Canadian Manufacturing

Researchers and manufacturers join forces to fast track drug development

The Canadian Press

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The initiative could help create a cluster of firms to add to the hundreds of drug manufacturing jobs already in Edmonton.

University researchers and drug developers in Edmonton are joining forces to create what they say will be Canada’s first facility that can take the latest scientific pharmaceutical insights from the lab through clinical trials to the marketplace.

The partnership, announced on Nov. 1, brings together a world-leading laboratory and an existing drug manufacturer to plug a hole in Canada’s drug supply system, said Andrew MacIsaac of Advanced Pharmaceutical Innovation, the not-for-profit corporation involved in the effort.

“It’s the first large-scale marrying of what API is doing and what researchers at a post-secondary institution are undertaking,” he said.

MacIsaac’s firm, which currently employs about 40 scientists at its Edmonton facility, is teaming up with the University of Alberta’s renowned Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology to form the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative.


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

Canada currently lacks the capacity to manufacture its own drug supply, a gap that became obvious when the federal government was trying to lock up supplies of COVID-19 vaccine. The federal government has since funded specific research and manufacturing facilities in Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

But the Alberta effort would be unique in linking the lab bench and the drugstore shelf, as well as in the type and breadth of drugs it would help develop.

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

The institute can recreate that work under conditions that meet regulatory standards, conduct further study on how the drug will behave in the body and how it should be formulated. It can then manufacture it for clinical trials.

The Canadian Critical Drug Initiative will bring both sides together, said MacIsaac. It will also improve the supply chain for already existing drugs such as propofol, which is commonly used to induce unconsciousness for procedures from surgeries to being put on a ventilator.

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

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


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