is always getting stronger and is once again expressed by the co-funding of these unique and very innovative projects. Together we deepen our inter-provincial collaborations by combining resources and strengths between the public and private sectors across our two provinces. These projects will contribute to the development of synergies and networks within the Quebec-Ontario Corridor to better position its excellence in research across Canada and internationally," said Dr. Diane Gosselin, President and CEO of CQDM.

"OCE is pleased to be able to continue the great work to innovate drug discovery that began with our partners at CQDM in 2011," said Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of OCE. "Through these collaborative projects we will look to create industry academic projects that facilitate the development of tools that can accelerate the drug discovery process and potentially lead to safer and more effective compounds."

"Through our partnership with CQDM's Explore program, Merck and other members of the consortium benefit from privileged access to innovative tools, and contribute to supporting and expanding the local scientific community in a way that is aligned with the specific needs of the industry. As a constituent of the life sciences ecosystem, we want to help maintain Canada's enviable reputation in terms of scientific innovation by ensuring that we retain and attract high-caliber researchers and investments," said Mr. Chirfi Guindo, President and Managing Director of Merck Canada Inc., one of CQDM's founding partners.

"Sanofi Canada welcomes Ontario Centres of Excellence and is proud to be associated with such key players in the Canadian life sciences ecosystem," claims Ms. Franca Mancino, Vice-President, Medical and Regulatory Affairs of Sanofi Canada, one of CQDM's recent pharma members to the Explore program. "It is essential to collaborate with external partners to foster the best possible science and research in order to accelerate and facilitate drug discovery and development to ultimately help improve the lives of patients."

"As a pharmaceutical partner of CQDM, we are pleased to support research and collaboration within the Quebec-Ontario corridor," said Mr. Chris Halyk, President of Janssen Inc., one of CQDM's recent pharma members to the Explore Program. "Focusing on medical research initiatives in areas of unmet patient need demonstrates our ongoing commitment to investing in R&D and innovation in Canada."

"In addition to accelerating drug discovery, these five innovative projects will strengthen research partnerships between Quebec and Ontario stakeholders for the health benefits of all Canadians. These projects also highlight Quebec's expertise and CQDM's contribution to the growth of Quebec's life sciences industry, "said Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr. Gaétan Barrette.

"This innovative funding collaboration between CQDM and Ontario Centres of Excellence will help accelerate drug development through biopharmaceutical research and development in Ontario and Quebec. The important work of the chosen project teams will help to improve the everyday lives for people in both provinces and beyond, by generating positive health and economic outcomes," said Dr. Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Five breakthrough technologies to accelerate drug discovery and development
Facilitating anti-cancer drug discovery with selective inhibitors of ubiquitin
El Bachir Affar (Research Centre of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, Université de Montréal) and Sachdev Sidhu (University of Toronto), $300,000/2 years
Human cells dispose of damaged or non-functional proteins using a highly sophisticated protein degradation system. However, abnormalities in protein degradation are frequently observed in many diseases, including several types of cancer. In most cases, this can be attributed to the misbehaviour of a cellular machinery employing a small protein called ubiquitin, which attaches to target proteins and acts as a signal for their destruction. Ubiquitin attachment or removal, ensured by distinct and critical sets of enzymes, is highly coordinated. These enzymes, that have attracted increasing attention as novel targets for drug development, are crucial mediators of key intracellular processes and their manipulation has a profound impact on protein activity, localization, and life span and therefore on human physiopathology. Unfortunately, the paucity of selective molecules that modulate the function of these enzymes has severely hampered attempts to manipulate them for therapeutic benefits. This project will use protein engineering technology to enable the discovery and development of highly specific and potent ubiquitin-like molecules that associate tightly with these enzymes in a manner that will block their catalytic function (inhibitors) or alternatively enhance their function (activators). The inhibitory or activating function of these molecules will then be validated preclinically using established biological assays. This could lead to the discovery and validation of novel therapeutic targets, further translate fundamental findings into pharmaceutical research, and guide the development of therapeutic molecules for diseases where these processes are deregulated.

