ACOA To Zebrafish: Dalhousie University Gets Help In Orphan Disease Research

The funding, announced Tuesday at the Life Sciences Research Institute — which houses Agada Biosciences and the Zebrafish Core Facility — aims to position Nova Scotia as a hub of research and development when it comes to rare diseases that have been abandoned by the pharmaceutical industry, according to a news release. Patients with many of these “orphan diseases” generally have few approved drug treatment options due to the low profitability for drug companies. Dalhousie University, under the leadership of Dr. Christopher McMaster, will work with local commercial partners and the Centre for Drug Research and Development in Vancouver to develop three biotechnology start-ups to move new drug treatments to the market. These treatments will help patients with rare inherited childhood diseases including familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR or childhood blinding), the inherited form of Parkinson’s, and muscular dystrophies. “One in 15 babies born in Canada has an ‘orphan disease’ and one in three patients in children’s hospitals are there due to their orphan disease condition. This high incidence of hospitalization is due to the fact that 95 per cent of orphan diseases have no treatment,” McMaster said in the press release. “In addition, 90 per cent of them are life-limiting with 35 per cent of affected children not reaching their fifth birthday. Advances in knowledge and technology by clinicians and scientists in Nova Scotia have now made it possible to move toward treatments for orphan disease patients and help these Canadian children in need.” The project will utilize the Zebrafish Core Facility for its expertise in using zebrafish as a drug-screening and development tool. “Children everywhere will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this collaborative work that will help to position Nova Scotia as an ‘orphan diseases’ research hub,” Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said. The government says it will announce additional investments totalling $13.8 million through ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund in coming weeks for things like supporting advancements in clean energy and green manufacturing, detection technologies for disease, as well as projects to improve the health, growth and broodstock of Atlantic farmed salmon.