$33M Gift Establishes MS Research Network in British Columbia

Donation is believed to be largest ever for MS care and research

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by Mary Chapman |

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The University of British Columbia (UBC) and the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation have received a CA$33.8 million ($25.24 million) donation to establish a multiple sclerosis (MS) research network focused on developing next-generation cell-based treatments.

This private donation, by an unnamed British Columbia-based philanthropist, is thought to be the world’s largest to date for MS care and research.

The British Columbia MS Cell Therapies Translational Research Network, also known as MS Research Network, is envisioned as a world-class research and patient care hub. It will hone in on cutting-edge cell and gene engineering methods to develop new cell-based therapies and help provide clinical services to patients and their families, according to a UBC press release.

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“It breaks my heart to see patients I’ve known since their diagnosis continue to decline due to a current lack of treatment options,” Anthony Traboulsee, MD, UBC professor and neurologist, said. “These patients don’t have five or 10 years to wait, but through participation in early-stage clinical trials for promising new therapies, we can give them a greater chance at success. Thanks to this investment, I can envision a future where we deliver innovative, lifesaving therapies that have the potential to conquer MS one day.”

There’s much interest in approaches that help revert nerve cell damage and myelin loss (demyelination) in MS. The funding is expected to help recruit leading scientists to together develop novel cell and gene therapies.

“In cancer treatment, we know that T-cell therapies can be dialed up to help the immune system fight against cancer and infection,” said Megan Levings, PhD, a professor in UBC’s department of surgery and School of Biomedical Engineering. “With MS, the goal is to dial down the body’s immune response that leads to disease. Through our research, we want to do for MS what has been done for cancer.”

Virginia Devonshire, director of the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)-run MS Clinic in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, said the donation will transform MS care. “This gift allows us to better translate research discoveries into clinical practice and allow [British Columbia] patients to be the first to benefit from discoveries made here at home by participating in clinical studies,” she said.

At UBC, about $14.85 million of the donation will go to recruiting leading scientists, while $15 million will support biomanufacturing infrastructure for developing cell and gene therapies. Also, $4 million will go to VCH to develop a more vigorous and comprehensive care model within the MS Clinic and to enhance existing services.

“This philanthropic support will help VCH kickstart the delivery of an interlocking suite of mental health, rehabilitation, and digital services tailored to the specific needs of patients and their families,” said Angela Chapman, president and CEO of the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “Ultimately, patients will be receiving better care and an improved quality of life – and that’s the goal.”

The MS Research Network will also collaborate with investigation partners throughout the province, the country, and around the world to take advantage of scientific advances that could improve patient outcomes sooner.

“Research is care,” said Heidi Scott, an MS patient advocate who was diagnosed with the disorder in 2015, and an MS Clinic patient. “My hope is that this investment will help integrate research into clinical care in hospital and community settings so that more patients have the option to be involved in research that contributes to improved therapeutics.”

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