Genetic interactions studies to better establish efficacious drug targets
Tomas Babak and Xiaolong Yang (Queen's University), $300,000/2 years
A major challenge for pharmaceutical companies is identifying efficacious drug targets. Genetic interactions, where the effects of disrupting multiple genes at once are measured, enable unbiased interrogation of functional relationships between any genes of interest. When applied to many genes systematically, an interaction network emerges, and this has proven to be profoundly informative for globally mapping pathways and understanding how a cell operates. Tomas Babak's team approach aims at discovering efficacious drug targets and biomarkers by comprehensively mapping interactions between established disease pathways and all known genes. Given the practical merits, the approach will also enable custom screens to identify effects specific to genetic background in diverse environments such as in systems that model disease progression or in patient-specific cells. This project will be developing a technology for generating interaction networks that will work in human cells, will be sufficiently high-throughput to enable genome-wide interaction screens, simultaneously detect effects of single, pairwise, and triple gene knockouts, exceed the cost and technical limitations encountered of to now and have an overall impact at all stages of drug development.

Drug delivery: silencing RNAs using exosomes
Derrick Gibbings
(University of Ottawa), $300,000/2 years
Early research has shown that a new type of molecule called silencing RNAs could be readily designed to silence or inhibit virtually any gene in a very specific and powerful manner. This in turns eliminates the expression of the protein encoded by this gene. Because most diseases could benefit from shutting-down the action of a specific protein, it is suggested that silencing RNAs could be used to treat virtually any diseases. Unfortunately, a roadblock has prevented use of silencing RNAs to treat most diseases: the ability to deliver these drugs into the tissues and organs where they are needed. The body makes its own equivalent of silencing RNAs, and uses tiny vesicles called exosomes to transport these between cells. The project aims to utilize these natural vesicles to deliver therapeutic silencing RNAs. Derrick Gibbings will test his novel technology for packaging silencing RNAs into exosomes and test where silencing RNAs delivered by exosomes are active in the body. With this knowledge he can begin to use exosomes to deliver silencing RNAs and treat diseases associated with this tissue. In the long-term he will modify exosomes to target other tissues and enable treatment of further diseases. This would enable the treatment of many previously untreatable diseases with silencing RNAs.

3D liver tissue models to screen the effects of drugs
Craig Simmons
, Michael Sefton, Denis Grant and M. Dean Chamberlain (University of Toronto), $300,000/2 years
Poor efficacy and unpredictable toxic effects are leading causes for removal of a drug from the market. Many drugs act unpredictably in patients because the preclinical studies performed poorly mimic humans. In particular, the liver requires special attention as it responsible for metabolizing drugs. Thus improved liver models could identify and eliminate toxic and ineffective drugs earlier in the drug discovery process. To meet this need, Craig Simmons' team has developed three-dimensional liver microtissues that demonstrate improved functionality over standard liver models. The team proposes to incorporate these microtissues in a microfluidic platform that they have created to model arrays of tissues that contain blood vessels, like the liver. This new and improved liver model will be unique in its compatibility with standard laboratory equipment and the pharmaceutical industry R&D processes, ensuring ease of implementation with minimal time and effort. They will optimize the new liver model to achieve functionality more similar to native human liver tissue than is possible with conventional models. They will then validate the system by screening a panel of compounds to detect adverse metabolic and toxic effects that are overlooked by conventional drug screening methods. At project completion, they will deliver a new best-in-class model of human liver that is expected to decrease the time and cost associated with drug development by identifying ineffective and toxic drugs much earlier in the drug development process than is possible with current methods.

Mammalian Membrane Two Hybrid (MaMTH), an innovative technology for drug discovery
Igor Stagljar (University of Toronto), $300,000/2 years
Igor Stagljar and his team have worked over the last 12 years to understand how interactions among a special class of proteins, called membrane proteins, produce either healthy or diseased cells. These proteins, which make up approximately one-third of all proteins in a cell, are responsible for a variety of processes, making them attractive therapeutic targets for many diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, neurological disorders and various types of cancer. However, membrane proteins have been extremely difficult to study in the past because of their biochemical complexity. The research team has recently developed a novel translational research tool called MaMTH that allows researchers to study the interactions of any membrane protein of interest as well as understand how such protein interactions respond to various therapeutic compounds in the context of any human cell. The purpose of this research project is to modify MaMTH into a powerful new drug discovery assay that can be used for the unbiased discovery of small molecules that can disrupt protein interactions of any membrane protein of therapeutic interest.

SOURCE Ontario Centres of Excellence Inc.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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