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Growing Drug Discovery In Academia - the IRIC-IRICoR model in Quebec

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Guest Author
April 20, 2021

Important changes have transformed the biopharmaceutical industry in the last 20 years. In particular, many global pharmaceutical companies have reinvented their model and significantly increased their partnerships with biotech companies and the academic sector to enrich their pipeline with the most innovative discoveries. These changes led to the closure of many industrial research centers in Canada and throughout the world. Seizing the opportunity created by these changes, Université de Montréal’s Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC), which mission is to perform cutting edge research on cancer, train the next generation of cancer scientists and transform discoveries into therapeutic solutions, created in 2008 one of the first drug discovery unit in academia. Concomitantly, IRICoR was created by IRIC through the federal program of the Centres of Excellence in Commercialization and Research. IRICoR’s pan-Canadian mandate is to accelerate the discovery and development drug discovery projects towards commercialization of novel therapies in cancer and rare diseases.  Through targeted intellectual property protection expertise and business intelligence, IRICoR brings projects to their next value inflection point leading either to strategic partnerships with existing companies or spin-off company creation.

IRIC and IRICoR took advantage of the historical leadership position of Montreal in drug discovery and of the invaluable existing human expertise to build the first and largest integrated academic drug discovery unit in Canada. IRIC’s drug discovery unit is now composed of 50 medicinal chemists and 15 biologists entirely dedicated to innovative drug discovery while IRICoR now assembles a team of 11 professionals with extensive experience in drug discovery, intellectual property protection, project management, contracts & license agreements as well as, finances and business development.

Since its inception, this initiative has led to:

  • 100 Drug discovery project financings and management
  • 50 Public-private partnerships
  • 30 Licences to industry
  • 60 Patent families
  • 35,000 new molecules synthesized
  • 5 New therapeutic chemical entities in 8 clinical trials
  • 5 start-up companies with revenues and/or ongoing clinical trials
  • 70 M$ in private R&D investments

In addition to attracting R&D investments and generating new drug candidates, the initiative generates a revenue stream that is reinvested to discover the next generation of innovative therapeutics while providing a conducive and well-equipped environment for new spin-off companies in their maturation phase.

The success of the IRIC/IRICoR academic drug discovery initiative attracts growing interest from other academic centers across Quebec and the rest of Canada as well as from national and international private partners. We increasingly work with them to leverage our broad joint expertise to generate value-added assets for the ultimate benefit of patients.  In addition, the COVID-19 pandemics has, more than any other single event demonstrated the importance of life sciences for the well-being of the population and for our economy. The pandemic has clearly revealed our vulnerability and dependence on innovation for accessing effective treatments for our medical needs.

To respond to these demands and increase their impact, IRIC and IRICoR are embarking in a major expansion project that, in addition to enhancing their capacities in drug discovery, will include a drug production component. This will allow production of innovative drug candidates for pre-clinical and clinical studies locally and, in case of supply chain shortage, will allow production of essential drugs that may be in shortage.

We believe that the example of IRIC/IRICoR clearly demonstrates that academia has an important role to play in the drug discovery ecosystem.  The ability to integrate early basic science research along with the know-how and infrastructure needed to transform discoveries into therapeutic solutions under a same roof has catalyzed the integration of innovation in the drug discovery process and accelerate the generation of partner-ready assets.

For more information, visit IRICoR, IRIC, The Coolest Hotspot

About the Authors

Nadine Beauger

Nadine Beauger, Ph.D., MBA, President & CEO, IRICoR

Dr. Beauger is a results-driven top executive with more than twenty years of combined experience in intellectual property, venture capital and clinical and biotechnological research. This scientist by training (hematology-oncology) leads Quebec-based IRICoR, one of the most successful Centres of excellence in commercialization and research specialized in drug discovery in Canada. She is a board member on a number of organizations.  


Michel Jouvier

Michel Bouvier, Ph.D., FRSC, Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, CEO, IRIC, Université de Montréal

Pr. Bouvier is a world-renowned molecular pharmacologist who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of the largest class of drug targets, the G protein-coupled receptors. His discoveries lead to new technologies that transformed drug discovery and leading to innovative drugs. He played leadership roles in establishing a Quebec ecosystem for academia-industry partnerships in drug discovery.


This piece was submitted as part of the Global Marketplace at BIO Digital 2021. The NEW Global Marketplace at BIO Digital is designed to be the destination to showcase any region’s biotech strength and elevate its leading companies via high-energy, fast-paced presentations, coupled with live face-to face networking. Learn more here.