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Regional Profiles – Ontario
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded health research in Ontario
Ontario at a Glance
Ontario receives the largest share of CIHR funding - $229 million in 2003-2004, up from $183 million in 2001-2002. This funding is supporting over 2,500 projects by principal investigators in 34 institutions who are conducting research in issues including genomics and proteomics, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, stem cells, mobility aids, and the role of the private sector in health care services.
As Canada’s largest province, Ontario houses a significant proportion of Canada’s health research community. Ontario is home to more than half the country’s brand-name pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, and almost half the medical biotechnology industry. Ontario has North America’s third largest regional concentration of biotechnology firms and is sixth largest in revenues earned. Most start-up companies (70%) are created from science developed at universities.
Examples of CIHR-funded research excellence in Ontario:
Dr. Axelle Janczur:
Discrimination and Health Care
Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre
Racialised groups in Canada experience disproportionate levels of poverty, homelessness and inadequate housing, race-based discrimination, and barriers to health care. Researchers have also reported that the most important determinants of human health status are not medical care inputs or health behaviours (smoking, diet, exercise) but rather social and economic characteristics of individuals and populations, such as income and social status, social support networks, education, employment and working conditions, physical and social environments, personal health practices and coping skills, healthy child development, and health services. CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health researcher, Axelle Janczur, at the Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre in Toronto, is investigating the impact of income, housing status, race-based discrimination, and access to health care on the health status of racialised groups in Toronto. The project will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, academics and service providers with expertise in poverty, housing, discrimination, and ethnoracial health to develop proposals that are methodologically rigorous and grounded in the realities of the participating communities.
Dr. Graeme Smith:
Heart Disease Risks
By 2020 it is projected that cardiovascular disease will have surpassed infectious disease as the world’s leading cause of death and disability. Pre-eclampsia, the leading cause of maternal and child illness and death worldwide, contributes to this problem. It is associated with both fetal changes leading to the development of cardiovascular risk factors for the child, and long-term risks of developing cardiovascular disease for the mother. In an effort to prevent long-term cardiovascular disease, CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health researcher, Graeme Smith, at Queen’s University and his team will work to develop new drugs for the treatment of pre-eclampsia and seek to identify and manage cardiovascular risk factors in women who develop pre-eclampsia and their children.
Dr. Roger Deeley:
Some cancer tumours are inherently resistant to drug treatment, while others acquire resistance after initial treatment. Either way, this resistance is a major impediment to successful treatment. CIHR Institute of Cancer researcher, Dr. Roger Deeley, at Queen’s University is investigating the role of a family of proteins, called Multidrug Resistance Protein (MRPs), that are capable of pumping chemotherapy drugs out of cancer cells, decreasing their effectiveness. Dr. Deeley, whose team discovered the first of these proteins, is studying the mechanisms involved in the “pumping” process, to improve our ability to design agents that can de-activate the proteins and lead to improved treatments that circumvent the problem of multidrug resistance.
Ontario boasts one of the most dynamic and diversified biotechnology corridors in the world. Ontario is emerging as a major North American centre for biotechnology R&D, innovation and industrial growth, demonstrating strength in areas such as medical devices, therapeutics biotechnology and genomics. Ontario is home to several world universities, teaching hospitals and institutions. Several health research clusters have developed in this province in Kingston, London, Mississauga, Ottawa, and Toronto.
Aegera Therapeutics Inc. (Ottawa)
Aegera Therapeutics Inc. was launched in Ottawa, based on the groundbreaking research of Dr. Robert Korneluk, a world renowned expert in myotonic muscular dystrophy. Dr. Korneluk, of the University of Ottawa, received his first federal funding in 1987, for his work in the area of muscular dystrophy. His research focuses on a biological process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Defects in apoptosis can lead to cancer, some neuro-degenerative disorders, or development defects in newborns. Aegera is developing drugs that induce the death of tumour cells. Although it is in the early stages of development, Aegera’s work has yielded two drugs so far – an anti-cancer treatment and a drug designed to prevent nerve damage caused by cancer.
Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.
In 1997, Dr. Brett Finlay, a CIHR-funded researcher from the University of British Columbia, discovered that E. coli bacteria and other similar pathogens infect their host by “harpooning” the intestinal wall with a bacterial protein. He used his discovery to develop an E. coli vaccine for cattle, which is the source of human E. coli infection. Testing showed that the vaccine dramatically reduced infection. Dr. Finlay partnered with Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., in Belleville, Ontario, to undertake more widespread testing of the vaccine. If it turns out to be as successful as it promises, his vaccine could help to prevent 50,000 cases of infections in humans and 500 deaths each year in North America, and could save meat producers as much as $5 billion a year.
MDS Proteomics (Toronto)
Dr. Tony Pawson received a CIHR operating grant in 1999 to conduct basic research on proteins at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, which led to the launch of MDS Proteomics. The new company raised $82.5 million in financing last year, and is expected to issue another public offering for $100 million shortly, and has attracted a major investment from IBM to apply leading-edge information technology to proteomics research. In January 2003, MDS Proteomics secured its first revenue-generating R&D collaboration with Cephalon, one of the world’s fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies, in the area of neuroscience. MDS Proteomics is also conducting pilot projects with several other pharmaceutical companies, and expects to convert some of these to similar collaborations in the next few years. The result will be the development of new drugs to treat many different conditions.
About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the Government of Canada’s premier agency for health research. Its objective is to excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system.
For more information, visit: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca.