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The Sherbrooke Pharmacology Institute of the Université de Sherbrooke leads a $27 million project to discover new drugs

Sherbrooke, le 13 décembre 2021 – The anticipated drug shortage at the beginning of the pandemic revealed the urgency of ensuring Quebec's supply autonomy. A major initiative of the Pharmacology Institute of Sherbrooke (IPS) of the Université de Sherbrooke aims at better predicting the action of drugs developed in the laboratory thanks to cutting-edge processes based on artificial intelligence and molecular imaging.

This initiative, called Acuity Quebec, has three-year funding amounting to $27 million. A portion of the grant came from the Ministry of Economy and Innovation (MEI), which provided $13.8 million through the Fonds d'accélération des collaborations en santé. The remainder comes from the many partners who have joined the initiative, including 14 local SMEs, 1 multinational, 3 business accelerators/incubators, and 5 institutions and research centres employing 17 researchers.

Professor Jean-Pierre Perreault, Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies at the Université de Sherbrooke, is delighted with this initiative.  "This major grant will accelerate collaborative research between university laboratories and many companies in the health sciences. The synergy created will definitely revitalize the pharmaceutical industry in Quebec. The Université de Sherbrooke is proud to be the institution behind this investment and to contribute to the development of the next generation of experts in this economic sector." 

Contributing to Revitalizing Quebec's Biopharmaceutical Sector

The consortium will combine chemistry, pharmacology, molecular imaging, and artificial intelligence to accelerate the creation of new molecules while better predicting efficacy without adverse effects.

Creating a new drug is a complex process. Almost 9 times out of 10, unexpected side effects or insufficient efficacy show up in clinical trials. The molecules that never make it to pharmacies drive up the cost of research and delay the arrival of new treatments on the market.

Thus, despite increased research efforts to discover new molecules, there has been a decline in the number of new drugs brought to market. IPS wanted to be part of the solution, as explained by IPS director Professor Philippe Sarret.  As he puts it, "the drug discovery and development process needs to be transformed. Under IPS leadership, the Acuity Quebec project will bring new vision and innovative solutions to ensure an effective transition from basic research to clinical applications and to improve the effectiveness and safety of drugs for patients." 

Bringing Together World-Renowned Expertise

The project is led by internationally renowned researchers from the IPS, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC), and Mila-Institut québécois d'intelligence artificielle.

 "The Acuity Quebec project has great potential, both in terms of advancing knowledge and transferring that knowledge to Quebec society," pointed out Michel Bouvier, IRIC director: "the complementary expertise of academic and industrial research groups in pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, and artificial intelligence will allow us to take an integrated approach that will accelerate the discovery and development of innovative drugs." 

Yoshua Bengio, Mila's chief scientific officer added that " by bringing together the complementary strengths of research labs across the province, Acuity Quebec gives us the opportunity to truly become game changers at a critical time for AI-assisted drug discovery." 

Four Scientific Components

The work carried out by Acuity Quebec aims at transforming the way we create drugs from molecule discovery to applicability. The work breaks down into four components:

  • Molecular design: Developing and optimizing new therapeutic molecules with the support of artificial intelligence.
  • Biosensors: Designing and producing a new generation of biosensors to detect the action of drugs in order to predict their efficacy and adverse effects.
  • Imaging: Developing new molecular imaging tools to visualize the distribution, metabolism, and action of drugs and their targets.
  • Algorithms: Developing new artificial-intelligence algorithms to optimize and predict the action of future drug candidates.

IPS will carry out the first two components. The Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) will handle the studies related to biosensors. The institute is already collaboration with IPS, in particular on the Médicament Québec project. Mila will be responsible for the component related to algorithm development.

Job Creation and Training the Next Generation

A significant aspect of the project is the potential for socioeconomic development. In fact, we expect that at least three companies will be created, yielding 60 direct jobs and 130 jobs in total, not to mention a significant increase in revenue for the SMEs involved.

 As stated by Marie-Claude Battista, directrice du bureau de la valorisation et des partenariats (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), "subsequent to this pandemic, we will be looking for relevant projects that will help us develop locally and ensure Quebec's economic recovery. Acuity Quebec has very specific job-creation objectives. There is also a significant target for future investment, estimated at $64 million from Canadian investors and $112 million from foreign investors.

IPS, of course, wants Acuity Quebec to be a long-term project. As a result, the team is actively working to develop a training component open to graduate students. This initiative would help meet the growing demand for skilled workers in the biopharmaceutical sector.

Members of the Acuity Quebec Consortium

Pharmacology Institute of Sherbrooke (IPS), Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMSS) and Université de Sherbrooke; Université de Montréal, MILA, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer of the Université de Montréal (IRIC), IRICoR, Centre de recherche du CHU de Sainte-Justine, CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS, Centre de recherche du CHUS, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Sherbrooke Innopole, Abaxial Médical, AdMare Bioinnovations, Cannasher, CMC Microsystems, FIND Therapeutics, Imagia Cybernetics, Imeka, Immune Biosolutions, Inversago, Valence Discovery, IR&T, MIMs, Photon etc, Excellthera, NMX Research and Solutions.

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Isabelle Huard, Media-Relations Officer
Communications Department | Université de Sherbrooke
819-821-8000, ext. 63395 |

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