Three large projects selected by the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund bring together top Quebec researchers

$1.6 million for advancing research on Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, mental health disorders and rheumatoid arthritis

MONTREAL, Sept. 24, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - Three research projects will be funded within the context of the fourth and final Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund competition. Their respective objectives are to develop new tools for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, to use a new technology to better treat chronic pain and mental health disorders, and to better treat rheumatoid arthritis and its complications. These innovative projects involve multidisciplinary teams of experienced researchers from major Quebec institutions. Created in March 2008, the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund is designed to provide funding for Quebec human health research projects.

Selected by the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund's Scientific Review Committee, which is made up of internationally renowned experts, these projects will receive, respectively, grants of $599,621, $600,000 and $402,802 spread out over 3 years. The research project entitled From Bench to Bedside: Validation of Optimized MRI Biomarkers for Computerized Diagnostic and Prognostic Tools in Alzheimer's Disease is headed by Donald Louis Collins, Ph.D., professor in McGill University's Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery and researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). Yves de Koninck, Ph.D., researcher at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec, is leading the project entitled Douleur chronique et maladies mentales : nouvelles technologies pour l'identification et la validation de cibles thérapeutiques par dissection optique (Chronic Pain and Mental Health Disorders: New Technologies for Identifying and Validating Therapeutic Targets by Optical Dissection). Lastly, the third project, led by Walid Mourad, Ph.D., researcher at Hôpital Saint-Luc and the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Montréal (CRCHUM), concerns the use of modified CD154 in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and its thrombotic complications.

"These three large, innovative projects are addressing health problems that have a significant impact on Quebec society. In addition, they are excellent examples of research with a high technology transfer and marketing potential. Thanks to our highly fruitful partnership with Pfizer, a total of 10 large projects will have been funded within the context of the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund's four competitions," says Dr. Renaldo Battista, scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé.

"Pfizer is proud to partner with the FRQS to support large projects bringing together teams of experienced researchers. We wish to congratulate the recipients of this year's competition awards. This initiative once again bears testimony to Pfizer Canada's continued desire to be involved in the development of research in Quebec," says Dr. Bernard Prigent, vice-president and medical director, Pfizer Canada. "To be globally competitive, you have to be perceived as a centre of excellence. This program is helping to link up players in the life sciences sector," concludes Prigent.

Since 2008, Pfizer Canada and the FRQS have been working together to promote the growth of research and innovation in Quebec. They have jointly funded a series of research initiatives, including the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund, the Quebec Pain Research Network, Quebec - Clinical Research Organization in Cancer (Q-CROC), the Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery (CQDM), the Pfizer-FRQS-MSSS Chronic Disease Fund and the Pfizer-FRQS Innovation Fund for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders.

New tools for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease currently affects 500,000 Canadians, 5 million North Americans and 25 million people worldwide. Its prevalence is expected to quadruple by 2050 because of aging of the population. Early treatment, before irreversible degeneration of brain tissue occurs, is likely to be more effective. However, it is difficult to test drugs in patients with early Alzheimer's disease, since only 10 to 15% of patients with a mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop the disease. This figure is too low to permit reasonably sized clinical trials. Louis Collins's team (Howard Chertkow of the Lady Davis Medical Research Institute of Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, Simon Duchesne of the Centre de recherche de l'Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec, and Serge Gauthier of the MUHC Research Institute) has developed sophisticated image analysis tools for detecting patterns of brain atrophy characteristic of Alzheimer's disease from magnetic resonance imaging data. The researchers have used this information to generate statistical models combining magnetic resonance imaging and clinical data to help diagnose the disease and predict which patients with mild cognitive impairments will develop it. The researchers will test and validate their new tools using a database of more than 2,000 subjects. Once validated, these results will make it possible to set up therapeutic trials in patients with mild cognitive impairments and to develop treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

