Research helps companies discover new cancer-fighting drugs

Research helps companies discover new cancer-fighting drugs

The Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer helps pharmaceutical companies develop new therapies that will reduce healthcare costs and save lives
November 17, 2014

This year alone, it is estimated that more than 190,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Arguably, it is one of the most worrying of modern diseases, along with cardiovascular and inherited illnesses.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to invest billions in drug research and development and are increasingly turning to the labs and expertise at university research centres rather than conducting the work in-house.

Such is the case with Bristol-Myers Squibb, a multinational pharmaceutical company that partnered with the drug discovery and commercialization branch of the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRICor) at the Université de Montréal. The institute encompasses a series of state-of-the-art labs headed by Michel Bouvier, a renowned biochemist.

READ: A profile of Michel Bouvier in Forces magazine.
(This article is only available in French.)

IRICoR (short for Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer — Commercialization of Research) was created in 2008 as a branch of IRIC with the aim of pairing researchers with their counterparts in the pharmaceutical industry so they can discover and then market new drugs. Bouvier says the team at IRICoR has more than five projects on the go with different pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer. While some of these projects are meant to find new cancer-fighting drugs, Bouvier says they are also developing treatments for a variety of other diseases such as morbid obesity. “Drug companies benefit from working in our centre because they have access to great equipment and expertise,” says Bouvier. “They know we’re doing drug discovery based on rigorous knowledge and experimentation.”

The benefits are reciprocal. Since partnering with pharmaceutical companies through IRICoR, Bouvier says they’ve received millions in investments, and have begun to receive upfront and milestone payments for their most advanced projects. These funds have been channeled directly into expanding the commercialization centre’s research capabilities, along with maintaining and creating upwards of 70 new highly specialized jobs and training students who, Bouvier says, are more likely to remain in Canada where they can continue discovering drugs that will fight — and maybe one day cure — cancer.