|January 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 9|
Researchers buoyed by CIHR funding
Only a few months ago, U of S medical researcher Roger Pierson was so discouraged by the decline in national funding for health research that he was set to take his CV and head for the States.
Then he heard that on April 1 the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will replace the Medical Research Council (MRC) as the main federal health research funding agency. This could boost health research spending to one per cent of total health care spending by 2005 ($850 million) the so-called "one per cent solution" to health research funding woes.
"If the federal government hadnt announced this, I would have been gone in a year," says Pierson.
"Now its a much brighter picture. The CIHR will enable us to train graduate students, hire technicians, spin off new companies and sell new products to the U.S. and Britain instead of buying technology from them. We can start thinking big again."
Researchers have been "so scared to do anything creative" because with so many researchers chasing so few grant dollars, the only chance to get funding is to "do the straight stuff," he said.
Last week, Health Minister Allan Rock met on campus with Pierson and nine other U of S health researchers. They told Rock the promise of the CIHR has given them new optimism about opportunities for research in Canada. "It was a message of appreciation that the government hasnt abandoned us. This has kept three or four of us in the country," he said.
CIHR research will also improve health care. The national network of institutes will mean a broadening of the scope of health research to include, for example, social and economic determinants of health and the study of health services and systems.
Pierson says Rock was optimistic about the prospects for the CIHR. Enabling legislation is now in third reading in the House of Commons. Rock also said hed like to see health research funded at even higher levels up to $1 billion a year.
But while the CIHR is very likely to go ahead, the national research community which lobbied so strenuously for the CIHRs creation shouldnt sit back and assume that CIHRs long-term future is assured.
That was the message in Winnipeg last week at a gathering of health research communicators I attended. It turns out the enabling legislation only provides CIHR funding to the end of 2002. Theres always the possibility a federal election could derail long-term CIHR funding.
"Weve been assured in pretty strong terms that the funding will come, but certainly well have to keep the pressure up," says Barry McLennan, assistant dean of research at the U of S College of Medicine and a member of the CIHR interim governing council.
Dont be surprised to be enlisted in another lobbying effort to ensure that politicians and the public understand the long-term value of health research and the importance of the "one-per-cent solution" to health research funding.
As well, expect calls for provinces to follow suit and dedicate one per cent of total provincial health care spending to research by 2005.
Thats something health researchers have been urging the Saskatchewan government to do for years. "You have to pay to play and we must be players, not bystanders," says McLennan.
While the new Saskatchewan-MRC Regional Partnerships Program is a good start, McLennan points out other provinces are establishing "war chests" to give their health researchers the opportunity to be competitive as they respond to the CIHR, Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the 21st Century Chairs for Research Excellence Program, and other initiatives.
"I am concerned that as the CIHR and 21st Century Chairs programs develop, universities will cherry pick across Canada and recruit the very best researchers available. We must protect ourselves."BACK TO TOP
U of S submits its health institutes list
Its not an easy job to fit the whole spectrum of health research into 10 or 12 tidy boxes, but thats what the CIHR interim governing council has asked Canadian universities to do.
Last week, the U of Ss recommended list of 11 national health research institutes was submitted to the CIHR after weeks of consultation with researchers across campus.
The first step was in December when the Presidents CIHR Task Force invited members of the U of S research community to submit ideas in writing for the slate of institutes. Then on Jan. 7 the task force held a town hall meeting to discuss the task forces proposed slate and seek additional input. The task force then compiled this list:
Under the CIHR plan, all institutes must address the full spectrum of research from basic biomedical and applied clinical research to studies into health services and systems and population health. The CIHR interim governing council must recommend a slate of national institutes to Rock by early March.
Purchase puts U of S spin-off company in world leagues
By Kathryn Warden
The recent acquisition of a U of S spin-off company by an Ontario-based pharmaceutical firm will create a world-class drug delivery research centre and about 15 new jobs in Saskatoon by 2004.
PharmaDerm Laboratories Ltd., headed by U of S pharmacy Prof. Marianna Foldvari, was recently acquired by Helix Biopharma Corp. of Aurora, Ont. PharmaDerm specializes in injection-less drugs and vaccines.
"PharmaDerm is an example of how U of S research is creating economic activity for this region," said Branko Peterman, president of U of S Technologies Inc. (UST), the technology commercialization arm of the University.
Foldvari said the acquisition is an important step for both PharmaDerm, which currently employs 15 people, and herself as a scientist.
"This merger with Helix BioPharma represents a step closer to the commercialization of technologies discovered here at the U of S and will facilitate the conversion of a new technology to real benefits for patients," she said.
With PharmaDerms Biphasix technology, Helix will focus on developing three products an insulin patch for the treatment of diabetes, interferon-a cream for the treatment of topical viral infections such as genital warts, and a vaccine delivery system.
The technology permits injectionless delivery of large therapeutic molecules such as proteins and DNA. Foldvari has designed a cellular vesicle that will encapsulate these large molecules and deliver them to the body through patches or substances that look like ointments.
This technology has been successfully demonstrated with insulin and interferon used to treat people affected with human papilloma virus (HPV), a disease that can cause genital warts and is linked to cervical cancer.
Earlier this week, Helix announced that in a U of S study, the injection-less drug technology has been used successfully to treat 18 patients with genital warts.
Foldvari expects the insulin patch and the HPV cream to be on the market within five years.
Foldvari started PharmaDerm in 1991. The technology was patented by UST which then licensed the technology to PharmaDerm in exchange for future royalties based on the sale of products incorporating the technology and shares in the company.
"Helix is proud to have made a multi-million dollar investment to develop the BiphasixTM drug delivery technology, largely through PharmaDerm," said Helix Vice-President Donald Segal.
"As a public company, Helix expects to continue to invest millions of dollars into this technology. Saskatoon and the U of S will benefit from this investment from both a scientific development and human resource perspective. People in Saskatoon now have the opportunity to become shareholders in this venture."
He said there was never any doubt that Helix would keep PharmaDerm in Saskatoon.
"The quality of life for our highly qualified research staff, the excellent facilities available to us, the expertise and support from the U of S all made the decision to stay in Saskatoon easy," he said.
"We also expect to draw on the well-qualified U of S graduates to help meet our future scientific and technical human resource needs."
Helix expects to double its skilled workforce in Saskatoon over the next two to four years. PharmaDerm will move into temporary laboratory facilities in January and hopes to be in their permanent laboratories at Innovation Place within 12 months.
"We are expecting to significantly improve our research capabilities as a result of these new state-of-the-art facilities," said Segal.
Helix recently bought out all the shares of PharmaDerm in exchange for 500,000 Helix shares. Previously, Helix had owned 23 per cent of PharmaDerms shares.
Drug delivery is the fastest-growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry, with sales estimated to be US$ 14 billion per year and expected to grow to US$ 50 billion by 2005, according to industry analysts.
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