$3M federal investment will fast-track UAlberta virology discoveries to market

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta is world renowned for research advances in understanding how viruses work and for discoveries leading to treatments for viruses like hepatitis B and hepatitis C. A research team led by Michael Houghton recently developed a vaccine that could fight all strains of hepatitis C, and Lorne Tyrrell and his colleagues are renowned for their work with an antiviral treatment for hepatitis B that is commonly used today.

On Tuesday, the federal government recognized that excellence in advancing scientific and clinical research with an investment of $3 million in the U of A’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. The money from Western Economic Diversification Canada is earmarked for commercialization efforts—providing financial support for the transition of research discoveries to the marketplace. These discoveries will have an impact on Albertans, Canadians and people around the world, providing treatments for serious illnesses.

“This funding will enable University of Alberta researchers to accelerate the process from research discovery to commercial vaccine development,” said Lorne Babiuk, the university’s vice-president of research.

“Increasing the number of vaccines developed and their speed-to-market will save thousands of lives and improve both quality of life and economic productivity. For example, one promising vaccine currently under development by our Li Ka Shing researchers is for hepatitis C. This viral disease affects 170 million people worldwide and is one of the leading causes of cancer and need for liver transplants.”

Tyrrell, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, said, “When Mr. Li made the donation to create the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, he emphasized the importance of translating discoveries to products that would help patients. The federal investment of $3 million is critically important to establishing the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute to translate and commercialize products as a result of discoveries made in virology.”

Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute and a Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology, added, “This funding is very important to us and greatly facilitates our newly formed institute to gear up fast and to start translating our virology research innovations into the clinic for commercialization opportunities.”

The Honourable Michelle Rempel, minister of state for western economic diversification, made the funding announcement on campus, noting the investment will go toward the institute’s purchase of specialized equipment to conduct pre-commercialization activities for developing and testing new vaccines and therapies. These activities are expected to attract commercial investments that will help bring new medical products to market. The institute’s resources will increase the number of vaccines that are developed and commercialized in the Edmonton area, with the long-term goal of establishing a competitive virology cluster in Alberta.

“One of our government’s priorities is to ensure the long-term competitiveness of Western Canada’s economy and support a high quality of life for its citizens,” said the minister. “We will achieve this by making strategic investments to accelerate innovation and assist late-stage R&D activities that enable local startup companies to retain and commercialize new discoveries, such as vaccines to treat and cure viral diseases.”

D. Douglas Miller, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, said the federal government investment demonstrates the value and impact of the virology advances made at the U of A.

“Our skilled researchers work tirelessly to find solutions and treatments to improve lives. The faculty is a powerhouse of virology researchers whose collaborative work is internationally recognized. We are pleased that the Government of Canada recognizes our global expertise and sees the impacts that our medical research has on improving lives.”