U of O commits $15 million to kickstart new multi-tenant Proteomics Research Institute

Guest Contributor
November 18, 2002

The University of Ottawa is lining up partners and funding for a $40-45-million Proteomics Research Institute that would open in 2004 and be modeled on the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) at the Univ of Alberta. The U of O has committed $15 million towards the capital costs of the proposed 11,000-sq-m building, and expects to hear from the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) on its application for matching funds by the end of the month. The National Research Council (NRC) is also expected to be a major partner, contributing about $7.5 million towards the construction.

U of O rector Dr. Gilles Patry says work began about a year and a half ago to attract partners and to develop a concept for the institute, which would house up to 300 people, including 70 principal investigators and their research teams. The idea is to create a centralized facility for experts in proteomics. The U of O would be the largest tenant using about 44% of the building, and would lease space to researchers from the NRC, government labs and the private sector. The NRC has signed a letter of intent to participate, and the scientific teams at Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) are also interested in joining.

Like NINT, the Proteomics Research Institute would be jointly funded by the NRC and an academic institution. It would also feature scientists who are cross-appointed to the university.

“The idea is to bring this critical mass of individuals together so we can share the best possible equipment under one roof and there would be collaborative projects emanating from this synergy,” says Patry. “We saw that by bringing those groups together, we could address the training and research issues, and the potential for spin offs and incubators within this space, as well as those that just want analytical services.”

Projected to become the dominant field of biology for the next 20 years, proteomics examines what proteins are produced when the body is at different stages of development or illness. The science cuts across several disciplines — medicine, biochemistry, pharmacology, chemistry and mathematics — and requires costly equipment that smaller labs often cannot afford. One critical instrument, mass spectrometres, cost $750,000 or more.

“It doesn’t make sense for Agriculture to buy one on its own because we don’t have enough volume. But we sure could use access to one,” says Dr. Stephen Gleddie, a research scientist with AAFC’s Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, and a member of the Proteomics Research Institute working group.


Probable Tenants

Univ of Ottawa

National Research Council

Ottawa Health Research Institute

Health Canada

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Other Potential Players

CHEO Research Institute

University of Ottawa Ottawa Heart Institute

Ottawa Life Sciences Council

Ottawa Biotechnology Incubator Centre

Other federal government labs

The chief scientist of the new institute would be Dr. Michel Chrétien, senior scientist and program director of the Diseases of Aging unit at the Ottawa Health Research Institute (OHRI). Chrétien says the scientists working on proteomics at OHRI, including himself, would move into the new institute but still be employed by OHRI.

“We won’t change our affiliation. The scientists that move in (to the new institute) would already have their salaries paid for by the university departments, or the NRC or the government departments,” explains Chrétien. “It’s a transfer of activity from actual buildings to others but consolidating them into one for better proteomics capacity. We have to develop such facilities if we want to be competitive in this field.”

Scientists from the CHEO Research Institute, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Carleton Univ and other government labs, such as Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would also be invited to participate.

“If the departments decide to come in, they will come in with their own (A-base) budgets,” adds Chrétien. “At this stage, we want to develop a platform for proteomics research that will be good enough or so good that they will join in due time. They’re not there yet because they don’t have large labs. But they are very much interested.”

Chrétien estimates that scientists who move into the institute will bring with them more than $10 million annually in peer-reviewed grants, which would help offset the institute’s operating costs.


Two options are being considered for the institute – a new stand-alone building or an addition to an existing structure. Patry says their preference is for a new facility, possibly co-located with the university’s health science faculties at its Alta Vista campus. Another potential location is the Ottawa Hospital campus. The working group is also considering an addition to the OHRI, located at the Civic Hospital campus.

“We want to look at how this facility can be integrated with other needs that we have at the university,” says Patry. “If we build, we probably will build bigger than this to meet the needs of some of the other projects that we have, either in neuroscience or kidney research, for which we have money right now from CFI (Canada Foundation for Innovation) to build a facility.”

The Proteomics Research Institute would focus on both basic and applied research, with a strong focus on areas such as global warming, Alzheimer’s, degenerative diseases and multiple sclerosis. It would also include a training facility.

“The idea is to have a continuum going from fundamental to development to innovation and then out into the incubators within the same institute,” says Patry. “For us, it’s also important that we fuel the incubator potential of that facility.”

The governance of the new institute is still being discussed, although Chrétien stressed that its primary function will be as an academic institution through which the U of O will invite other scientific groups to participate.

When a positive decision is received from the OIT, the next milestone is to secure commitments from the main partners by April 1, 2003, with construction scheduled to begin next Fall and finish a year to 18 months later.

“We’re very confident this will go ahead,” says Chrétien. “But we still have some milestones to reach.”


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