Imagine transforming the path new biomedical discoveries travel from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside from a dial-up internet connection to broadband. A new initiative at the University of Ottawa is aimed at helping to do just that. Called the Advanced Medical Research Centre (AMRC), the 350,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility represents the university’s largest investment in its nearly 175-year history.
Built to take advantage of the unique human and organizational capital that already exists in Ottawa, the project will “bring together industry, federal labs, the university and hospitals to create what I call a quadruple helix,” explains Sylvain Charbonneau, the university’s vice-president, research and innovation. The idea is to foster a seamless sharing of technology that will improve health-care delivery while speeding the discovery and commercialization of new technologies and treatments.
“The cornerstone of the AMRC will be the Health Innovation Hub,” Dr. Charbonneau explains. “It’s a space that will accelerate innovators, companies and startups in order to bring new technologies and therapeutics to market.”
Once completed, the AMRC will bring together up to 50 such venture-backed firms working together under the same roof with 1,000 students, clinicians and researchers, says Dr. Charbonneau. “It will have a number of shared core research facilities that not only our scientists will have access to but will be available to entrepreneurs and companies.”
What makes the University of Ottawa the ideal site for the initiative is the wealth of expertise and support available in “our five hospitals and the six research institutes tied to these hospitals,” says Dr. Charbonneau.
For instance, not only is the university among the country’s top three most research-intensive in medicine and science – it is also a leading centre for clinical trials. Another key asset: the Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre (BMC). The most experienced and successful facility of its kind in Canada, the BMC has produced over a dozen cell- and virus-based products, including COVID vaccines for clinical trials. Consequently, it’s an ideal foundation on which to expand Ontario’s bio-manufacturing capabilities.
Geographical proximity will also allow the AMRC to forge relationships with national health regulatory agencies, government departments that fund research, and federal labs specializing in fields like immuno-oncology, says Dr. Charbonneau. “We can create a rich ecosystem to work collaboratively.”
The AMRC will also help to further strengthen and grow the connection between the health and high-tech sectors in Ottawa, which already has one of Canada’s richest pools of tech talent. For example, at the University of Ottawa’s Kanata-North satellite campus alone, “there are about 550 companies, mostly IT, that generate around $13.5-billion a year,” notes Dr. Charbonneau. Projections place the economic impact of the AMRC at $1-billion by 2031.
But the projected benefits extend well beyond the financial realm. Faster development of innovative treatments and technologies could help Canadians live longer, healthier lives and even ease the strain on our overstretched health-care system. For example, an immune-based treatment for melanoma originally developed at the University of Ottawa has now reached the testing phase. And handheld devices that deliver blood test results at the bedside are manufactured in Ottawa by both Abbott and Siemens, organizations that employ 1,500 workers. No doubt this track record, in combination with the new facility, will attract even more cutting-edge talent from around the globe.
In short, “the AMRC will be a game changer, and we trust partners, such as public and private investors and entrepreneurs, will join us to reimagine the future of health care by making this transformative project an exceptional economic and social strength for Canada and beyond,” concludes Dr. Charbonneau.
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