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Quebec Drug-Discovery Consortium Awards $7.2M to Four Public-Private Research Teams

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The Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery, a public-private partnership launched last year to commercialize early-stage drug-discovery tools of interest to Canadian pharmaceutical companies, announced yesterday the winners of its inaugural grant competition.

The consortium, abbreviated CQDM, awarded nearly C$8 million ($7.2 million) to four teams that combine researchers from one or more Quebecois aCemic institutions and/or biotech companies, among them Caprion Proteomics and BioSignal, a subsidiary of PerkinElmer.

Each team will receive between C$500,000 and C$1 million per year over the next three years, with a maximum of C$3 million. The consortium has not disclosed exact award amounts for each project.

The goal of each project will be to develop technology to facilitate drug discovery at the Canadian branches of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Merck Frosst. Each of the pharma divisions committed C$1 million per year for the first four years of CQDM's operations.

Founding government partners include the Quebec Minister of Economic Development, Innovation, and Export Trade, or MDEIE; Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Quebec, or FRSQ, Québec's public-sector health-research funding agency; and Canada's Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence.

Together, these public entities contributed C$4 million to set up the consortium, which has an annual budget of approximately C$12 million.

The winning investigators, collaborating institutions, and project titles are:

• Louis Philippe Vézina (principal investigator), Medicago; with collaborators from Laval University, SNC-Lavalin Pharma, and McGill University. Project title: VLP Express: A novel, high-throughput technology to accelerate the discovery and development of new vaccine antigens based on virus-like particles.

• Louis Collins (PI), Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University; with collaborators from Laval University. Project title: Development of magnetic resonance imaging tools to facilitate the development of drugs to treat prodromal Alzheimer's disease.

• Michel Bouvier (PI), Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal; with collaborators from BioSignal/PerkinElmer, McGill University, Sherbrooke University, and the Montreal Heart Institute at the University of Montreal. Project title: Multiparametric profiling of G protein-coupled receptor ligand binding efficacy using multiplexed biosensors: Linking signaling signatures to therapeutic efficacy.

• Eustache Paramithiotis (PI), Caprion Proteomics; with collaborators from the University of Montreal Hospital Centre and the Montreal Clinical Research Institute. Project title: Identification of biomarkers for measurement of pancreatic beta cell mass, function, and stratification of treatment-responsive patients.

CQDM announced the winning projects this week at an event in Montreal hosted by CQDM and non-profit life-sciences organization Montreal InVivo.

CQDM debuted in 2008 at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual meeting in San Diego. Its goal is to support the development of technologies that can aid the drug-discovery process across several therapeutic fields. It is not intended to fund research on new drugs for specific diseases.

As reported last month by BTW, Max Fehlmann, president and CEO of CQDM, told attendees of the Licensing Executives Society spring meeting in Montreal that the consortium would select three to five projects for funding each year.

The first four winning research teams were selected from a group of 12 "priority" groups that were invited to submit full applications last December. The dozen were chosen from 78 initial applications filed in November.

The grant program stipulates that intellectual property generated from each project will belong to the inventors and their affiliated entities. CQDM's pharma sponsors, which maintain a presence on CQDM's strategic orientation committee and board of directors, will be given the first right of refusal for a non-exclusive end-user license for internal research purposes only. The IP owners will also maintain the right to use the technology themselves or to out-license it to third parties.

In addition, CQDM will review the general frame of a potential licensing agreement with consortium participants and funded researchers prior to the start of each project. Fehlmann told LES meeting attendees last month that it is "unlikely" that the license agreements would be based on royalties "given the pre-competitive nature of the research."

Because of the IP-ownership provisions, the consortium found it difficult to attract smaller biotech companies to participate in projects. But according to Roger Bossé, a cell development leader in the biodiscovery unit at PerkinElmer, whose BioSignal subsidiary is collaborating on one of the projects, the CQDM has the potential to benefit all participants.

"We try to make the best possible products for our customers," Bossé told BTW this week. "This relationship is fulfilling our requirement for enabling solutions for drug discovery."

Bossé also said that it is possible that BioSignal/PerkinElmer could end up sharing in IP with its aCemic collaborator, but that needs to be further negotiated with the University of Montreal.

"If there is IP to be shared it would come from an important contribution from PerkinElmer R&D – for instance, if we find a unique way to develop a product so that it is more stable," he said.

Bossé added that the aCemic collaborators should benefit from the involvement of biotech partners such as PerkinElmer because "we are very strong at product development and can supply them with more knowledge about what is required for proof of concept for a full product."

CQDM has maintained that it will act as an agent for its pharma sponsors and negotiate potential licenses on their behalf, but will not take shares in the IP ownership or licensing process.

CQDM's strategic orientation committee will meet this summer to discuss the priority agenda for the 2009-2010 grant competition. The call for proposals for that competition will be due Aug. 20, with letters of intent due in October, CQDM said. More information on the first round of awardees and the next round of funding can be found on CQDM's website.

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