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JELF awardees with Kirsty Duncan

Speech by CureCancer Founder

Honorable Minister, on behalf of the JELF awardees both here and across the country, thank you for this investment in keeping Canadian science competitive. 

This CFI award makes a world of difference to us, and it is critical for keeping our economy growing, our society livable, and our people healthy.

The Campus Alberta Innovates Program working with Lorne Babiuk's team, including the Faculty of Medicine and Biochemistry Department recruited me back to Canada last summer.

I had spent 20 years in the UK and the USA seeing how see saw budgets can erode the science base.

It got so bad that the UK had to spend 4 billion dollars to put humpty dumpty back together again after a decade of underfunding.

This doesn’t just hurt universities, it hurts everything that depends on a knowledge economy, including manufacturing and industry.

Alberta is Canada’s most innovative province, the scientists here are an incredible bunch that strive for global impact.

I was attracted back here to jumpstart this magnetic resonance centre because I could feel the potential.

But the reality is that all the current machines here in NANUC need replacement, no company will service them, and we have no full time staff. 

Let me make this real.

Pascal, a great French Canadian is working here part time, he came in yesterday, on Sunday, to fill the magnets.  He doesn’t get benefits, he doesn’t get overtime, we can only pay him what money he generates from users who come here.

Even so, he tries to meet the needs of a national clientele that competes internationally to discover new drug molecules and disease biomarkers.

This simply can’t continue long term.

NANUC could not continue without this investment. Today, with your support, we can finally buy new NMR instruments and offer real jobs to skilled people.

Your visit here today to announce CFI’s investment is a turning point. 

Today we are launching to deliver on our promise.

The technology and people that you are supporting will allow us to develop new targets for cancer, infection and cardiovascular disease.  Let me give you a few personal examples from the hundreds of projects your support is making possible today.

Cameron is a talented Biochemistry graduate student who came here from Ottawa.  He hopes to design custom molecules that precisely hit only their cancer targets to selectively eliminate disease.

International students like Mansoore are studying what makes prions infectious by extracting them from brain to study their structures using polymers from the oil and gas industry in collaboration with a dutch company, Polyscope, that’s supporting our coop students.

Mark is a student from China who is working here with chemical engineers to design smart polymers to clean up oil sands tailings ponds, and generate clean energy.

Seven Canadian undergraduate students are joining my group this summer to work on grand challenges set up by the pharmaceutical industry, which is leaving high-risk high-return research to us academics.

Cathy, an Edmontonian, is supervising them, she’s also figuring out how heart and skin cells connect to each other to prevent sudden death and skin blistering diseases.

Spin-out companies like Metabolomic Technologies are based within this facility and are designing clinical tests to diagnose cancer in its earliest stages and improve patient outcomes.

All this is possible because Canada recognizes that to change the world, we need to invest in the best, and give them the freedom to speak with the public and to work on what matters to people.

Edmonton is not just about blue skies thinking, we are about building a new future, we think big, and are making a real difference to patients, to industry, and to aspiring students, through fundamental research.

I and my colleagues at the University of Alberta are more than just bench scientists, we also lead global companies, we create great jobs, we run international meetings, we set up industry panels, we teach over 30 thousand students, and we write a dozen great grants in the hopes of getting 1 funded. 

We thank the government for funding us today. We feel incredibly fortunate, almost lucky because the odds are so high. 

To plan ahead, the University has prepared expansion space in this building to house 8 more magnets for biomedical research, and my next grant will be submitted tomorrow.

Our scientists are competing globally, including with the US where they have larger facilities and spend twice what we do in Canada per capita on research and development.

We ask industry, charities and business to match the ambition, by working together with the city, province and country we can create the critical mass needed to transform our economy into one that is sustainable, diversified and growing.

Minister Duncan and Dr Patry, thank you for making today happen, we share your vision and drive, and look forward to working with you and the rest of your team to make Canada the best place to innovate.

(text from speech given Michael Overduin)