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The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Research Innovation

The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Research Innovation is home to the Applied Virology Institute, which is receiving $20 million in new funding from the Government of Alberta announced Dec. 10. (Photo: John Ulan)

The government of Alberta signalled its support for the University of Alberta’s leadership in Alberta’s biotech sector by announcing $20 million in new funding for the U of A’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute (AVI) during a celebration of Michael Houghton’s Nobel Prize. This builds on the more than $30 million the government has invested in the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, home to the AVI, over the past 10 years.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Premier Jason Kenney revealed the news before the formal announcement during a virtual reception Thursday night to celebrate Houghton. The event included U of A president Bill Flanagan, Alberta Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, former Alberta premiers Ed Stelmach and David Hancock, U of A presidents emeriti David Turpin and Indira Samarasekera, a host of current and past members of the U of A board of governors, and philanthropist Li Ka-shing, whose gift of $28 million was foundational to establishing the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology in 2010.

“(The U of A) is where today’s breakthroughs will be turned into tomorrow’s cures and treatments,” said Kenney. “There is great potential today to heal patients with debilitating diseases.

“At the same time, to grow Alberta’s life sciences and biotech industries into a global force to create good jobs here for the province, and draw fresh investment and brilliant people from around the world.”

As the government noted in its announcement, the funding will accelerate leading-edge research and commercialization of pharmaceutical and vaccine treatments and build on Alberta’s successes, such as the recent announcement of Houghton’s Nobel Prize and news that his vaccine for hepatitis C will soon be entering clinical trials.

Michael Houghton

Michael Houghton

“I’ve seen biotechnology really enhance the economy of the U.K. and I’ve seen biotechnology really enhance the economy of the U.S.,” said Houghton, a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, who now has the distinction of being the first scientist at a Canadian university to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine since the University of Toronto’s John Macleod and Frederick Banting won the award in 1923 for their discovery of insulin.

“We can make Alberta a major global player in biotechnology and it will benefit all Albertans as well as Canadians.”

Also on hand for the announcement was famed U of A virologist Lorne Tyrrell, considered by many as the architect of the U of A’s rise to prominence in the field of virology, who thanked the government for their continued investment.

Lorne Tyrrell

Lorne Tyrrell

“This announcement is so very welcome, and so important to the future of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute,” said Tyrrell, who took the opportunity to award Li Ka-shing with a replica of the Nobel Prize and praised Houghton for his dedication to the university. “Thank you Michael for all your hard work, for your passion for discovery and for recognizing the importance of teamwork.

“You have transformed the University of Alberta and you have transformed the world.”

The provincial announcement also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the need for health research and domestic development of treatments for illnesses. Supporting a strong pharmaceutical and life sciences industry in Alberta will attract additional investment and talent to the province, encourage the growth of spinoff industries and create jobs in Alberta.

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“We’re unleashing our world-class research universities to boost our expertise to not only find cures, but commercialize and manufacture them here at home,” said Minister Schweitzer. “With this funding, the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute and the valuable work that they do will grow and diversify the economy and pave the way for our innovators and emerging sectors to grow and succeed.”

Flanagan said the tireless work of Tyrrell, the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation’s record-breaking gift, public support for the AVI from all levels of government, Houghton’s Nobel and the impact discoveries being made by U of A virologists are having the world over reminds him that “amazing things are possible when a community backs a brilliant idea, and gives that idea time and support to grow.”

“It’s an example of the outstanding work coming out of the U of A and out of Alberta – the kind of work that will enable Alberta to play an even larger role in vaccine and therapeutic research, development and production moving forward, and solidify our expanding biotech sector as one of the best in the world.”

| By Michael Brown

Folio, a Troy Media content provider partner, is the University of Alberta’s online publication.

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