Lab Canada

$50M partnership to strengthen health research in Newfoundland and Labrador

St John’s, NL – Memorial University will receive $50 million over the next five years to support a wide-ranging health-care initiative that will provide enhanced, personalized patient care through collaborative, multidisciplinary research.

Less than 20 percent of applied medical research is translated into a possible device, medication or therapy. The launch of the new Translational and Personalized Medicine Initiative (TPMI) aims to change that by bringing bench research to the patient’s bedside.

The partners in TPMI are IBM, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial government, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), and jurisdictional bodies.

The combined $50 million funding includes $30 million from IBM, comprised of $10 million in equipment and staffing and $20 million in in-kind provisions for big data and analytics software. Nearly $10 million comes from the CIHR’s SPOR SUPPORT Units program and $3 million from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The provincial government is providing $7.2 million.

The TPMI is made up of two major programs – the Newfoundland and Labrador Support Unit (NL SUPPORT) and the Centre of Health Informatics and Analytics.

The NL SUPPORT Program is part of a network of provincial and regional centres across Canada that brings together patients, policymakers, researchers, funders and health-care professionals. The program is focused on creating resources that facilitate patient-oriented research in consultation with local stakeholders to provide patients with the latest and most innovative practices, therapies and policies for improved health outcomes.

NL SUPPORT was created to provide the necessary infrastructure, training and tools required to further patient-oriented research in the province.

The second major program under the TPMI is the Centre for Health Informatics and Analytics (CHIA).

CHIA will facilitate research into patient outcomes and offer insight into how services may be improved through the use of high-performance computational infrastructure and de-identified patient datasets. Memorial researchers will have access to one of Atlantic Canada’s fastest computing environments. Each project undertaken under CHIA will comply with the Personal Health Information Act legislated with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and will also require research ethics board approval.

Projects under TPMI utilizing CHIA will address issues such as colorectal cancer, long-term care and laboratory utilization as well as others. Projects related to the Translational Genomics program include hearing loss, neurocognitive diseases, back pain, vision loss, colorectal cancer and breast cancer. The integration of data will be governed under provincial privacy and ethics legislation.

“For every 100 discoveries achieved at the lab bench, only 15 ever make it to the real world in the form of new therapies or treatments, revised practice guidelines or better health policies,” said Dr. Patrick Parfrey, chief scientific officer, TMPI. “There is a clear and defined need in Canada for research to focus on getting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.”

Ralph Chapman, vice-resident, public sector, IBM in Canada, said the collaboration is a terrific example of government, business and academia teaming to meet important economic and social needs through advanced research and innovation. “This collaborative model will provide researchers with IBM big data and analytics technology and expertise to more quickly manage and analyze massive data sets around critical healthcare challenges and ultimately, help improve patient outcomes,” he said.