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January 16, 2018

Volume 33 Issue 2


Welcome to GenOmics!

We cover the latest Genomics news that matters most to Alberta, Canada and the World. The Genome Alberta newsletter for the Omics Generation

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In This Issue
Genomics Enterprise News Up arrow

Stories that we think will be relevant to Canadian genomics community. If you have anything you’d like to see highlighted here, drop a note to info@genomealberta.ca.

New bioindustrial funding available from Alberta Innovates

Alberta Innovates is accepting proposals for project funding under three new Alberta Bio Future funding calls. Alberta Bio Future (ABF) was launched in March of 2015 to expand a competitive, sustainable and profitable bioindustrial sector through an integrated program with an industry focus. ABF focuses primarily on projects that add value to biomass in agriculture and forestry, and create new and improved bioindustrial products and bioindustrial technologies.

More details are available on the ABF program page.

Science, Action!

With a first prize of $3,500 and a special jury prize for ‘Research in the North’, researchers might want to check out NSERC’s video contest because the deadline is this week. Shoot a 60 second video featuring research in the natural sciences or engineering fields and write a 100-word biography telling them a bit about yourself. Winning videos will be featured as part of museum exhibits, science fairs and during Science Odyssey and Science Literacy Week.

More information on how to enter and examples of past winners are available on the NSERC website.

Let us know about your entry!

Edmonton destined to be health innovation hub, says medical task force

The City of Edmonton wants to become known as Canada’s Healthy City. That doesn’t mean having healthy Edmontonians, but rather an economy that is buoyed by the health innovations and not just by oil and gas investment. We talked with Edmonton’s Mayor Iveson when the initiative was kicked off about a year and a half ago, and this article from CBC looks at where it stands now.

Mobile genomics lab part of Federal Government funding announcement

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) recently announced combined investments of more than $7.6 million towards seven economic development projects in Manitoba. Approximately $1.1 million of that will be managed by Genome Prairie to establish a mobile genomics lab to promote the commercialization of clean technologies.

The WD media release is available on our blog pages.

Alberta discovery could help treat cancer more effectively

University of Alberta researchers have discovered a mechanism that may make cancer cells more susceptible to treatment. The project was a collaboration between two U of A labs, led by Michael Hendzel from the departments of oncology and cell biology, and Leo Spyracopoulos from the Department of Biochemistry.

Read the media release for more information and a link to the team’s paper.

From our blog pages

Trending Stories Up arrow

Here is what trended online and in print with our science community over the last 2 weeks. These are not ‘official’ trends but are based on the stories we see most often in our media monitoring reports and our social media reports.

Enjoy the material, and feel free to offer some feedback on the story selection.

MSRP for new gene therapy

In mid-December the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new gene therapy. Luxturna was “approved for the treatment of patients with confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy”, an inherited vision loss affecting a few thousand people in the United States. The Foundation for Fighting Blindness estimates about 200 people in Canada have the condition. The one time treatment will fix a mutation of the RPE65 gene and it could pave the way for approval of other such genetic fixes. At the time of the announcement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he believes “gene therapy will become a mainstay in treating, and maybe curing, many of our most devastating and intractable illnesses”.

Gene therapy is a new technology and there is no playbook for the pharmaceutical industry to follow so it there was a great deal of speculation about much the treatment would cost.

When the approval was announced some of the stories got lost in the holiday media mix but when once the New Year had passed, sticker shock set in when the bill came in at $850,000 for the treatment. Or $425,000 per eye.

At the time the therapy was approved there was some speculation that it would cost a million dollars but the lower than expected cost does not exactly set the minds at ease for insurers or patients. The MIT Technology Review said the cost should not “freak you out”. Unlike many treatments (genetic or not) this is a one time fix and not a long term cost for ongoing treatments. Wired magazine was on hand for the annual JP Morgan Health Care Conference last week in San Francisco and the new treatment was the buzz of the conference. The article describes how some of the discussion was around how Luxturna in particular and gene therapy in general is forcing a long hard look at how the cost will be covered. Development is expensive, it is generally a one-shot treatment, and the number of patients is limited, which is not the general model health insurance is built around.

Not surprisingly the price has generated a lot of attention and ideas on how the cost could be covered. The Fierce Pharma website will give you a good introduction to the options but not everyone is convinced the price is warranted. Forbes magazine and Reuters say the non-profit Institute for Clinical Evaluation and Review thinks the price is twice as much as it needs to be. Luxturna may soon have company at the top of the gene therapy pricing list. A $700,00 USd / €594,000 drug called Strimvelis has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK. The final draft guidance is for treatment of an ultra-rare inherited immune deficiency condition often called ‘bubble baby syndrome’.

A final thought on the drug making headlines for its price and its ability to bring about a one-stop cure for at least one form of blindness. The web page for Luxturna is as about as ordinary a page as there is for many drugs with a listing of the possible side effects including eye infections and a permanent decline in visual acuity.

