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Canadian genomics researchers receive $123M for 14 large-scale projects


Vancouver, BC – April 16, 2004 – The federal government has approved 14 new large-scale applied-health genomics research projects totaling $123 million. Half of this funding will be provided by Genome Canada and half by other partners.

“All of these projects will focus on developing new tools to improve the delivery of health services to Canadians. This kind of innovative research will, I am sure, make a significant contribution to ensuring the sustainability of Canada’s health system,” says Lucienne Robillard, minister of industry, responsible for Genome Canada.

The projects were selected through the Applied Genomics and Proteomics Research in Human Health Competition, which was launched in May 2003. “This competition has been ambitious because we were looking for proposals most likely to impact human health in the near term, generally within five years. On November 7, 2003, we received 45 proposals,” says Dr Judith Hall, vice-chair of Genome Canada board of directors. “Following due diligence, the selected proposals were reviewed by an international scientific panel and 14 projects, all aimed at the development of genomics and proteomics tools to improve the prediction, prevention and treatment of human disease, were selected and approved by our board of directors.”

Six projects were awarded in BC, two in Alberta, three in Quebec, two in Ontario, and one is a collaboration between Quebec and Ontario.

The six projects approved in British Columbia include:

– Adverse drug reactions in children. Project funding: $8.4 million. Project is being led by Drs Michael Hayden of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics and Bruce Carleton, Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of BC. It aims to understand why one drug is safe for one child but not another.

– Novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to iron metabolism disorders. Project funding: $9.5 million. Led by Dr Paul Goldberg of Xenon Genetics, this project tackles iron metabolism disorders which are the among the most prevalent genetic conditions affecting Canadians. The goal of this research is to identify new genes related to iron overload, develop diagnostics as well as an oral therapeutic to reduce iron overload in the body.

– Reducing transplant organ rejection. Project funding: $9.1 million. Led by Drs Bruce McManus, St Paul’s Hospital/UBC and Paul Keown and Robert McMaster, both from Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VGH Site)/University of British Columbia. By using advances in genomics tools this project can help us understand how individuals will respond to therapies that decrease the likelihood of organ rejection.

– Personalized approach to health care of lung cancer patients. Project funding: $6.8 million. Project leaders include Drs Victor Ling and Stephen Lam both of the BC Cancer Agency. Using genomic information, this project enables researchers to identify the minority of patients who will benefit from current chemotherapy and will relieve the vast majority of patients from relatively non-effective and toxic treatments.

– Improving diagnoses and evaluation of mental retardation. Project funding: $5.5 million. Led by Dr Jan Friedman, UBC and Dr Marco Marra, Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency. Mental retardation is a life-long disability that affects more than 300,000 Canadians. This project aims to use genomics tools to allow for easier, more sensitive testing.

– DNA alterations in cancer. Project funding: $4.6 million. Led by Drs Douglas Horsman and Wan Lam at the BC Cancer Agency. Aims to identify all DNA alterations in genetically damaged cells which eventually give rise to cancer.

Two University of Alberta teams awarded a total of $18 million to study organ transplant rejection mechanisms and small molecule metabolites as markers for disease. One of the selected projects, led by Dr Phillip Halloran’s team at the University of Alberta, will focus on developing microarrays as devices to detect and measure rejection mechanisms after organ transplantation.

The second project is led by Dr David Wishart’s team and will focus on the identification and quantification of known and unknown metabolites in human tissues and fluids. The expectation is that these small molecules will serve as sensitive and accurate markers for human diseases and treatment responses.

The projects in Ontario include:

– Protein expression profiling platform for heart disease biomarker discovery. Funding of $6.1 million. Co-led by Drs Peter Liu and Andrew Emili. Will focus on existing heart failure medications in early-stage disease, and will lead to the development and testing of new medications that can prevent or delay the development of heart failure.

– Mass spectrometer-based flow cytometer, methods and applications. Funding of $8.5 million. Led by Dr John Dick. Will help physicians make personalized diagnoses that can be used to deliver the correct therapy for specific diseases.

– The Assessment of Risk for Colorectal Tumors In Canada (ARCTIC) program. Funding: $9.6 million. A joint Ontario-Quebec project, it will be co-led by Dr Brent Zanke of Cancer Care Ontario and Dr Tom Hudson of the McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre will develop a test to predict people’s genetic susceptibility to colon cancer. By better understanding the key genetic factors linked to colorectal cancer, researchers will be able to create tests to identify individuals at risk, and save many of the 6,000 deaths that occur from colon cancer each year in Canada.

In Quebec, the projects include:

– Novel rapid molecular theranostic technologies for nucleic acid detection. Funding of $12.6 million. Led by Dr Michel G Bergeron. The project will focus on developing two important diagnostic tests, one for the detection of respiratory viruses and the other for the detection of bloodstream infections, and aims to develop tests that will give us results in less than one hour.”

– Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Funding of $16.2 million. Led by Dr Barry Posner of McGill University and Dr Marc Prentki of Universit de Montral which aims to develop genetic tests to predict which people may develop Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. The project will also focus on developing approaches to prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes.

– The Chemogenomics-Driven Drug Discovery in the Human Fungal Pathogen (Candida albicans) project. Funding: $7.9 million. Led by Dr Deming Xu and Dr Sbastien Lemieux at Elitra Canada. The project aims to provide new therapeutic treatments for life-threatening fungal infections.