Joe Sornberger is Director of Communications Programs for the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and author of the book “Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s Stem Cell Discovery and Legacy.”
Amazing things can happen in 10 years. Consider the world, circa 2004. The United States had yet to elect an African American president, Steve Jobs was years away from unveiling the iPhone, and Shinya Yamanka was at his whiteboard, working on something many believed impossible: induced pluripotent stem cells.
So, what will the next 10 years of stem cell science and regenerative medicine bring?
It will see Canada lead the way to bringing five to 10 breakthrough therapies to the clinic, treating diseases that have baffled medical science for centuries and transforming the health-care landscape.
That’s the goal of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. Created by a coalition of researchers, medical professionals, health charities leaders, industry experts and philanthropists, the Strategy builds on existing strengths, addresses weaknesses that could hold us back, and plots the course of stem cell research and development for the next decade. It builds a future on five key pillars:
- Multidisciplinary science – Over the past 14 years, the Stem Cell Network (SCN) has forged a community of hundreds of stem cell researchers in teams across the country that have moved the science forward and kept Canada at the forefront of the field. As Scientific Director and CEO, Michael Rudnicki has said, “We can’t afford to lose this momentum.”
- Market-driven commercialization – Thanks in large part to efforts by the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), Canada is in position to create and grow innovative companies that can develop new technologies, therapies and products. The Strategy will expand and enhance these activities across Canada.
- Advanced cell manufacturing – Building on a strong foundation of bioengineering expertise and cell processing infrastructure, Canada can emerge as a global cell manufacturing leader. For example, CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network currently operates and maintains five Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliant facilities for clinical grade production of human cell and tissue products. As part of the Strategy, this is an area ready for major expansion.
- Clinical trials leadership – The Strategy will establish a co-development fund to support and attract early stage clinical trials and position Canada to become an international destination/partner for clinical development.
- Regulatory enablement – The Strategy calls for building a streamlined regulatory and reimbursement pathway that will not only be an international benchmark for cell therapy safety and efficacy, it will increase access to new treatments and provide industry with clear and transparent guidelines.
Clearly, the Canadian Strategy & Action Plan is a major, long-term plan to position Canada as a global leader in the imminent advanced cell therapy boom. As such, it calls for a private-public investment in the order of $1.5 billion over the next 10 years, with $500 million coming from the Government of Canada through a scaled average annual investment of $50 million — about the cost of one cup of coffee a year for every Canadian.
The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, on behalf of the coalition that created the Strategy, is currently leading the advocacy campaign to win federal government support. But all stakeholders can play a role in sharing the promise of stem cell research with elected officials and other decision-makers.
Help us help Canada follow through on its outstanding stem cell legacy, beginning in 2015.
Think of the amazing things that can happen by 2025.