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ProteoMonitor Proteomics Heads North of the Border as Canada Launches Funding Efforts

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American proteomics researchers looking for the next hotspot of protein analysis may want to turn their attention to their friendly neighbor to the north. Fresh from hosting the second annual HUPO Congress, and soon to become the home of the new international HUPO headquarters, Canada is also positioning itself as a major funder of proteomics research.

Genome Canada, which describes itself as a hybrid between a granting body and a venture capitalist, has already invested more than CA$300 million ($230 million) in genomics and proteomics, with another CA$65 million on the way come April. And Genome Quebec — one of five regional centers that make up Genome Canada — is currently funding 17 large-scale genomics or proteomics-related projects totaling nearly CA$120 million, according to Genome Quebec Chief Scientific Officer Guy Bellemare. Approximately 25 percent of the projects are geared toward proteomics, Bellemare adds.

Despite its still relatively small investment, however, this “village” of 33 million people, as Genome Canada’s VP of communications Anie Perrault termed it, has been receiving international attention recently from genomics and proteomics gurus. Francis Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, for example, paid a visit to Genome British Columbia last October. Also notable was HUPO council members’ selection of Montreal as the site of the organization’s new international headquarters, and the subsequent appointment of John Bergeron, who leads the Montreal Proteomics Network, as the next HUPO president.

Genome Canada’s biggest recent funding push, set to enter the due diligence stage of review in early November, is the Competition in Applied Genomics and Proteomics Research in Human Health. The competition’s winners will take a share of a CA$65 million pot set aside by the Canadian government for the development of genomics and proteomics tools that can be used in a clinical healthcare setting within five years of the start of the project — an ambitious timeline for most proteomics researchers. “At first we thought, ‘Oh my God, the scientists will hate us,’ and the pickup was slow at first,” says Roger Foxall, executive vice president of research at Genome BC. “But then the real clinicians got wind of this. … Whether any [of the tools developed under this program] will really be in the health system in five years doesn’t really matter — what matters is, they’re going to be in the health system a heck of a lot earlier than would otherwise have been.”

Foxall says that of the 14 projects that Genome BC approved for submission to the competition, “Nine to 10 have a hefty dose of proteomics.” In contrast to de novo drug discovery, which tends to take many years to reach the clinic, the tools that the competition will attempt to develop will address the three Ps: prediction, prevention, and personalization, Foxall added. “The issue up here as we try to cut costs is, let’s get better diagnosis and prognosis, because the cost of health care is a major political issue,” he says. Techniques for analyzing differential expression of proteins — including ICAT, 2D-LC, and the use of newer mass specs — have figured most prominently in the proposals that came through Genome BC, he says. Protein chips were also on that list, but Bellemare stressed that the technology was riskier and at an early stage.

The Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health, and Addiction in Canada also has money from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to fund several proteomics initiatives, says IMNHA director Rémi Quirion, who is looking for ways to put Canada on the international radar. The IMNHA has recently started funding an initiative in regenerative medicine, which Quirion says would include proteomics in its rubric. He hopes that the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the US would help to sponsor further neuroproteomics projects for understanding brain function under disease conditions, and has made plans to collaborate with the Human Brain Proteome Project.

An extended version of this column appeared in ProteoMonitor’s October 31, 2003, edition.

Katherine A. Mason is editor of ProteoMonitor, a weekly newsletter from GenomeWeb at www.proteomonitor.com. She can be reached at [email protected] genomeweb.com.

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