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Building Canada's Strengths: Regenerative Medicine

Canada's rise as an international powerhouse in stem cell research is no accident

 This story is taken from the NCE anniversary report "Building on 25 Years of R&D Excellence."

Shahryar (Shery) Khattak, Product and Process Development Scientist, working on the BioStation CT in the CCRM development facility.

Canada is recognized as a global leader in stem cell and bioengineering science, with over 400 stem cell scientists working in 68 research centres within, or affiliated with, 25 Canadian universities. Given its rich history of research excellence in the field, this country is uniquely placed to be one of the earliest beneficiaries of stem cell advances.


Building blocks

The field of stem cell research began in Canada in the 1960s through the pioneering work of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. That foundational research trained a generation of world-class scientists who propelled Canada to the top of the charts in regenerative medicine. A group of those scientists came together in 2001 with the launch of the Stem Cell Network (SCN), the first national enterprise focused on translating stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. The SCN combined Canada’s internationally recognized strength in stem cell biology with world-class expertise in bioengineering, ethics, clinical practice and commercial expertise from industry partners.

Toronto continues to be a global hotbed for stem cell and regenerative medicine discoveries. The institutions that make up this research cluster are also members of the MaRS Innovation (MI) CECR. MI and its 16 members saw an opportunity to further capitalize on these strengths and championed an application for a new CECR, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM). Launched in 2011, CCRM works closely with scientists and more than 30 Canadian and international regenerative medicine companies to develop new technologies that improve the cell manufacturing process and advance stem cell and biomaterials-based products and therapies to market. CCRM and MI evaluate regenerative medicine discoveries, and provide entrepreneurial expertise and resources to help commercialize these discoveries.

In 2014, the NCE supported a new NCE Knowledge Mobilization network, which will harmonize and optimize best practices and quality controls between five cell manufacturing facilities across Canada. The CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network provides the physical, management and regulatory infrastructure needed to build patient awareness of regenerative cell therapies, expedite regulatory approvals and facilitate adoption of these therapies into clinical practice.


Taking collaboration to the next level

Shared expertise and collaborative governance

  • The networks and centres share board expertise and even administrative personnel where appropriate. This organized approach to collaboration significantly increases the overall impact of NCE program investments. Members of this same regenerative medicine community were instrumental in securing funding for CellCAN.

Accelerating commercialization

  • CCRM is helping develop and operate a new GMP (good manufacturing process) cell manufacturing facility that will support academic and private sector partners.
  • SCN, CCRM and MI co-invest to develop and commercialize stem cell-based technologies and assist each other in sourcing investors for start-up companies.
  • Collaboration will help to attract industry-led clinical trials and cell manufacturing to Canada.

Communicating with Canadians and the world

  • Canada’s largest annual conference in the field, the Till & McCulloch Meetings, is a collaboration between SCN and CCRM, who also work together to organize workshops for highly qualified personnel, public symposia, and a travelling science museum exhibit.
  • SCN and CCRM engage with the lay public and scientists to provide thoughtful analysis, interesting content and scientific insight about stem cells and regenerative medicine via their award-winning blog (signalsblog.ca).
  • The organizations promote each other’s news and accomplishments through their social media platforms and respective networks, and direct partners to collaborate with key players in this ecosystem to secure investment and engagement.

CCRM was able to launch from a position of strength thanks to the support provided by the Stem Cell Network and MaRS Innovation. The real successes will come by collaborating and capitalizing on our respective strengths to translate regenerative medicine discoveries into products and therapies.

– Michael May, CEO and President, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

By collaborating with one another, our organizations are able to leverage our combined resources to help scientists advance their research, help industry to adopt these technologies, and provide Canadians the first-class health care options that they expect and deserve.

– Philip Welford, Executive Director, Stem Cell Network

MaRS Innovation was proud to partner with CCRM on their original CECR application since regenerative medicine is a research discipline that is so strongly represented in Ontario. Our productive sistership ensures that regenerative medicine gets the attention and funding it needs to propel Ontario forward in this crucial commercialization area.

– Raphael Hofstein, President and CEO, MaRS Innovation