Optogenetics: a new technology for better treating chronic pain and mental health disorders
Chronic pain and mental health disorders are devastating conditions. They diminish the quality of life of a large portion of the population and result in huge socioeconomic costs. Their treatment is still inadequate, the currently available drugs are of limited efficacy, and they have numerous side effects. Consequently, there is a critical need for novel therapies for treating these conditions. However, the brain's enormous complexity poses a serious challenge to the discovery of new treatments for neurological diseases. But a revolution is presently taking place in brain research with the emergence of optogenetics, a new branch of biotechnology that enables us to use light to observe and control nerve cell function in the intact brain with unprecedented precision. With this approach, one can test the action of new drugs while activating specific areas of the brain, which can considerably enhance the drug discovery process. However, harnessing this tool to discover novel analgesics requires the proper fibre-optic technology in order to deliver light to precise, hard-to-get-to areas of the brain or spinal cord. The objective of Yves de Koninck and his team is to bridge this gap by adapting new fibre-optic-based technologies to produce easy-to-use systems for the pharmaceutical industry. Turn-key versions of these systems will be developed, and their usefulness will be demonstrated by studying chemical transmission in the spinal cord, where pain information is modulated, and in areas of the brain involved in complex behaviours. This project should lead to innovative platforms for speeding up the discovery and evaluation of novel analgesics and psychopharmaceuticals. The co-investigators in this project are Antoine Adamantidis of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute's research centre, and Daniel Côté and Réal Vallée of Université Laval's Optics, Photonics and Laser Centre.

Improving the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and its cardiovascular complications
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease affecting close to 1% of the population. It is characterized by chronic inflammation in the joints, which leads to their progressive and irreversible damage. The disease is associated with vascular problems, such as thrombosis (the formation of clots that block blood vessels), and in most cases, there is increased mortality in patients with this type of vascular complication. The inflammatory molecule CD154 plays a role in arthritis and vascular diseases. It was long thought that CD154 bound to a single receptor, CD40, but recent studies have shown that it binds to other receptors as well, all belonging to the family of integrins. This binding appears to play a role in a wide array of inflammatory responses associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, hence the interest in CD154 as the target of choice in therapeutic interventions. With this in mind, Walid Mourad and his collaborators, Abdelaziz Amrani (Université de Sherbrooke), Mohit Kapoor (CHUM - Hôtel-Dieu) and Yahye Merhi (Montreal Heart Institute Research Centre) have generated novel molecules of CD154 with altered interaction capacities with the various receptors. The therapeutic efficacy of these molecules will be evaluated using animal models of rheumatoid arthritis with associated thrombosis. The researchers hope these results will be helpful in improving the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

About the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQS)
The mission of the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQS), which reports to the Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, is to support health research to foster the wellness of Quebec's population. Its mandate is to promote and financially support this research, to share knowledge and train researchers, to forge partnerships necessary for the development of Quebec's research and innovation system, and, lastly, to advance the research internationally. The FRQS supports 9 groups, 19 centres and 18 thematic research networks. For more information, visit

About Pfizer Canada Inc
Pfizer Canada Inc. is the Canadian operation of Pfizer Inc, the world's leading biopharmaceutical company. The company is one of the largest contributors to health research in Canada. Our diversified health care portfolio includes human and animal biologic and small molecule medicines and vaccines, as well as nutritional products and many of the world's best-known consumer products. Every day, Pfizer Canada employees work to advance wellness, prevention, treatments and cures that challenge the most feared diseases of our time. We apply science and our global resources to improve the health and well-being of Canadians at every stage of life. Our commitment is reflected in everything we do, from our disease awareness initiatives to our community partnerships, to our belief that it takes more than medication to be truly healthy. To learn more about Pfizer's More Than Medication philosophy and programs, visit To learn more about Pfizer Canada, visit

SOURCE: Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé

For further information:

Julie-Catherine Racine
Corporate Communications
Pfizer Canada
Telephone: 1-866-973-4937

Michelle Dubuc
Communications and Knowledge Mobilization
Fonds de recherche du Québec
Telephone: 514-873-2114, ext. 1235

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