Goop update

What would the first edition of Trending Stories for 2018 be without the latest from Goop.

It seems Canadian doctors are slamming a Gwyneth Paltrow-endorsed coffee enema called the Implant-O-Rama. While the GenOmics editor supports these doctors we would like to thank Goop for ensuring we always have content available for our section on Trending Stories.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Using epigenetics to bridge the gap between genomes and diseases

The AEN is pleased to offer a series of guest posts from its members as it prepares for the annual AEN Summit which will be held this March in Edmonton. The first entry is from Dr. Quan Long, an Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine who looks at ways to confidently predict biological phenomena from specific genetic variations.

Epigenetics as a crime fighter

DNA has been used by law enforcement for years to help identify the criminals responsible for heinous acts. But now the police have even more DNA-related tools to increase accuracy in identifying the responsible bad guys (or girls).

Researchers link accelerated epigenetic aging to bipolar disorder

A new study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Center has found that bipolar disorder could involve faster epigenetic aging, which may explain why persons with the disorder are more likely to have age-related diseases. Check the UT Health news release or the original paper in Translational Psychiatry (open access PDF file).

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters
You can subscribe to receive your bi-monthly edition direct to your email, cancel a subscription, and view all of our back issues.

Representing a “revolution”: how the popular press has portrayed personalized medicine

Representing a “revolution”: how the popular press has portrayed personalized medicine Alessandro R Marcon, Mark Bieber, and Timothy Caulfield investigated the portrayal of “personalized” and “precision” medicine (PM) in North American news over the past decade. Content analysis of print and online news was conducted to determine how PM has been defined and to identify the frames used to discuss PM, including associated topics, benefits, and concerns.
Source: Genetics in Medicine

University wrong to accept A&W donation

“Follow the money” generally is viewed as a way to track down corruption or underhanded dealings. Whether or not the source of the money really is a problem doesn’t always matter because perception counts. Early in December the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources announced a $5 million donation from A&W to go toward the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence. The U of S is learning that perception counts as agrologist Bob Evans thinks that accepting the donation was a mistake.
Source: Western Producer

Proposed outcome measures for state public health genomics program

The mantra of what gets measured gets done could be put to the test if public health genomics programs have to produce metric data. There are very few requirements for such information and this paper proposes performance objectives to asses genomic medicine programs.
Source: Genetics in Medicine

Investing in medical research yields healthy returns

Governments, charities, and the public invest significant sums of money into medical research. The peer-reviewed 'What’s it worth?' study shows that this investment delivers outstanding benefits for the economy, as well as for people’s health.
Source: Wellcome

Events Up arrow

Genome Alberta has an extensive Events Calendar on our website. Visit GenomeAlberta.ca to see all the events, and sign up for our newsletters while you're there!

TEC Health Accelerator – Information Session

The goal of the TEC Health Accelerator (HA) is to position Alberta to be a national leader in health innovation. We do this by providing health technology companies with expert services and facilitating access to industry, capital and health system engagement. Join us as we explain what the TEC HA can do for you, as a health entrepreneur, researcher, funder or service provider. 

In this session, you will:

  • Learn the top five things the TEC HA can do for you
  • Be shown real-world examples of health tech companies the TEC HA has helped
  • Learn how to access TEC HA services

The TEC HA is run by TEC Edmonton, in partnership with Innovate Calgary, and funded by NRC, Alberta Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education, Alberta Innovates, and EEDC.

When: January 23, 2018, 11am - 2pm, including a networking lunch
Where: W21C Research and Innovation Centre, University of Calgary - TRW Building, 3280 Hospital Dr NW, Calgary

To register, please click here.

Mini Med School: Autoimmunity

Mini-Medical School is designed for members of the general public who are interested in learning more about chronic diseases and topics such as Allergies, Concussions, Vaccines, Immune Deficiencies, Precision Medicine, the Microbiome, Women's Issues, and Environmental Exposures.

You won’t graduate with a medical degree after attending our Mini-Medical School series but you will gain more insight to healthy living and chronic diseases.

For February's Mini Med School, Dr. Dianne Mosher & Dr. Marvin Fritzler discuss autoimmunity

When: February 5, 2018, 6:30 - 8:45pm
Where: Libin Theatre at the Foothills Campus, Cumming School of Medicine with the University of Calgary.

There is no cost to attend a lecture but online registration is required.

Prairie University Biology Symposium

The conference agenda is designed to offer significant opportunities for discussion and networking for students. Establish connections with colleagues from academia and elsewhere that will lead towards future goals. All biological sciences disciplines are welcome and encouraged to participate, whether via poster or oral presentation.

Speakers include Dr. David Suzuki and Dr. Anthony Russell, among others.

When: February 22-24, 2018
Where: University of Calgary

Click to connect to the conference website for registration & schedule details.

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