BC Province Gives CA$2M to Help Fund ‘Project Hope’ ALS Center

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by Mary Chapman |

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A scientist looks through a microscope while researching in a lab.

The Canadian province of British Columbia is giving another CA$2 million (about $1.65 million) to help establish “Project Hope” — what organizers hope will be a world-class amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) center at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

With the new funding, to the ALS Society of BC for the second phase of Project Hope, the province brings its contribution to CA$4 million (about $3.2 million). The collaboration between the society and UBC aims to support British Columbians living with the neurodegenerative condition.

“We are now in a place to take Project Hope to the next level,” Wendy Toyer, executive director, ALS Society of BC, said in a press release.

The provincial government last spring gave the project CA$2 million for its first phase. That funding was used to establish a permanent ALS research professorship at the university for a clinician/scientist. The professor will provide patient care, work to improve patient outcomes, and bolster scientific investigations — with the goal of improving patient access to clinical studies in British Columbia.

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In this second phase of Project Hope, the organization will work with the university to build a team to lead research and clinical studies, and to staff a cutting-edge clinic at UBC that will integrate research and clinical care.

The ALS Society of BC has pledged to raise an additional CA$20 million (about $15.8 million) for UBC to help fund the ALS center. About CA$2.3 million have been raised so far.

“The ALS professorship at UBC will strive to create an optimal environment, integrating research and clinical care. Project Hope provides the opportunity for people living with ALS in B.C. to participate in clinical trials and to access improved care in their province,” Toyer said. “The ALS Society of British Columbia is very grateful for the new partnership between the society, the province of British Columbia, and the University of British Columbia.”

With the support of the province and donors globally, Project Hope achieved its CA$5.3 million (about $4.3 million) target to have the ALS research professorship at UBC established and endowed, with CA$3 million coming from the government and CA$2.3 million from British Columbians’ donations.

A recruiting team has begun the process of hiring a senior ALS clinician-scientist to lead the project, with a goal of bringing clinical trials to patients faster. For that, the UBC has committed funding through its President’s Academic Excellence Initiative.

There are more than 80 late-stage clinical trials currently underway in ALS, according to the society — but on its Project Hope webpage, the nonprofit writes that “all of this activity has been largely happening outside of Canada. British Columbians diagnosed with ALS must travel, at their own expense, to other provinces and countries to participate in ALS clinical trials.”

Most ALS patients wishing to join such studies will need travel support and assistance from their families or caregivers — which can add to the costs.

The aim of clinical trials, which are at the core of medical advances, is to assess whether a device, procedure, or pharmaceutical therapy is safe and effective. These studies also may evaluate new ways of using current treatments and other care aspects. If the study is observational in nature, it would simply record daily life with a disorder over time, providing important data for scientists and physicians working in that disease.

The clinician/scientist research professorship will be based at UBC’s Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, where research is underway into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The addition of ALS will allow for collaborative work on these three neurodegenerative disorders.

“This is a team effort, and I’m proud to be on your side in the ongoing search for an end to ALS,” said Adrian Dix, the government’s minister of health. “That is why our government is pleased to provide funding to the society for their Project Hope efforts, reaching phase two after success with phase one.”