Scientists hope to link lab benchtops to pharmacy shelves through the Edmonton Drug Factory



EDMONTON – Edmonton university researchers and drug developers join forces to create what they believe is Canada’s first facility capable of bringing the latest scientific pharmaceutical knowledge from the laboratory to clinical trials.

The partnership, announced on Monday, will bring together a world-leading laboratory and an existing drug maker to fill a void in Canada’s drug delivery system, said Andrew MacIsaac of Advanced Pharmaceutical Innovation, the nonprofit involved in the effort.

“It is the first large-scale amalgamation of what API does and what researchers are doing at a post-secondary facility,” he said.

MacIsaac’s company, which currently employs around 40 scientists at its Edmonton facility, is partnering with the University of Alberta’s prestigious Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology to create the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative.

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

Canada currently lacks the capacity to manufacture its own drug supply, a loophole that became apparent when the federal government tried to lockdown supplies of COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government has since funded special research and production facilities in Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

But the effort in Alberta would be unique in the combination of the bench and drug store, and the type and breadth of drugs they would develop.

Michael Houghton, the institute’s other director and Nobel Prize winner, said the initiative will focus on so-called “small molecule” drugs – chemically synthesized drugs that make up the bulk of people’s medicine cabinets. Ibuprofen, for example, is a low molecular weight drug.

“We’re trying to develop novel vaccines, novel therapeutics and novel drug screening tools at the institute,” he said. “We have a pipeline that fits very well into the API infrastructure.”

Academic labs do the early research and bring a new drug to the proof-of-concept stage in a lab, MacIsaac said.

The institute can recreate this work in conditions that meet regulatory standards, conduct further studies on how the drug behaves in the body and how it should be formulated. It can then be manufactured for clinical studies.

The Canadian Critical Drug Initiative will bring both sides together, MacIsaac said. It will also improve the supply chain for existing drugs like propofol, which is widely used to induce loss of consciousness during procedures from surgery to putting on a ventilator.

“Before COVID-19 it was tight pretty often, then COVID-19 made it worse. A resilient supply chain for this drug is crucial. “

MacIsaac’s company now makes drugs in quantities suitable for clinical trials – several thousand doses per month. Part of the goal of the new partnership is to reinforce this.

“We will be able to produce around 70 million drug doses annually, a wide range of basic drugs for the security of supply that are required in the hospital environment, through to novel drugs that come from institutes such as Li Ka Shing,” he says.

That will need some enhancement.

The initiative aims to expand its facilities at the University of Alberta and the Alberta Research Park in Edmonton. A 40,000 square meter production facility is also planned.

The entire project will cost approximately $ 169 million. Private investors as well as local and state governments are on board and around half of the money has been collected. A funding request has been sent to Ottawa.

MacIsaac said the initiative could produce drugs within two years.

It is an economic opportunity for a province that wants to diversify, he said.

“Hundreds of jobs will be created in the short term and many, many more in the long term. We will be able to find homes for many of the talents we have grown in the oil and gas sector. ”

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

Edmonton scientists are already waiting to conduct clinical trials for vaccines against scourges like hepatitis C or viruses that threaten transplant patients, Houghton said. One way to bring these breakthroughs to market is with the missing piece of the puzzle.

“We have a future pipeline,” he said. “We will need the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative infrastructure to get these vaccines ready for clinical trials and to help us deliver these vaccines.”

This report from 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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