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Peter Chua

High hopes for new Drug Research Institute

May 14, 2009

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Researching and developing a new drug can take as long as 10 years and cost $1 billion or more, which bars many university researchers from pursuing novel drug ideas.

That’s changing at SFU thanks to the university’s new Drug Research Institute (DRI) in medicinal chemistry, part of the regional BC Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD).

The CDRD offers a full array of services to university faculty, students and staff interested in creating new drugs. CEO Natalie Dakers says: "Unlike other such initiatives, the BC CDRD is a true regional resource."

She adds that it was founding director Mario Pinto, SFU’s V-P research, who conceived the model of spreading CDRD around six different locations in B.C. The other sites are UBC, UVic, UNBC and two health authorities.

SFU’s own DRI at Discovery Park will act as the CDRD’s centre for evaluating the safety and efficacy of new synthetic drugs prior to submitting them for drug approval.

"Medicinal chemistry is the key to making an interesting observation or an active compound into a real therapeutic that has the safety and consistent efficacy expected in the world of modern medicine," says Robert Young, SFU professor of chemistry and co-director of CDRD’s division of medicinal chemistry.

The DRI’s new lab director is SFU alumnus Peter Chua, who left a higher-paying job at a drug company in San Diego to take the position.

"It’s partly to give back to the province," he says, but he was also eager to work with Young and others. Young was VP of medicinal chemistry at Merck Frosst Canada before joining SFU in 2007 and received the Order of Canada for his leadership in discovering and commercializing new medications for allergies and inflammatory diseases such as asthma and arthritis.

"These are great people to work with," says Chua, "and we can help contribute to developing new industries in B.C. after all the lumber and fish are gone."

The DRI is funded through a grant from Western Economic Diversification. Profit from commercially successful drugs will go back into CDRD to make it self-sustaining.

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