Lab Canada

Far-reaching regenerative medicine program launched with $114M grant

Toronto, ON – The University of Toronto has received a $114 million grant – said to be the largest in the institution’s history – to help it become one of the world’s leading centres for the design and manufacture of cells, tissues and organs that can be used to treat degenerative disease.

The research grant is the first to be awarded under the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), established by the federal government last year. Spread over seven years, the funding will allow U of T and its partners, which include the Hospital for Sick Children, the University Health Network, and Mount Sinai Hospital, to deliver a new program called Medicine by Design. The initiative and the new funding build on years of support for U of T’s regenerative medicine researchers from federal granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and support from the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs programs.

The mandate of Medicine by Design is to undertake transformative research and clinical translation in regenerative medicine, enhance capability in synthetic biology and computational biology and foster translation, commercialization and clinical impacts.

“Our brilliant researchers and clinicians are doing cutting-edge work that is making Canada a world leader in regenerative medicine,” said Meric Gertler, U of T’s president. “I applaud them, and all those who helped prepare U of T’s successful application for this historic research award.”

“This program will allow us to take regenerative medicine to the next level,” said Peter Zandstra, a professor in U of T’s Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Engineering and one of the researchers involved with the Medicine by Design project.

“Stem cells offer avenues to treat – and perhaps cure – devastating and costly illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, blindness, lung disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and diseases of the blood and musculoskeletal system,” he added. “Medicine by Design provides a framework to design the cells, the materials and, ultimately, the clinical strategy needed to reach this goal,” he added.

The university says Medicine by Design will allow Canada to lead the transformation of the global medical industry and become a major international supplier of regenerative medicine technologies – a market that is predicted to grow to $50 billion by 2019. The strategy is expected to generate several new start-up companies and to attract established international companies to Canada, eager to take advantage of U of T’s expertise.

The program will have three divisions, Cells by Design (to create cells whose fate and function can be controlled to ensure safer and more effective therapies), Tissues by Design (to create complex tissues for use in research, drug discovery and replacing lost or damaged tissue in humans) and Organs by Design (create and repair organs outside the body and demonstrate how those organs can be successfully transplanted into human patients). The three divisions will be supported by technology platforms such as genomic engineering, immune engineering and a program to manufacture stem cells on demand.

More than 50 researchers and clinicians from U of T and its hospital partners are involved in the Medicine by Design program, as well as hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Additional researchers and graduate students will be recruited over the next few years. Medicine by Design’s inaugural international partners include Peking University, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, the UK Regenerative Medicine Program and Sweden’s Karolinksa Institutet.

Additional CFREF grants will be announced shortly, said Ted Hewitt, president, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and chair, Canada First Research Excellence Fund steering committee.