For immediate release

New glycomics research investments from GlycoNet to facilitate health challenges and a resilient recovery for Canada

$1.3 million in funding to support new sugar research to tackle unmet needs in national healthcare

EDMONTON, ALBERTA (February 3, 2021) – As Canada charts its course for the economic recovery out of COVID-19, harnessing the game-changing potential of glycomics—specialized sugar research in the biological systems—can deliver made-in-Canada solutions and help protect and improve Canadians’ lives.

Today, the Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet) announced $1.3 million in funding to 11 glycomics research projects. The investment is being leveraged through GlycoNet’s four funding streams—Collaborative Team, Strategic Initiative, Translational, and Clinical Partnerships—which aim to foster health innovations by gaining more understanding of the role of sugars in health and diseases. Industry collaborators, health foundations, and business partners are also co-investing $2.6 million for nearly $4 million in total funding towards areas of cancer, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Part of this funding will support the development of an AAV9 gene therapy that is currently being developed by Dr. Jagdeep Walia from Queen’s University, in collaboration with Taysha Gene Therapies. Walia and his research team will conduct preclinical studies to test the safety and efficacy of the gene therapy when delivered intrathecally, with the intent of treating children with GM2A deficiency in clinical studies in the future.

Today’s announcement also includes funding for a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to develop enzymatic tools that will convert A and B type blood to the universal donor O type blood. The UBC researchers, led by Dr. Stephen Withers, will collaborate with the Canadian Blood Services and ABOzymes Biomedical to fully assess the efficacy of the enzymes, as well as the safety and compatibility of the converted blood. This project will help Canada build a strong foundation of sustainable national blood supplies and develop life-saving protocols for those who need blood transfusion in emergency situations.

Further, this funding will support the pilot project by McGill researcher, Dr. Donald Sheppard, and University of Alberta researcher, Dr. Todd Lowary to transform biomedicine for personalized antifungal therapies. In collaboration with Atara Biotherapeutics and Dr. Michel Sadelain, Director of the Center for Cell Engineering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the research team will employ CAR T-cells technology to develop tools to treat invasive fungal infections that cause chronic lung diseases in patients undergoing chemotherapy and transplantation.

“As we navigate post-pandemic economic and social recovery, investments in science and innovations are essential to bring resilience and prosperity to our communities,” said Dr. Warren Wakarchuk, Scientific Director of GlycoNet. “GlycoNet is proud to work with industry partners and cross-sectoral collaborators to drive glycomics research that will bring game-changing solutions to the future of Canadian healthcare and bioeconomy.”

Glycomics research collaborations help Canada harness the potential of bio-innovations to build more self-reliant, sustainable, and prosperous communities. Through mobilizing knowledge and expertise in the study of carbohydrates, along with targeted investments to form strategic alliance among academic institutions, industry, and business partners, this funding will enable researchers to create homegrown solutions to power Canada to adapt to complex health challenges and build a resilient bioeconomy.



“As we navigate post-pandemic economic and social recovery, investments in science and innovations are essential to bring resilience and prosperity to our communities. GlycoNet is proud to work with industry partners and cross-sectoral collaborators to drive glycomics research that will bring game-changing solutions to the future of Canadian healthcare and bioeconomy.” – Warren Wakarchuk, Scientific Director, GlycoNet

“Many countries in the world have an imbalance between the ABO groups of those donating blood and the ABO groups of transfused blood. This is primarily because of an increased use of O blood when the blood group of the patient is not known. This can lead to blood shortages of group O blood. The technology developed by Dr. Withers allows for a possible solution to this problem by converting group A blood to group O to rebalance blood centre inventories.” – Dr. Dana Devine, Chief Scientist, Canadian Blood Services

Quick Facts
  • Today’s announcement is for $1.3 million in funding for glycomics research and an additional $2.6 million in co-funding from research partners and industry collaborators across Canada.
  • This funding will support four new projects within GlycoNet’s Collaborative Team Grant, one Clinical Partnership Grant, five Strategic Initiatives Grant, and one Translational Grant.
  • Since 2015, GlycoNet has leveraged $24.2 million from the federal NCE program into a total investment of $49.7 million in R&D, supported the training of over 450 highly qualified personnel and spun-out five new Canadian companies.


Learn more about the projects announced today:

Collaborative Grant:
Production of MbA for treatment of diabetes and obesity
Investigators: Joerg Bohlmann (University of British Columbia), Stephen Withers (University of British Columbia)

Towards universal blood through enzymatic red blood cell modification
Investigators: Stephen Withers (University of British Columbia), Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu (University of British Columbia)

Novel nucleoside analogues targeting cardiovascular protection
Investigators: Yvan Guindon (IRCM), Mona Nemer (University of Ottawa)

Extracellular vesicle-associated glycans as a novel platform for breast cancer detection
Investigators: Karla Williams (University of British Columbia), Lara Mahal (University of Alberta), Peter Watson (University of British Columbia)

Clinical Partnerships Grant:

A polysialic acid ELISA for diagnosing early scleroderma
Investigators: Lisa Willis (University of Alberta), Mohamed Osman (University of Alberta)

Strategic Initiatives Grant:

A platform for the rapid synthesis of nucleoside analogues
Investigator: Robert Britton (Simon Fraser University)

Augmentation of GCase activity in brains and neurons of mice
Investigators: David Vocadlo (Simon Fraser University), Michael Silverman (Simon Fraser University)

Development of anti-fungal CAR T-cells
Investigators: Donald Sheppard (McGill University), Todd Lowary (University of Alberta)

Advancing the clinical impact of active surveillance in prostate cancer patients using the “Polysialic acid liquid biopsy” and MRI imaging: a two-step authentication method
Investigators: Hon Leong (Sunnybrook Hospital), Laurence Klotz (Sunnybrook Hospital), Stanley Liu (Sunnybrook Hospital), Danny Vesprini (Sunnybrook Hospital), Andrew Loblaw (Sunnybrook Hospital),  Michelle Downes (Sunnybrook Hospital)

Preparatory studies for phase I/II GM2A deficiency gene therapy
Investigators: Jagdeep Walia (Queen’s University)

Translational Grant:

Taming cytokine storms with a P- and E-selectin antagonist to treat coronavirus acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
Investigator: Yvan Guindon (IRCM)


About GlycoNet

GlycoNet is advancing research, innovation, and training in glycomics to improve the quality of life of Canadians. GlycoNet is a one-stop global destination focused on developing new carbohydrate-based drugs, vaccines and diagnostics, in collaboration with academic and industry organizations to address areas of unmet need through applied glycomics research. Funded by the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program and a range of partners, the network includes over 150 researchers across Canada who focus on cancer, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. This national platform supports translational research, protection of intellectual property, novel drug development, company formation and training.


Media contact

Ali Chou
Communications Associate

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