News release

University of Alberta to lead new national network on forefront of biomedical science

The new $27.3-million Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet) will be led by Todd Lowary, a prominent carbohydrate scientist

EDMONTON, ALBERTA (February 6, 2015) — The University of Alberta will lead a pan-Canadian initiative to leverage and translate the deep fundamental knowledge gained over 50 years of glycomics research—an interdisciplinary field at the forefront of biomedical science that will address some of the unresolved issues in infectious disease.

The new Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet), one of four successful 2015 Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCEs) announced today by the Government of Canada, will be led by Todd Lowary, a prominent carbohydrate scientist in the Faculty of Science and director of the Alberta Glycomics Centre.

“The network will build upon the activities of the Alberta Glycomics Centre and the tremendous jurisdictional strength Canada has in this important and rapidly evolving field. GlycoNet will become an international research and translation hub in glycomics, and the network will be a crucial driver for novel solutions to unmet medical needs, including vaccines, drugs and devices,” notes Lowary, who also takes on the role of scientific director for GlycoNet.

Lorne Babiuk, University of Alberta vice-president (research), underscores the honour of this award. “I am thrilled that we were chosen to host GlycoNet under Todd’s leadership. Congratulations to Todd, to his team and to the partners and funders who have helped the university build one of the world’s best centres for carbohydrate research. On behalf of the university, I thank the federal government for their investment in and support of this important field of research and look forward to continuing Canada’s international leadership and strong track record in glycomics.“

Selected from 83 applications, GlycoNet will capitalize on the research strengths and leadership established in the highly successful provincial initiative, the Alberta Glycomics Centre, to further develop solutions to important health issues such as personalized medicine and new drugs, as well as vaccines for influenza, genetic diseases and diabetes.

“Our government is committed to investing in world-class research networks such as GlycoNet, which will develop new drugs and vaccines to fight diseases that affect millions of Canadians,” said the Honourable Rona Ambrose, minister of health. “These investments will improve our quality of life and contribute to the creation of a stronger, more innovative economy and a more prosperous Canada.”

“GlycoNet will bring together the top researchers in glycomics to develop treatments for illnesses ranging from diabetes to tuberculosis. On behalf of the federal research funding agencies, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is delighted to support this promising collaboration between researchers from different disciplines and partners from different sectors,” said Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. “GlycoNet will join the impressive lineup of NCEs that are already helping drive innovation and increase impact in Canada.”

The urgency of addressing novel therapeutics requires science to take up the advances in the powerful domains in the “omics” fields, including glycomics, genomics and proteomics. Glycomics, which is the study of the biological role of carbohydrates, the essential structures that manifest themselves in myriad forms in the human body, has led to successful commercialization of several carbohydrate-based drugs, including Tamiflu, an anti-influenza drug; Cerezyme, a treatment for Gaucher disease; and Precose, used to treat diabetes. These breakthroughs have resulted in worldwide sales in 2012 of US$787 million, US$813 million and US$541 million, respectively.

Supported by a range of government, industry and international partners, GlycoNet will bring together an initial group of 64 researchers at 22 institutions across the country to bolster glycomics research and training in Canada, speed the generation of commercial products from research and provide Canadian scientists with a unified vision and foundation to strengthen training and essential core research services in the field.

GlycoNet is set to advance Canadian health care and biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the targeted areas of antimicrobials, rare genetic diseases, diabetes, obesity, agents for treating chronic disease and the development of therapeutic proteins and vaccines.The network will become a focal point for researchers and industry seeking solutions through applied research in step with multinational-level initiatives in the United States, Australia, Taiwan and Europe to support game-changing developments and commercial opportunities in the field.

Media inquiries:
Kristy Condon, Communications Coordinator
Faculty of Science
University of Alberta

Martin Leroux, Media and Public Affairs Officer
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Government of Canada

About the Alberta Glycomics Centre
The Alberta Glycomics Centre (formerly known as Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science, AICCS) comprises a team of highly motivated individuals whose research interests span a multidisciplinary array of biological processes and technologies specific to carbohydrate research. The fields of chemistry, biology, medicine and engineering are dynamically integrated as experts in areas such as carbohydrate synthesis, protein carbohydrate interactions, glycoengineering, drug discovery, vaccine development, mass spectrometry and X-ray crystallography work together to explore carbohydrate science. Currently, 10  principal investigators conduct their research as part of the Glycomics Centre.

About the Networks of Centres of Excellence
The Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) operates a suite of national funding programs on behalf of the three federal granting agencies: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), in partnership with Industry Canada and Health Canada. NCE programs support large-scale, multidisciplinary collaborations between universities, industry, government and not-for-profit organizations, which focus Canada’s research capacity on economic and social challenges, help commercialize and apply research breakthroughs, increase private-sector research and development, and train highly qualified people.

About the University of Alberta
The University of Alberta in Edmonton is one of Canada’s top teaching and research universities, with an international reputation for excellence across the humanities, sciences, creative arts, business, engineering, and health sciences. Home to more than 39,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff, the university has an annual budget of $1.75 billion and attracts more than $460 million in sponsored research revenue. The U of A offers close to 400 rigorous undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in 18 faculties on five campuses—including one rural and one francophone campus. The university has more than 260,000 alumni worldwide. The university and its people remain dedicated to the promise made in 1908 by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that knowledge shall be used for “uplifting the whole people.”

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