Lab Canada

Living-cell research project to develop health products

Waterloo, ON October 8, 2003 A $3-million research project to turn living cells into “factories” to develop health-care bioproducts was launched today at the University of Waterloo.

Known as the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) Research Network in Cell Bioprocessing (CellNet), the project is directed by Dr Murray Moo-Young, who is professor of chemical engineering at the university.

Speaking on behalf of Allan Rock, Minister of Industry, Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi announced federal funding of $2.07 million over five years for the network.

As well as funding from NSERC’s Research Partnerships Program, almost $1 million in further funds are being contributed by seven industrial sponsors over the same period in cash and in-kind contributions, such as the use of equipment and labs. They are Amersham Biosciences, Apotex Fermentation, Aventis Pasteur Canada, Biotechnology Research Institute of the National Research Council, Cangene, DSM Biologics and NPS Allelix.

The team, which includes researchers at Ecole Polytechnique, University of British Columbia, University of Guelph, University of Laval, University of Manitoba and the University of Waterloo, will seek ways of using cells as factories.

In Canada, as elsewhere, there is a growing need for new and improved bioprocessing strategies for the production of new and existing drugs. The need is driven by increasing pressures from regulatory and economic concerns.

Bioprocessing enables the development of large-scale culturing technologies to grow cells or tissues or biochemicals produced by these cells or tissues. It makes biotechnology and tissue engineering commercially viable.

“Large quantities of cells or tissues can be grown as ‘factories’ for producing useful molecules, such as human insulin from E coli cells or edible vaccines from bananas,” says Dr Moo-Young. “The network will build on the University of Waterloo’s core expertise and then link with selected university and industrial research centres across Canada to create the necessary critical mass and expertise,” he adds.

The mission of the project is to develop these biological cells for “new and improved biomanufacturing strategies focusing on pharmaceuticals.” As well, the network will train postgraduates in bioprocessing for the growing need of Canadian industry, government agencies and academia.