Scientists hope to connect the lab bench to drugstore shelves via the Edmonton pharmaceutical plant

“It was a good marriage for both of you,” said Lorne Tyrrell, co-director of the institute and discoverer of the first oral treatment for hepatitis B.

Canada currently does not have the capacity to manufacture its own supply of drugs, a gap that became evident when the federal government attempted to block supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government has since funded specific research and manufacturing facilities in Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

But Alberta’s effort would be unique in connecting the lab bench and the pharmacy shelf, as well as the type and extent of drugs it would help develop.

Michael Houghton, the institute’s other director and Nobel Prize winner, said the initiative would focus on so-called “small molecule” drugs, chemically synthesized drugs that make up the vast majority of what is in people’s medicine cabinets. Ibuprofen, for example, is a small molecule drug.

“What we’re trying to do at the institute is develop new vaccines, new therapies and new drug screening tools,” he said. “We have a pipeline that will adapt very well to the API infrastructure. “

University labs are doing the first research, bringing a new drug to the proof-of-concept stage in a lab, MacIsaac said.

The institute can recreate this work under conditions that meet regulatory standards, conduct a more in-depth study of how the drug will behave in the body and how it should be formulated. He can then manufacture it for clinical trials.

The Canadian Critical Drugs Initiative will bring the two parties together, MacIsaac said. It will also improve the supply chain for already existing drugs such as propofol, which is commonly used to induce unconsciousness in procedures ranging from surgery to ventilator use.

“It was quite often rare before COVID-19 and then COVID-19 exacerbated that. Having a resilient supply chain for this drug is essential.

MacIsaac’s company now manufactures drugs in quantities suitable for clinical trials – a few thousand doses per month. Part of the goal of the new partnership is to speed it up.

“We will be able to produce around 70 million doses of drugs per year, a wide variety ranging from the security of supply of basic drugs needed in hospitals to new drugs coming out of institutes like Li Ka Shing,” he said. he declared. noted.

It will take some expansion.

The initiative seeks to expand its facilities at the University of Alberta and the Alberta Research Park in Edmonton. A 40,000 square foot manufacturing plant is also planned.

The entire project will cost around $ 169 million. Private investors, as well as municipal and provincial governments, are on board and about half of the money has been raised. A request for funding has been sent to Ottawa.

MacIsaac said the initiative could produce drugs within two years.

It’s an economic opportunity for a province looking to diversify, he said.

“It will generate hundreds of jobs in the short term and many, many more in the long term. We will be able to find a home for much of the talent that we have developed in the oil and gas industry.

The initiative could help create a cluster of companies to add to the hundreds of drug manufacturing jobs already in Edmonton, he said.

Scientists in Edmonton are already waiting for clinical trials of vaccines against plagues, such as hepatitis C, or viruses that threaten transplant patients, Houghton said. One way to bring these breakthroughs to market is the missing piece of the puzzle.

“We have a future pipeline,” he said. “We’re going to need the infrastructure of the Canadian Critical Drugs Initiative to complete and help us manufacture these vaccines for clinical trials and deliver these vaccines. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 1, 2021.

– Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @ row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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