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Government of Canada invests in scientific and clinical hub for orphan drug developments

Researchers Seek New Drug Treatments for Rare Diseases

September 13, 2016 - Halifax, N.S. – Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)

Rare diseases, as the name suggests, have

small patient populations. Historically, these were “orphaned” by the pharmaceutical industry— leaving few approved drug treatment options for those with these “orphan diseases.” An innovative project underway at Dalhousie University is looking to change this, and the project is receiving an investment of $3,000,000 from the Government of Canada to position the province as a hub of research and development in this field.

This investment, provided through ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, was announced today by Andy Fillmore, Member of Parliament for Halifax, at an event held at the Life Sciences Research Institute—a facility that houses Agada Biosciences and the Zebrafish Core Facility and is owned and operated by Dalhousie University.

This funding commitment also complements the Government of Canada's Innovation Agenda which is designed to make Canada a global centre for innovation—one that creates jobs, drives growth across all industries and improves the lives of all residents. Today’s investment is a perfect example of this vision in action.

Under the leadership of Dr. Christopher McMaster, Dalhousie University will work with local commercial partners and the Centre for Drug Research and Development (Vancouver) to develop three biotechnology start-ups to move new drug treatments from the lab to the market for inherited childhood diseases, including familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR or childhood blinding), the inherited form of Parkinson’s, and muscular dystrophies. The project will leverage the scientific expertise within the Zebrafish Core Facility, and its extensive knowledge of zebrafish as a drug-screening tool, to identify future focus areas for future drug development efforts.

Over the coming weeks, additional investments through the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) totalling up to $13.8 million will be announced, bringing the total AIF investments in Atlantic Canada in 2016 to over $38 million. These investments will focus on supporting advancements in clean energy and green manufacturing technologies, detection technologies for disease, as well as projects to improve the health, growth and broodstock of Atlantic farmed salmon. Further, these investments will build on the commitments made by the Government of Canada and the four Atlantic Provinces in the recently launched Atlantic Growth Strategy.


“Innovation is the path to inclusive growth. It fosters a thriving middle class and opens our country to new economic, social and environmental possibilities and is essential in shaping our future. That is why the Government of Canada is committed to supporting projects like the one being undertaken by Dalhousie University, an educational institution that is leading biotechnological innovation in Atlantic Canada.”

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for ACOA

“This investment will enable Dalhousie University to lead work on the frontiers of science searching for solutions to debilitating illnesses. Children everywhere will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this collaborative work that will help to position Nova Scotia as an 'orphan diseases' research hub.”

Andy Fillmore, Member of Parliament for Halifax

"One in fifteen babies born in Canada has an 'orphan disease' and one in three patients in children's hospitals are there due to their orphan disease condition. This high incidence of hospitalization is due to the fact that 95% of orphan diseases have no treatment. In addition, 90% are life-limiting with 35% of affected children not reaching their fifth birthday. Advances in knowledge and technology by clinicians and scientists in Nova Scotia have now made it possible to move toward treatments for orphan disease patients and help these Canadian children in need.”

Christopher McMaster, PhD, Carnegie and Rockefeller Professor, Head of Pharmacology, and Lead Investigator, Dalhousie University

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