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In December 2020, University of Alberta virologist and director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, Dr. Michael Houghton, was officially awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of his discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Dr. Houghton and his colleagues dedicated more than a decade to hunting for a virus causing cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. His work, along with his research team, has had an incredible impact on the lives, health, and well-being of patients around the world. Accomplishments like this show the world that Alberta is focused on the future and is at the forefront of health research and innovation.
Importance of research and innovation
We always have been an innovative and entrepreneurial province. Alberta is home to some of the best and brightest. That’s why we are committed to creating the conditions that will help unleash Alberta’s research excellence so our innovators can continue to make ground-breaking discoveries, commercialize ideas that will make peoples lives better, and raise Alberta’s profile on the international stage.
Supporting a strong pharmaceutical and life sciences industry in Alberta benefits us all, and it’s a key part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan. We have more than 200 life sciences companies in our province. In 2019 alone, Alberta’s pharmaceutical and life sciences industry attracted $430 million in capital investment, generated $824 million in revenue, and supported over 15,000 high-paying jobs.
We know that this sector can play an even larger role in Alberta’s economy. Worldwide revenues for the pharmaceutical and therapeutics sector reached $1.25 trillion in 2019, and are projected to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2023. There is so much untapped potential in this space.
Funding for the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute
That’s why we are making the investments today that will help us tap into this potential tomorrow with a commitment of $20 million to the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute over the next 4 years. This funding will help Dr. Michael Houghton and his colleagues accelerate leading edge research and commercialization of pharmaceutical and vaccine treatments – important work that will demonstrate the vision and power of Alberta’s health innovation ecosystem and position Alberta as a leader on the international stage.
Alberta is in the business of big wins – and this group has the capacity to deliver solutions that make a difference in the lives of people around the world. The Applied Virology Institute is already doing leading work in this space to develop new vaccines therapeutics.
Some therapies currently under development at the institute include a hepatitis C vaccine, therapeutics for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and more. Recently the Applied Virology Institute also secured over $5.8 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop anti-viral drugs and vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
With this new provincial funding, we’re confident that the institute will be able to continue this great work. We’re committed to helping build our expertise in the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector that not only finds cures but commercializes and manufactures them here at home.
Investing in this space will help us build on our strengths to grow and diversify the economy and pave the way for our innovators and emerging sectors to grow and succeed. It will help us attract additional investment and world-class talent – like Dr. Houghton – to the province. It will encourage the growth of spinoff industries. Most importantly, it will create new opportunities for our local entrepreneurs and start-ups so they can expand and create jobs – right here in Alberta.
Doug Schweitzer served as Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation from August 25, 2020 to August 5, 2022.