A University of British Columbia-led research network that focuses on treating disease using nanotechnology received a large boost today with $18.5 million in new funding from the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE), a federal program that connects teams of scientists across Canada to collaborate on research with significant health, environmental and societal impacts.
Two other UBC-led networks also received $1.6 million each to transfer knowledge to practice—improving the quality of water for Indigenous and non-urban communities, and supporting the manufacturing of composite materials for industry.
“NCE support for these important efforts will further scientific research and ensure that academic expertise is applied to some of the most pressing challenges of our time,” said Prof. Santa J. Ono, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor. “These new investments will enable our researchers to expand their collaborations across Canada, building constructive partnerships that can enhance the quality of life for millions, in Canada and beyond.”
Treating cancer with ‘smart drugs’
The new NCE funding will extend the work of the NanoMedicines Innovation Network (NMIN), which focuses on “smart drugs” that use various forms of nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer and other diseases.
The network is led by Pieter Cullis, a professor in the faculty of medicine at UBC, and brings together scientists from 17 academic institutions across Canada, 15 companies and eight not-for-profit research and granting institutions.
“Nanomedicines have the potential to detect disease more accurately, make old therapies dramatically more effective, and enable gene therapies that could treat most human diseases,” said Cullis. “This new award—plus more than $22 million in funding from industry and not-for-profit organizations—recognizes our network’s successes to date and ensures that Canada will continue to lead in developing the nanomedicines of the future.”
NMIN members have developed five of the 10 nanomedicines approved by United States, Canadian and European regulatory agencies, and have established a vibrant nanomedicines industry in Canada, with more than 20 companies employing over 400 people.
The network will develop nanomedicines that deliver drugs to the specific target sites, and gene therapies that use RNA and DNA to treat a wide variety of diseases. It will also develop diagnostics that can help detect conditions earlier and better monitor the effectiveness of treatments.
“Our work will ensure that Canada will be competitive in the global market for nanomedicines, which is expected to reach $400 billion US by 2023,” added Cullis.
Safe drinking water
The NCE funding will also support the RESEAU Centre for Mobilizing Innovation, which uses a “community circle” model in working with Indigenous and rural communities to improve the quality of drinking water.
Many Indigenous and non-urban communities face challenges in providing clean drinking water for their members due to smaller tax bases, remote locations, lack of trained operators and other factors, said UBC chemical and biological engineering professor Madjid Mohseni, who will serve as the network’s scientific director.
“By putting the community at the centre of the innovation process, we ensure that proposed solutions are sustainable and that they satisfy each community’s unique needs, on their terms,” he said.
“Over the next four years, the network plans to expand its community circle model to foster open innovation in water health for these communities, in a way that supports self-determination and aligns with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action,” he added.
Advanced industrial materials
Composite materials like fibreglass and carbon fibre reinforced polymer are stronger, safer, lighter and cheaper than their constituent parts, and are used in products ranging from water slides and sporting goods to cars and airplanes. The NCE funding will support the Composites Research Network Knowledge Mobilization Centre (CRN-KM) in transferring knowledge to small businesses to help improve composites manufacturing across Canada.
“I am very grateful for UBC’s longstanding support of our research and outreach activities in composite materials and structures, which has led to our newly launched CRN-KM,” says UBC materials engineering professor Anoush Poursartip, director of the network. “We now have the resources to focus on transitioning rigorous research to help Canadian companies and small businesses flourish during a period of rapid technological change.”
For more information on the NCE funding, click here