There is a place in eastern Canada, strategically located, where entrepreneurs and R&D experts are working away, under the radar, making significant strides. Some of that work is groundbreaking and its results will have the capacity to change people’s lives.
One great example is the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute (ACRI), located in Moncton, New Brunswick. Opportunities NB (ONB) was so intrigued by the work taking place there that we reached out to Dr. Rodney Ouellette, President and Scientific Director, to learn more.
ONB: You have assembled a highly qualified team of experts/scientists. What has it been like attracting them to New Brunswick?
Ouellette: We often think that attracting researchers to New Brunswick is a challenge but it really isn’t. Researchers from other countries view Canada as a great place to do research, and do not hesitate when the opportunity arises. The challenge is to capture the research funding that allows us to attract these high caliber people to the province.
ONB: Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you are doing?
Ouellette: Currently, we have two major team grants that are ongoing.
The first project involves using our patented microvesicle capture technology. Microvesicles are small packets of information that cells use to communicate with each other. These microvesicles circulate in body fluids such as blood, saliva and urine. We use our technology to isolate the microvesicles and characterize them to identify cancer such as prostate and breast cancer. Our hope is that this will lead to better and less invasive early detection tests for these and other cancer types.
The second project uses an approach called “Synthetic Lethality” to identify targets for new treatments for lung cancer. We know that cancer cells have mutated to give themselves a survival advantage compared to normal cells so we use these mutations against the cancer by uncovering vulnerabilities that are caused by the initial mutation. We are optimistic that we will identify new ways to treat lung cancer; a disease that typically does not respond well to existing chemotherapy.
ONB: Why locate in New Brunswick? We are sure that people/institutes and others would love for you to be in their region?
Ouellette: I am originally from New Brunswick and had strong ties to the province. I wanted to return after completing my medical and research training, and felt that I had to contribute to the development of biomedical research. It is an important sector that can help grow our economy and have significant benefits in our healthcare and education systems. We were very fortunate to have the support of the community as well as the provincial and federal governments, and we feel that with this continued support we can grow and contribute even more.
I have had offers over the years; however I feel that my work here in New Brunswick is not done. The team we have is amazing and I enjoy working with them. I feel that we will accomplish great things if we stay focused and continue to have the confidence of the community and funders.
ONB: New Brunswick is really a hotbed of innovation. There are so many amazing R&D initiatives, clinical expertise, and more here. What is it about a small province like New Brunswick that is driving this innovation?
Ouellette: I think there is a great entrepreneurial spirit in New Brunswick that goes way back, and this spirit is migrating to the R&D space. The combination of business acumen with talented innovators creates a recipe for success. The fact that we are small helps empower individuals to be pioneers — to be bold and take risks that often pay off with success.
ONB: Collaboration, we would imagine, is an important part of what you do. Can you tell us about that and whether you see a cluster in this area of work forming?
Ouellette: Collaboration is critical in biomedical research. No individual or group can be an expert in everything given how vast the field is. Building partnerships and collaborating with other researchers and groups elsewhere in Canada and the world accelerates the pace of discovery and moving innovation to commercialization. That said it is important to have critical mass of expertise locally as well. The biomedical sector in New Brunswick has grown significantly in the past 15+ years and we are now seeing the beginnings of cluster development occur with more and more researchers and companies interested in locating to New Brunswick. It is an exciting time.
ONB: Your Board of Directors is composed of some very impressive people both from the innovation/IT side as well as many doctors, can you tell us about how that has advanced what you are doing?
Ouellette: Our board is made up with some very experienced and talented volunteers. They are a great source of information and guidance in both research and other areas of running a growing organization. They are an integral part of the success of ACRI.
ACRI is just one component of our R&D focus in New Brunswick. Want to learn more about New Brunswick and doing business here? Click the button below to connect with an ONB Business Development Executive.