The President and CEO of EndoCeutics and Director, Laval University Research Center in Molecular Endocrinology, Oncology and Human Genomics in Québec City now leads his research team in finding treatments for breast cancer and menopause.
When Dr. Fernand Labrie founded the world’s first molecular endocrinology laboratory in Québec City in 1969, he had little idea he and his research team would develop medications that would save the lives of millions of men affected by prostate cancer and generate annual revenues of nearly $4 billion by the pharmaceutical industry. Or that this success would position Laval University Hospital Research Centre (known in Québec as CRCHUL) as home to the largest French language biomedical research center in Canada, and Québec City as a hotbed of growth in life sciences.
But by the 1980s, the medical graduate from Laval University who completed his post-doctoral studies at Cambridge University in England, had successfully led development of a drug-based treatment that has significantly reduced the prostate cancer mortality rate.
Thanks largely to the combined anti-androgen treatment developed in Québec City, the mortality rate for prostate cancer in the U.S. has fallen by one-third over the past 15 years. Over that same period, the treatment marketed by Schering-Plough, Roussel, Takeda, Ipsen and AstraZenaca (as well as Abbott in Canada) under various brand names, has generated annual sales of up to nearly $4 billion.
According to KPMG’s 2010 Competitive Alternatives report, operating costs in the Québec City metropolitan region are lower than the average for North American cities in clinical trials (by 27%), biomedical R&D (by 20%) and manufacturing pharmaceuticals (by 6%).
The Québec City metropolitan region is also benefiting from ongoing and future investments that in 2010 include:
- Expansion and renovation of Hôtel-Dieu Hospital, Québec City — CDN $935 million
- Modernization of vaccine production facility, GSK — CDN $289 million
- New R&D Center and production facility, BD GeneOhm — CDN $50 million
- Otto Bock / Victhom Human Bionics — CDN $30 million
- Obesity research laboratories, CRIUCPQ — CDN $28 million
A $330 million agreement between Bayer Healthcare and EndoCeutics in milestones and clinical trial costs to finalize the development of Vaginorm for vaginal atrophy and sexual dysfunction.
As a hub for world research and expertise, the Québec City metropolitan region is an incubator for new and modern techniques that revolutionize vaccines, research and diagnostics.
Most biopharmaceutical companies in Québec City’s metropolitan region are spinoffs from research conducted at CRCHUL and Laval University (23 in total employing 2,160 highly skilled workers). The technological platforms developed in its laboratories (genomics, proteomics, biocomputing, biochips and microchips) testify to the quality of its research.
One of the most innovative and profitable sectors in the country, Canada’s domestic pharmaceutical industry is a $20 billion market — the world’s 9th largest.
Among peer G7 nations, Canada’s biopharmaceuticals industry is the fastest growing and benefits from the lowest biotech labour costs. Canada also leads the G7 nations in the growth of health research patents.
Such high levels of innovation are reflective of the $1.3 billion spent annually on biopharmaceutical research and development, and the $600 million on clinical trials across the country. Canada also frequently leads the world in approving groundbreaking drugs and therapies. Canadian biotech and pharmaceutical firms currently have more than 300 products under development or on the market.
Future growth plans
Under the direction of Dr. Labrie, researchers at CRCHUL — which has steadily expanded to employ 1,200 people and include a 75,000 square-foot genomics centre — set out in 1996 to find a cure for breast cancer.
According to Dr. Labrie, a successful conclusion is in sight. “Our hormone research team is certainly the best in the world. Since prostate and breast cancer are both hormone-related, we’ve been able to apply what we’ve learned about cancer in men to help women.”
The effort to date has led to the development of the most powerful and specific breast cancer medication ever. Currently in the final phase of clinical trials, if results prove conclusive, the drug could be brought to market within three years.
Says Dr. Labrie, “Breast cancer is women’s biggest fear because it’s so sneaky. One in eight women will be affected directly. It’s now striking younger women and the treatment success rates show little improvement. We have to change that.”
Dr. Fernand Labrie
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