On the heels of the federal election, it’s time to return to the discussion of science funding in our province. The economic and societal value of funding science is immense and we are doing a disservice to the people of Ontario by failing to support research in areas of key importance in the province.
Just this year, Bayer AG made an enormous investment in Ontario science by acquiring BlueRock Therapeutics. One of BlueRock’s lead technologies is targeted at repairing tissue damaged by heart disease. This is based on the world-leading research of Drs. Gordon Keller and Michael Laflamme at the University Health Network in Toronto.
While much has been written about the economic success that this investment heralds for the province, and the number of jobs and opportunities it creates, less is understood about how this investment opportunity came to be.
Without initial investment from the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) to establish “proof of concept” for the lead technology for BlueRock, it is unlikely this landmark deal could have come to fruition in the province.
As BlueRock’s chief innovation officer, Dr. Robert Deans, acknowledged in a recent article, without the seed funding necessary to show that this therapy is indeed promising, there would have been too much risk for a company to make this kind of investment. The technology, and all the opportunities it creates, would likely have ended up in another province or country — or worse, it would have died on the vine.
Organizations like OIRM require relatively small investments from the province — in OIRM’s case, $5M per year — and use it to catalyze research projects that have the greatest potential to proceed to clinical trials and viable treatments.
It was OIRM funding at key stages in the path from research to the clinic that allowed Keller and LaFlamme’s research to attract the investments leading to the creation of BlueRock Therapeutics. It has also allowed for investment into other promising research across the province, including the work of Dr. Bernard Thébaud on the repair of damaged lung tissue in premature infants and Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre on a treatment for septic shock, among many others.
While we understand the need for fiscal responsibility, we note that investing wisely in the regenerative medicine field can provide untold dividends not only for the health of Ontarians but also in the economic success of the province.
The BlueRock example shows that the return on investment can be exceptional when investments are made wisely. We should all be concerned that by removing the funding for OIRM, there is no longer a provincial organization that is evaluating and funding regenerative medicine projects that have the potential to move from the lab to the clinic.
Stem cells were discovered in Ontario and the province boasts some of the best scientists in the world. But other jurisdictions, including Japan, the U.S. and Europe, are moving aggressively to corner the market.
To continue to be a global leader in this innovative space, we need leadership and vision from the province. We need the ability to identify promising made-in-Ontario technologies and support these projects through to the creation of innovative therapeutic products.
Without this, scientists will move on to jurisdictions that will support their work — and the potential for treatments, cures and economic successes will move with them.
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