Expanding Atlantic Canada’s dietary health products industry
Omega-3 oils sourced from plants that can be grown right here in Atlantic Canada have great health and economic potential – Dr. Marc Surette
In 2003, Dr. Marc Surette was Vice President of Research and Development with Pilot Therapeutics Inc., an American biopharmaceutical company, when he made the decision to accept an appointment as professor at l’Université de Moncton in the Department of Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry.
“ At several levels, I felt the timing was right to return to New Brunswick: I wanted to teach and continue my research in my hometown, I knew that a very capable group of colleagues were in place locally and that research funding possibilities were very good,” said Dr. Surette, a Cornell University graduate. Shortly after his arrival, he was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Cellular Lipid Metabolism. Then followed over $6 million in research funding commitments towards his research in New Brunswick from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), New Brunswick Innovation Fund (NBIF) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, among others.
The Bureau de soutien à l’innovation (BSI), the Université de Moncton’s Springboard member, works extensively with Dr. Surette and his colleagues. “Right from my arrival, and particularly in 2007 and 2008, Gisèle Levesque, Innovation Agent and Dr. Réjean Hall, Director of the BSI, worked closely with me in seeking funds and securing partnerships,” said Dr. Surette.
In 2008, Dr. Marc Surette, was awarded an Atlantic Innovation Fund contribution of up to $3 million for a research and development project entitled “Development of Dietary Products from Bio-Resources”. One of the main goals of the project was to develop novel agricultural methods for the enhancement of growth and yield of oils seed crops from new plants. The extracted oils from the novel plants target the supplement and food ingredients markets. Plant-based oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can be used as a dietary replacement of fish oils. Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to have positive applications for human and animal health such as the modulation of immune responses for the prevention and/or the treatment of inflammatory illness. Dr. Martin Filion, professor in the Department of Biology and Dr. Chantal Matar, formerly of l’Université de Moncton but now professor in the Department of Nutrition Science of the University of Ottawa, are key investigators in Surrette’s team. Key partners for this project are Technology Crops International (TCI)/Nature’s Crops, Inc. (NCI) of Prince Edward Island and the USA, Innovactiv, Inc. of Rimouski, Québec and the Coastal Zones Research Institute in Shippagan, New Brunswick.
Hall and Levesque underline how Springboard has been key to their ability to assist Dr. Surette and his team. “Training on contract drafting, negotiations and licensing we received via Springboard was very valuable for many aspects of our work with Dr. Surette,” said Gisele Levesque. Springboard’s contract templates were key to the drafting of Atlantic Innovation Fund-related agreements with several partners and, according to Dr. Hall, specific skills and advice on intellectual property strategy was obtained from Springboard network members and from knowledge gained at Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) and ACCT Canada workshops. Springboard programs have also helped Dr. Surette’s team appreciably. In 2009, Springboard awarded Dr. Martin Filion a Patent and Legal Fund contribution for the preparation of a patent application. In 2010, with the assistance of the BSI, Dr. Surette applied for and was awarded a combined Springboard Proof of Concept and Patent and Legal contribution for a discovery in a related but distinct field. “Springboard’s assistance through Dalhousie’s Barbara Campbell was crucial to the selection of an appropriate patent agent for Dr. Filion’s discovery,” said Gisèle Levesque. According to Dr. Hall, Springboard has also helped the fine tuning of Dr. Surette’s research agenda. “Over the last couple of years, we consulted with Springboard colleagues from University of New Brunswick, Dalhousie University and the Genesis Group of Memorial University on various aspects of Dr. Surette’s projects,” he said.
In terms of Atlantic Canada economic impact, on top of the market possibilities of discoveries undergoing patent protection and the sizable research team employed at l’Université de Moncton, a clear success of Dr. Surette’s research is the arrival in Prince Edward Island of Nature’s Crops International (NCI) , a subsidiary of his Atlantic Innovation Fund partner, TCI. In 2009, following work with Dr. Surette and trials in New Brunswick and in partnership with PEI farmers, TCI launched growth tests for new high-value crops. The selected test crops performed so well that in the fall of 2010, Nature’s Crops opened in Kensington, PEI a full scale biorefinery to process seeds and extract oils. This represents an investment of about $6 million in NCI by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Province of PEI. NCI also obtained substantial National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) financing . NCI itself plans to invest more than $20 million in PEI. over the next few years, including crop purchases from growers, capital investment and staffing.
Via BioAtlantech, Dr. Marc Surette received the 2010 New Brunswick Biosciences Achievement Award which is bestowed for outstanding contributions to the local and global scientific community and/or socio-economic improvements through bio-science. An inventor in several patents who has worked extensively in commercialization of Airozin ® (a diet-based asthma control product), Dr. Surette is constantly evaluating his team’s results and planning further research for the greatest regional impact. “Dr. Surette is a great scientist to work with, ” said Dr. Réjean Hall. “He deeply understands basic research as well as commercialization. He has a significant impact not only on the Atlantic commercial research and development front but also internally at U de M as a model and element of research culture change”.