Biotechnology Focus

Laboratory Focus September 2011

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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4 NEWS September 2011 Laboratory Focus PROOF OF CONCEPT PROGRAM TO GENERATE NEW MEDICAL PROTOTYPES AND DIAGNOSTIC ELA CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION Event organizers of the first European Lab Automation (ELA) conference and exhibition, which took place in July say the event was an outstanding success. The event held in Hamburg Germany, was attended by 1,500 lab profession- als and featured 151 exhibitors and media partners. Feedback was over- whelmingly positive organizers said, adding that the combination of ten conference streams and workshops provided useful and relevant scientific content across a range of applications within laboratory automation. Ken Browne, Event organizer and director of Select Biosciences com- mented, "We are delighted with the success of the first ELA conference and exhibition and have received some fantastic feedback from ven- dors and delegates alike." He con- tinued, "We are aiming to fill the need for a pan-European Automation event, and establish ELA as the fo- rum for combining scientific content with up-to-date technology. As such, we have already booked the date for the second ELA conference and hope to continue its success." TOOLS IN COMMERCIALIZATION PIPELINE Technology development in the life sci- ences sector received a much-needed boost with the announcement of five projects funded through Genome BC's Proof of Concept (POC) Program. The Genome British Columbia pro- gram is a partnership with Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and the Province of British Columbia. It represents a total investment of $8.7 million for new research projects, with $4.35 million provided jointly by and WD and the Province through the federal-provincial Western Economic Partnership Agreement and the remain- ing $4.35 million provided by other co-funders in each research project. The provincial funding is part of the BC government's $75-million investment in Genome BC's current five-year plan. According to Genome BC, through this program researchers will be able to advance their genomics dis- coveries from innovation to a viable proof-of-concept model or prototype. Ultimately products arising from fund- ing through the POC Program are expected to be distributed into the mainstream market. A small initial pilot program, the Technology Development Innovation Fund (TDIF), made resources available to projects that demonstrated near- term commercialization potential. The initial intake of projects was successful therefore it warranted a larger strat- egy, hence the POC Program. Some projects in the initial pilot TDIF have already sold prototypes or engaged in commercial licensing agreements. One of the TDIF projects funded through this program is: A Microfluidic Nanoparticle Formulator for Systemi- cally Deliverable Genetic Materials. Genome BC's funding of this project has been applied to the development of proof of concept and prototype materials used in instrumentation for nanomedicine. This work has contrib- uted to technology that is the basis of a recent UBC spin-off company. "Genome BC provided our project with funding for important proof of concept studies. We believe that continued support from Genome BC for funding translational research with commercial potential is critical for growing the local biotechnology industry," said Dr. Pieter Cullis, profes- sor, department of biochemistry and molecular biology at UBC. For Dr. Cullis and other BC-based scientists, Genome BC's funding will allow for necessary research and development so that ideas can be brought to full fruition. "The primary challenge associated with commercializing a product in BC revolves around the chasm that exists between idea conceptualization and making it a reality. For the most part, there is no shortage of innovative and creative ideas in BC; however, we con- tinue to observe shortcomings when it comes to translating such ideas, which has been further exacerbated by the recent state of the capital markets. Ge- nome BC's Proof of Concept Program represents an attempt to 'bridge' that chasm in such a manner that that it not only accelerates the overall product de- velopment but also increases the prob- ability of a successful launch," said Don Enns, president of Life Sciences BC. UBC RESEARCHERS CREATE MORE POWERFUL "LAB-ON-A-CHIP" FOR GENETIC ANALYSIS UBC researchers have invented a silicon chip that could make ge- netic analysis far more sensitive, rapid, and cost-effective by allow- ing individual cells to fall into place like balls in a pinball machine. The UBC device, about the size of a nine-volt battery, allows scientists to simultaneously analyze 300 cells individually by routing fluid carrying cells through microscopic tubes and valves. Once isolated into their separate chambers, the cells' RNA can be extracted and replicated for further analysis. By enabling such "single-cell analysis," the device could accel- erate genetic research and hasten the use of far more detailed tests for diagnosing cancer. "It's like trying to trying to un- derstand what makes a strawberry different from a raspberry by studying a blended fruit smoothie," said Carl Hansen, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy and the Centre for High-Throughput Biol- ogy, who led the team that developed the device. The device, described and validated in the August 1 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was developed by Dr Hansen's team, in collaboration with researchers from BC Cancer Agency and the Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics. The device's ease of use and cost- effectiveness arise from its integra- tion of almost the entire process of cell analysis – not just separating the cells, but mixing them with chemical reagents to highlight their genetic code and analyzing the results by measuring fluorescent light emitted from the reaction. Now all of that can be done on the chip. "Single-cell genetic analysis is vital in a host of areas, including stem cell research and advanced cancer biology and diagnostics," Hansen said. "But until now, it has been too costly to become widespread in research, and especially for use in health care. This technology, and other approaches like it, could radically change the way we do both basic and applied biomedical research, and would make single-cell analysis a more plausible option for treating patients – allowing clinicians to distinguish various cancers from one another and tailor their treatments accordingly." The research was funded by Ge- nome BC, Genome Canada, West- ern Economic Diversification Cana- da, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Terry Fox Foundation, and the Natural Sciences and Engi- neering Research Council.

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