McGill centre culls proteomics, genomics research

McGill University is building a research centre worth more than $30 million that could accelerate the drug-discovery work conducted by genomic and proteomic life sciences companies.

The school said Monday the six-storey Montreal Genomics

and Proteomics Centre (MGPC) will be completed by the fall. Five groups will share the space, including the Jamson T.N. Wong Laboratories for Bone and Periodontal Research and a bio-business incubator. McGill said the facility would be located on its downtown campus.

The MGPC marks one of the country’s first major academic research centres dedicated to the emerging field of proteomics. While the Human Genome Project made headlines around the world last year, life sciences experts say proteomics may play an even more important role in curing diseases. Proteomics is the study of how proteins are created by genes and their function within the cell. A number of Canadian companies, including Toronto-based MDS Pharmaceuticals and Montreal-based Caprion,Proteomics launched major supercomputing centres for drug-discovery work last year.

Dr. John Bergeron, Caprion’s chief scientific officer, will be the director of the MGPC. He said the facility is meant to address the concerns of all academia and private industry. “”That means paradigm shifts for all of the academic investigators, and that means trying to set up 100 different Caprions as a results of the efforts that are going on here,”” he said. “”The types of technology that are put into place here are more dispersed than they are at, say a company like MDS and Caprion, which are much more focused on their business plans and hitting the milestones. Here we’re definitely trying to forge new directions in both proteomics and genomics and trying to push the technical envelope as far as we can.””

Proteomics projects underway include the discovery new molecular “”machines”” that are found in different compartments of the cell. One of these is involved in sorting delivery of proteins from an intracellular compartment that will be key in understanding how a number of neurological diseases are handled, Bergeron said.

Genome Quebec, a not-for-profit investment organization formed to stimulate genomic and proteomic initiatives in the province, will be providing the MGPC’s technology platform with a $20 million investment over four years. More than 100 Genome Quebec employees will be deployed to manage the centre, which will provide services like genotyping, sequencing and bio-chips.

Genome Quebec president Paul Larchevque said the MGPC’s technology platform would probably be on the same order of magnitude as private sector companies. The centre will also be the operational base for three of the 15 other major projects in Genome Quebec’s portfolio. “”You can imagine the amount of data that’s going to be generated through that,”” he said. “”We still have to do the specs and make sure we understand the size of all of that.””

The highly technical, compute-intensive work of genomics and proteomics researchers could create a subset of the skills shortage many believe exists in Canada’s IT industry. Bergeron said the MGPC could provide more of a training ground for future candidates, while Larchevque said Genome Quebec and McGill have already begun posting jobs. “”You wouldn’t believe the amount of CVs we’ve received,”” he said.

McGill expects to receive about $100 million in contributions for the MGPC’s construction over the next five years from a variety of partners, including Genome Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Canada Economic Development.

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