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Human-health genomic research projects win inaugural funding from Quebec-based innovation fund


Montreal, QC – Two major projects have been chosen by the Pfizer-FRSQ Innovation Fund. The projects will investigate differences in the genetic code for inflammatory bowel disease and metastatic colorectal cancer. The projects are marshalling multidisciplinary teams of seasoned researchers from major Quebec research institutions. Created in March 2008, the Pfizer-FRSQ Innovation Fund has as its mission to fund Quebec research projects in human health.

The fund’s scientific review committee, which consists of internationally renowned experts, selected the projects, which will receive grants of $800,000 and $1,500,000, respectively, spread out over three years.

One project is entitled “Integrative biology of genes associated with several inflammatory diseases: diagnostic and therapeutic improvements”, and is headed by Dr John D Rioux, PhD, associate professor of Medicine at Université de Montréal and at the Montreal Heart Institute and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Genetics and Genomic Medicine of Inflammation.

“It will soon be possible to go from specific genes to specific treatments. In the wake of genomic sequencing, researchers are now able to study specific biological processes in complex diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease. Ultimately, different genomic profiles of affected individuals will be determined. Thus, we think we will be able to contribute to avenues to be explored for more specific diagnoses and treatments,” says Dr Rioux. “Our team will look at the variants of four of the 30 genes recently attributed to the predisposition to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These four genes are located in a very specific signaling pathway, the interleukin-23 (IL-23) pathway, which we are going to modulate in order to observe its effects. We will thus try to increase or decrease the predisposition to these diseases. We are also going to test a drug with therapeutic potential in an animal model.”

The other project, entitled “Prospective study for identifying and validating biomarkers of therapeutic resistance in metastatic colorectal cancer”, is headed by Dr Gerald Batist, codirector of Q-CROC (Quebec – Clinical Research Organization in Cancer), professor and holder of the Minda de Gunzburg chair at the department of oncology, McGill University, and director of the Segal Cancer Centre, Jewish General Hospital as well as of the McGill Centre for Translational Research in Cancer.

“The future has arrived in the field of cancer. Treatment individualization is almost within our reach. We now have ways to determine the molecular signatures of cancer tumors, which will eventually enable one to quickly differentiate between patients who could benefit from treatment and those who would be resistant to it,” says Dr Batist. “After 50 years of in vitro studies of the mechanisms of resistance to cancer therapy in cell lines and animals, science is reaching a milestone: our team will be able to conduct applied research on biopsies from about a hundred patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, at eight Quebec hospitals. We will thus create, with the necessary ethical oversight, an international bank of clinical specimens and produce results that will improve patient care.”