That’s why plans for the new Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization are well underway, to bring together business interests and researchers developing molecular imaging probes. Molecular imaging lets doctors see how cells function inside the body, leading to more precise diagnoses and better treatment of illnesses such as cancer, epilepsy, and heart disease.
The centre, set to open in Hamilton, Ontario, will encourage innovative partnerships between the academic, private, and public sectors. “Our centre is going to create a stronger link between basic science and the needs of medicine,” says Dr. John Valliant, the centre’s newly appointed scientific director.
“Early and more accurate detection of cancer in the breast or prostate is one of the leading benefits of the probes.”
According to Valliant, the centre will be the first of its kind in the world and will help Canadian researchers take promising new molecular imaging probes from discovery to commercialization. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies can have the centre evaluate new drug candidates in the early stages of development, and work with academic researchers to help develop clinical trials for new drugs.
So how does molecular imaging actually work? Doctors inject tiny quantities of probes or biomarkers into a patient. The probes then travel to the disease site and produce visual images of molecular processes, such as how quickly a tumour is shrinking after cancer treatment. The probes can also detect small tumours long before they are visible on an x-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan. “Early and more accurate detection of cancer in the breast or prostate is one of the leading benefits of the probes,” emphasizes Valliant. Molecular probes can also be used to deliver targeted drug therapies and monitor conditions such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.
The technology has economic impacts as well. “Tests that are more specific and that don’t require multiple testing could help decrease healthcare costs,” affirms Dr. Tom Ruth, one of the centre’s board members.
The centre will also capitalize on existing areas of Canada’s medical expertise. “Canada produces 70 percent of the world’s medical isotopes,” says Valliant. “Successes that take new medical imaging probes into clinical trials and commercialization will help grow the medical isotope industry.”
He’s confident the fee-for-service revenue generated through industry clients will ensure the centre’s long-term economic sustainability. Patents and intellectual property protection are also expected to generate investment, revenue, new spin-off companies, and more jobs.
Plus, the distinctiveness of the centre is helping to reverse the brain drain. “We’re attracting Canadian-trained people to come back to Canada from the U.S. and Europe,” affirms Valliant, who hopes to have a full staff hired by the spring of 2009.
Learn more about some of the Centre's partners: