UAlberta to lead new national network on forefront of biomedical science

GlycoNet will capitalize on university's research strength and leadership in harnessing carbohydrates to find new vaccines and drugs against infectious diseases.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta will lead a pan-Canadian initiative to leverage and translate the deep fundamental knowledge gained over 50 years of glycomics research—an interdisciplinary field at the forefront of biomedical science that will address some of the most pressing challenges in infectious disease.

The new $27.3-million Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet), one of four successful 2015 Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCEs) announced today by the Government of Canada, will be led by Todd Lowary, a prominent carbohydrate scientist in the U of A's Faculty of Science and director of the Alberta Glycomics Centre.

“The network will build upon the activities of the Alberta Glycomics Centre and the tremendous jurisdictional strength Canada has in this important and rapidly evolving field. GlycoNet will become an international research and translation hub in glycomics, and the network will be a crucial driver for novel solutions to unmet medical needs, including vaccines, drugs and devices,” notes Lowary, who also takes on the role of scientific director for GlycoNet.

Lorne Babiuk, U of A vice-president (research), underscores the honour of this award. “I am thrilled that we were chosen to host GlycoNet under Todd’s leadership. Congratulations to Todd, to his team and to the partners and funders who have helped the university build one of the world’s best centres for carbohydrate research. On behalf of the university, I thank the federal government for their investment in and support of this important field of research and look forward to continuing Canada’s international leadership and strong track record in glycomics.“

Selected from 83 applications, GlycoNet will capitalize on the research strengths and leadership established in the highly successful provincial initiative, the Alberta Glycomics Centre, to further develop solutions to important health issues such as personalized medicine and new drugs, as well as vaccines for influenza, genetic diseases and diabetes.

“Our government is committed to investing in world-class research networks such as GlycoNet, which will develop new drugs and vaccines to fight diseases that affect millions of Canadians,” said Health Minister Rona Ambrose. “These investments will improve our quality of life and contribute to the creation of a stronger, more innovative economy and a more prosperous Canada.”

“GlycoNet will bring together the top researchers in glycomics to develop treatments for illnesses ranging from diabetes to tuberculosis. On behalf of the federal research funding agencies, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is delighted to support this promising collaboration between researchers from different disciplines and partners from different sectors,” said CIHR president Alain Beaudet. “GlycoNet will join the impressive lineup of NCEs that are already helping drive innovation and increase impact in Canada.”

The urgency of addressing novel therapeutics requires science to take up the advances in the powerful domains in the “omics” fields, including glycomics, genomics and proteomics. Glycomics, which is the study of the biological role of carbohydrates, the essential structures that manifest themselves in myriad forms in the human body, has led to successful commercialization of several carbohydrate-based drugs, including Tamiflu, an anti-influenza drug; Cerezyme, a treatment for Gaucher disease; and Precose, used to treat diabetes. These breakthroughs have resulted in worldwide sales in 2012 of US$787 million, US$813 million and US$541 million, respectively.

Supported by government, industry and international partners, GlycoNet will bring together an initial group of 64 researchers at 22 institutions across the country to bolster glycomics research and training in Canada, speed the generation of commercial products from research and provide Canadian scientists with a unified vision and foundation to strengthen training and essential core research services in the field.

GlycoNet is set to advance Canadian health care and biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the targeted areas of antimicrobials, rare genetic diseases, diabetes, obesity, agents for treating chronic disease and the development of therapeutic proteins and vaccines.The network will become a focal point for researchers and industry seeking solutions through applied research in step with multinational-level initiatives in the United States, Australia, Taiwan and Europe to support game-changing developments and commercial opportunities in the field.