Launching Canada’s Immunoengineering and Biomanufacturing Hub

Launching Canada’s Immuno-Engineering and Biomanufacturing Hub

On March 15, leaders from across B.C.’s biotech sector gathered at UBC to celebrate the launch of Canada’s Immuno-Engineering and Biomanufacturing Hub (CIEBH) – a new UBC-led national research hub aimed at strengthening Canada’s pandemic preparedness and developing lifesaving new medicines that will transform the health of Canadians.

The celebration brought together many of the hub’s more than 50 provincial, national and international partners, who have united under a vision to make Canada a global epicentre for the development of next-generation immune-based therapeutics.

Together, UBC and its CIEBH partners are pursuing an integrated program of biomedical research and talent development, along with building infrastructure to support the development and manufacturing of innovative new medical treatments in B.C. and Canada.

The goal: To establish a seamless drug development pipeline that will enable Canada to respond to future pandemics and other health challenges in fewer than 100 days.

“The future of medicine is happening right now, right here in Canada,” said Dr. Dermot Kelleher, UBC Vice-President, Health, and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “UBC researchers and spin-off companies enabled the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and other therapies at record speed. Now, through this hub, we will bring together the extraordinary expertise of B.C. and Canada’s biomedical community to bring transformative new health solutions to Canadians sooner.”

Read the full UBC news release announcing the new biomedical innovation hub.

Guests gathered in Jack Poole Hall at UBC’s Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Dr. Michelle Wong, Senior Director, Research, UBC Faculty of Medicine, greeted hub partners, supporters and UBC community members and guided the celebration’s proceedings.

“This hub is all about partnership, and I’m delighted that we could be joined today in this room by so many of the outstanding partners, supporters and leaders from B.C. and Canada’s life sciences sector.”
Dr. Michelle Wong
Senior Director, Research
UBC Faculty of Medicine

The Honourable Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra and Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced federal support for CIEBH as one of five new biomedical research hubs in Canada. The Government of Canada, through the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat and Canada Foundation for Innovation, is investing $570 million over the next four years to support project proposals associated with these hubs.

Dr. Gail Murphy, Vice-President, Research & Innovation, UBC, spoke about how the hub will build on the strengths of B.C.’s biotech and life sciences industry, and those of its national and global partners, to make Canada a world leader in the development of lifesaving medicines.

“This is the ecosystem that was a leader in responding to the SARS outbreak in 2003, and played a critical role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr. Gail Murphy
Vice-President, Research and Innovation

Among CIEBH’s partners are leading B.C. and international biotech companies. Dr. Véronique Lecault, Chief Operating Officer, AbCellera, reflected on her company’s roots at UBC and how the university ecosystem provided key ingredients – like talent, technologies, innovation and creative thinking – that helped catalyze AbCellera’s growth into a global leader.

“This is the chance to build a life sciences sector that makes our country stronger, more resilient, that helps bring medicines to patients sooner, and that builds a legacy of innovation in Canada for decades to come.”
Dr. Véronique Lecault
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer

Dr. Pieter Cullis, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, took the podium as a member of the hub’s core scientific team. He reflected on his forty-year research career, during which he has trained hundreds of young Canadian scientists and led breakthrough research on lipid nanoparticle drug delivery systems that helped enable innovative new mRNA therapeutics, such as the highly effective COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

“This hub will keep Canada in the vanguard of health care research and innovation.”
Dr. Pieter Cullis
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Following the announcement, Minister Murray met with Dr. Anna Blakney, another member of the hub’s core scientific team and professor at UBC’s School of Biomedical Engineering, along with student researchers working in her lab.

Dr. Blakney and her team are developing next-generation RNA-based medicines that build on the existing mRNA vaccine platform. The new therapeutics promise to harness the power of the immune system to prevent and treat a range of diseases – from cancer to infectious diseases.

UBC PhD students Credo Casmil (front) and Nuthan Bathula (back) demonstrated for Minister Murray how RNA- and lipid nanoparticle-based medicines are made.

“I look forward to seeing my research on self-amplifying RNA move into the clinic and the impact it could have for saving lives in the real world, especially in the context of future pandemic response.”
Nuthan Bathula
PhD student

The self-amplifying RNA technology Dr. Blakney’s team is working on is 100 times more efficient than the mRNA used in current vaccines.

“Through my work to improve the efficiency of self-amplifying RNA technologies, I hope to enable vaccinations against infectious disease that can help more people, through a more cost-effective platform.”
Credo Casmil
PhD student

After the lab tour, CIEBH partners and supporters gathered back at Jack Poole Hall for a reception to celebrate the launch of the hub and to connect with colleagues across the hub network.

Published: March 27, 2023