ARCHIVED - Biosciences -- PEI's "Oil Sands"

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April 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

On Friday February 16, Premier Pat Binns heralded the opening of NRC's $13.5 million state-of-the-art biosciences facility as a doorway to great economic fortune for Prince Edward Island (PEI). "I'm counting on this being our oil sands," Binns said, referring to Alberta's money machine. "This is our way to prosperity."

The Premier highlighted the economic significance of the growing PEI biosciences cluster which now has the NRC Institute for Nutrisciences and Health at its hub on the campus of the University of PEI (UPEI). "For years, we've wanted to develop a bioscience industry in the province and commercialize products to sell in higher value markets," he added.

Photographed on a tour in one of the labs following the Grand Opening of the NRC Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) in Charlottetown February 16. From left to right: Hon. Peter MacKay; NRC President Dr. Pierre Coulombe; UPEI President Wade MacLauchlan; Premier Pat Binns; and NRC-INH Director of Research Dr. Michael Mayne.
Photographed on a tour in one of the labs following the Grand Opening of the NRC Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) in Charlottetown February 16. From left to right: Hon. Peter MacKay; NRC President Dr. Pierre Coulombe; UPEI President Wade MacLauchlan; Premier Pat Binns; and NRC-INH Director of Research Dr. Michael Mayne.

NRC unlocking nature's potential to prevent disease

Long in the business of health-related R&D, NRC in PEI is now exploring the potential of compounds found in nature to prevent and treat disease. Top scientists at the new NRC facility are looking to compounds found in renewable resources for answers to Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and other devastating and costly conditions.

Six researchers at the new facility, with a seventh arriving in June, are focusing on three research streams ― neurological conditions, obesity-related disorders, and infection and immunity. At the NRC site, NRC scientists are joined by colleagues from Agriculture and Agri-foodCanadaand UPEI. The three organizations have taken a bold step beyond traditional bureaucratic boundaries to create a research "dream team" that can apply their expertise to every point in the bioactives research continuum. Some of them concentrate on the discovery side ― Which plants or marine-based resources contain beneficial compounds? ― while others take what appears to be an effective compound and test it to determine how it acts and why. Still others are involved in the later stages where the most promising compounds have been identified and screened and are ready for pre-clinical testing.

Bioresources are renewable, naturally occurring land- and marine-based resources. A vibrant and rapidly growing industry has emerged around converting these resources into new pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and dietary supplements.

PEI ― a "natural" location for NRC

Prince Edward Island was a natural choice for the new NRC research facility. In addition to the province's considerable plant- and marine-based resources, PEI has considerable R&D expertise in veterinary and human medicine, agriculture, fisheries, food quality and safety. On PEI, bioscience is not viewed as a replacement for, but rather, a way to enhance the province's primary industries of farming, fishing and forestry.

Local government and academic research organizations as well as private sector companies are working together as the PEI BioAlliance to promote the growing cluster and attract new business.

Good science, good health, good business

NRC contributes by finding firms to commercialize its discoveries and helping companies transform their own ideas into marketable goods. In Charlottetown, NRC has allocated considerable lab space for scientists from nutrisciences-related companies, giving them access to top-notch R&D expertise and cutting-edge equipment. The opportunity to work closely with NRC can make all the difference in a company's chances of commercializing a new product.

The private sector incubator space at the new facility is already nearing capacity with clients such as Chemaphor Inc., Neurodyn Inc. and the recently opened Atlantic Centre for Bioproducts Valuation.

Making it to market

The PEI BioAlliance has set its sights on a global nutrition market valued at more than US$182 billion, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. In advanced economies, the nutrition market is growing at more than 8% annually, while in emerging economies, the annual rate of growth exceeds 12%.

Although the market is encouraging, discovering and commercializing bioactives is no easy job.

"In the biopharmaceutical world, only one out of 10,000 new chemical compounds or drugs discovered in the science phase ever reach the market," says Tony Lucas, a PEI-based bioscience business consultant, "and less than one in ten biotech startups with a bright idea ever becomes a viable company."

NRC is determined to change that fact. The more linkages, resources and innovation support NRC and its BioAlliance partners can offer, the better a firm's chances for success.

Where will it go from here?

The PEI cluster can already boast some impressive job and revenue figures. Today, 650 people are employed in the sector – 400 with 20 private sector companies, and 250 with 10 public sector organizations. In 2005, the PEI bioresources cluster generated $61 million in private sector revenues.

In a few short years, these figures could increase dramatically. The BioAlliance has set targets for 2010: 1,000 private sector employees, $200 million in private sector revenues, and an R&D expenditure increase from $40 to $60 million. NRC will play a key role in helping this new industry reach these targets.

Can PEI's bioscience cluster compete on the international stage? "We're already gaining traction and turning heads," says NRC-INH Research Director, Dr. Michael Mayne, a native Islander who moved home to run NRC's research program. "It's true there are considerable challenges in making something like this work, but in this case, geography is not one of them. Remember, the Mayo Clinic got its start in a farmer's field."

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