Lab Canada

Virology institute at University of Alberta to be founded with landmark donation

Edmonton, AB – The University of Alberta has received a $28-million gift from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation – the largest cash gift in the university’s history – and $52.5 million in new related funding from Alberta’s provincial government.

The donation will help establish the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology and add the university to a global health science research network facilitated by the Li Ka Shing Foundation (LKSF).

“This generous gift, along with the funding from the Government of Alberta, represents a truly transformative moment in the U of A’s history,” said Indira Samarasekera, president and vice-chancellor of the university. “Our researchers have been at the forefront of virology research for decades, including Dr. Lorne Tyrrell and his work developing a treatment for hepatitis B. The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology will provide a state-of-the-art home to some of the world’s very best researchers in virus-based diseases and will help place the university in its rightful place among top centres of such work.”

Along with developing new drugs and vaccines, the institute will seek to attract significant private sector collaboration with multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Referring to the donation, LKSF chairman Li Ka-shing said, “I have always believed in the power of partnership and that the progressive alignment of public and private resources can facilitate the way for honourable men and women to resolve problems and fight despair, particularly when those men and women are capable, willing and united in their quest and passion for knowledge. Their aspiration and determination can and will better society.

“I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with the Government of Alberta and the university to support this meaningful endeavor,” he added. “Globalization brings the world into a community, connected in many dimensions. The work to combat the ‘viralness’ of infectious diseases belongs to all of us, and in this effort U of A is an established leader in researching virus-based diseases. Without a doubt the University of Alberta will foster continued excellence on this new platform.

In recognition of the foundation’s historic gift, one of the newest buildings in the university’s growing health precinct will be named the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Research Innovation. The building, home to the Alberta Diabetes Institute, is designed as a flexible space that supports current and future research and teaching needs.

Shantou University-located in southeast China-is a comprehensive university founded by Li Ka-Shing in 1981 to introduce systematic and pedagogic reforms in China’s education system. He has contributed HK $5.3 billion ($680 million) to date. STU is now a leading research centre in influenza and its researchers, together with other global partners, have published many papers in top peer-reviewed journals, including Nature.

There are two components to the foundation gift: $25 million establishes the virology institute and $3 million funds the Sino-Canadian Exchange Program that will, pending all necessary institutional and provincial approvals, establish a joint PhD program with U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and Shantou University Medical College. The virology institute will be located inside the Katz Group Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research on the corner of 87 Avenue and 114 Street.

The new institute will allow the U of A to expand research in a field with profound global impact. There are virus-based diseases that strike a huge death toll worldwide yet remain low profile. Hepatitis is one such example, and the U of A is home to some of the leading research teams in that area.

“Hepatitis kills 4,000 people every day worldwide, yet so few people recognize it as a major threat to public health,” said Lorne Tyrrell, U of A researcher. For more than two decades he has been studying hepatitis B and C viruses, and his team developed lamivudine, the first oral antiviral treatment for chronic hepatitis B.

There are more than two dozen researchers at the university whose teams explore various aspects of virology, from zoonotic diseases-those transferring between animals and humans-and host/virus interactions to poxviruses, RNA interference, viral diseases in post-transplant patients, viral replication and hepatitis.

With the establishment of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, the university joins the East West Alliance, a global network of medical education and research funded by LKSF. The network also includes Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley in the United States, Oxford and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom, St. Michael’s Hospital (Toronto) and the University of Manitoba in Canada, the Institut Pasteur in France, STU in China, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.