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Canadian Partners Pump C$150M into New Personalized Medicine Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research said today that a number of new genomics and personalized medicine research projects focused on tackling common, complex, and rare diseases have received C$150 million (US$147.5 million) in new grants.

These wide-ranging research efforts, spread across Canada, will aim to apply genomic medicine in developing new treatments for diseases such as autism, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and to show that personalized medicine can be used to control healthcare costs.

Of the total funding, C$71 million will be provided by the Canadian government. That includes C$45 million from Genome Canada, C$24 million from CIHR, and C$2 million from the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. The remainder of the C$150 million will be provided by the regional Genome Centres through the provincial governments, by health charities, and by private partners.

A total of 17 projects have each been approved for funding between C$3 million and C$13 million.

Among those receiving new grants are eight research projects in Quebec, including funding for researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Center, who will hunt for genes that are associated with epilepsy and may be used to identify the disease early on and predict how patients will respond to anti-epileptic drugs. Investigators at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital plan to use their award to develop a genetic test that can predict which patients undergoing bone marrow transplants due to chemotherapy resistance will experience graft-versus host disease, wherein the donor cells are rejected and can attack the patient.

University of Laval investigators will lead an effort to compare different genomic technologies for detecting fetal DNA in a mother's blood to discover which may be the best method for non-invasive prenatal screening programs. Another University of Laval-led effort will develop a new screening program for identifying women under 50 that are at increased risk of breast cancer, which could help healthcare providers catch cancer earlier and improve treatments, outcomes, and costs.
In addition, four teams of scientists in Ontario have been awarded grants under the competition.

Partners at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and University of Ottawa will use genome sequencing to identify genes that are involved in rare diseases such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis and will test drugs that are currently on the market to find out if they may be effective against these diseases. Meanwhile, investigators at the Hospital for Sick Children will seek to identify genetic risk factors for autism spectrum disorder, with the hope that they will be useful in making earlier diagnoses of patients.

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research collaborators will develop genomic technologies to support a quick and painless diagnostic test for Barrett's esophagus, while researchers at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of Ottawa will use their funding to develop a non-invasive approach to detecting inflammatory bowel diseases and to determine the type and severity of the disease.

In Alberta, one research team at the University of Alberta will use an award to bring together experts in health economics, policy, and regulation, and law and ethics to study what might be the best and most cost-effective ways to use omics technologies in health care.

The new funding also will support four research projects in British Columbia, including the BC Cancer Agency, which will apply genetic sequencing to lymphoid cancers with the aim of increasing the cure rate in the province by 20 percent and reducing healthcare costs. Investigators at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital will use their funding to develop a DNA test for HIV drug resistance and real-time surveillance systems for monitoring HIV drug resistance.

A full list of projects being funded under this initiative can be found here.