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December 29, 2010

New regenerative medicine centre announced by Canadian government

Earlier this month, the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, announced the establishment of the Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) with a $15 million initial investment. The CCRM will be based in Toronto and is one of five new CECR’s funded through the Networks of Centres of Excellence program.

While stem cell research continues to make rapid progress and we are now seeing initial transition into the clinic, in relative terms the regenerative medicine industry is still in its infancy. This new Centre seeks to focus energy and resources into leveraging Canada’s research investment into a commercial presence in three emerging technology platforms that will be crucial to the long-term development of a Canadian regenerative medicine industry.

The closer cell based therapies get to the clinic, the more obvious and urgent become the more practical manufacturing and bioengineering issues relevant to delivering cells at scale to patients. Cell isolation and purity, expansion while maintaining function, batch-to-batch potency, and cryopreservation are critical issues that remain to be addressed. Systematic and repeatable manufacturing solutions need to be developed in partnership with industry. Consistent and repeatable delivery of cells at scale, especially cardiomyocytes and hepatocytes, is also being called for by the pharmaceutical industry to enable enhanced predictive toxicology testing, and screening for new drug targets. As a result, CCRM’s initiative to develop new technologies to enable and support GMP cell manufacturing facility will yield many practical clinical and commercial applications over the next five years.

Similarly, as we have come to understand more about how screening technologies can be used in the identification of new targets and to improve the cost-effectiveness of current drug development processes, it has become apparent that while manufacturing cells at scale would represent a significant leap forward for the industry, functional tissue would be much better. This is an area in which Canada can justifiably claim to be a world leader, and the biomaterials synthesis and functional tissue facility to be located at the University of Toronto will provide a mechanism for expertise from across the country to develop these next generation products in partnership with companies from around the world.

Finally, the demand for the generation of patient and disease specific iPS lines is already growing at the Ontario iPS facility. While the iPS facility is not unique in its capabilities there are few facilities in the world that can match it in terms of both infrastructure and access to the leading researchers working in this space. CCRM funding will both allow the facility to build its capacity in terms of people, techniques and expertise, and establish itself as one of the top two or three facilities in the world to which companies and researchers will turn for these lines.

With its mandate to promote national collaboration and networking, the nature of the traditional NCE program does not allow for the Stem Cell Network to provide the level of focused funding into a single location which is required for these three initiatives to succeed.  Nor does it provide for the level of investment in management expertise and business development support that will be required to operate these entities in the manner required for them to become the long term foundation of Canada’s regenerative medicine industry.  The CECR program was in part developed to address exactly this weakness, and as a result the Stem Cell Network has been delighted to support the proposal that led to this award.  Indeed the CCRM will build on the results of the translational research that we fund to address the very specific requirements for commercial exploitation. 


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