Héma-Québec's R&D activities are centralized at its Quebec City facility, located on Université Laval campus. The R&D Division occupies a substantial portion of the Québec City facility, covering 2,500 m2 of the building’s surface area. The R&D team includes some 40 employees working within several multidisciplinary teams on a range of projects.
The scientific staff also contributes to the training of graduate and postgraduate students, as well as supervising postdoctoral fellows.
The activities of the R&D Division are organized into three distinct programs:
The new orientations of Héma-Québec’s strategic plan, which came into effect in 2012, led to the creation of the Cellular Production Department. The mandate of this department encompasses the many steps involved in the manufacturing of cellular therapy products, from technology transfer to industrial-scale production.
To achieve this goal, scientific teams assess the feasibility of proposed projects and develop optimized processes for scale-up and clinical lot production. The expertise of our research scientists also manifests itself through process validation and advanced qualification of finished products. This chain of competencies and specific know-how gives rise to manufacturing projects of cellular products intended for clinical use.
The activities of the Department of Innovation are strongly influenced by the priorities set forth in Héma-Québec’s 2012-2015 strategic plan. Quality, efficiency and innovation are at the heart of this plan. Within this context, the Department’s mandate is to develop axes of applied research that enhances the value of its results and those of its partners. The scientific teams within the Innovation Department rely on the unique resources provided by Héma-Québec, along with their own expertise in biological sciences, for the development of products and assays needed to advance clinical research and to adapt procedures for industrial production.
The advent of cellular therapies has made it possible to envision new approaches for the treatment of several diseases. Beyond hematopoietic stem cells, which are commonly used nowadays, new types of cells, such as mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), are drawing increased attention.
Current research projects contribute to the development of methods, assays and procedures aimed at optimizing the characterization and production of cellular materials and other biotherapeutics developed internally or through collaborations with academic and industrial partners. The activities of this department contribute to innovation transfer towards the clinic.
Examples of current projects:
1) Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) and immunosuppression:
The objective of this project is to prepare MSCs derived from various sources (umbilical cord, bone marrow and adipose tissue), to compare their immunosuppressive potential and to optimize the parameters relied upon to qualify the therapeutic potential of these cells in the treatment of graft-versus-host disease.
2) Hematopoietic reconstitution potential of cord blood stem cells:
Héma-Québec manages the public cord blood bank in Québec. This bank supplies hematopoietic stem cell transplant material to hospitals. The aim of this research project is to optimize the procedure for banking cord blood at Héma-Québec’s Stem Cell and Reference Laboratory, as well as to evaluate the functional properties and ex vivo expansion of cells contained in cord blood. Innovations resulting from this work contribute to maximize the hematopoietic reconstitution potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells.
3) Genotyping assays:
Continued improvement in genotyping assays facilitates compatible blood searches and the analysis of clinical samples with unusual characteristics.
4) Development of nanoparticles:
The research activities of this project focus on the optimization and application of nanoparticle antibodies (NanoAb). Used as photostable and superluminescent contrast agents, NanoAbs are more sensitive than conjugated monoclonal antibodies, and show a very high potential in imaging and cell labeling (cytometry) applied to blood product characterization and blood phenotyping.
The primary responsibility of the Operational Research Division is to provide a scientific and technical expertise in support of the mandates of the Operations and Medical Affairs Divisions. This mandate is fulfilled by the Evaluation and Optimization Group (EOG). Some examples of projects carried out by the EOG include the evaluation and development of new technologies for blood collection and its processing into blood components, the analysis of the underlying causes of non-compliance in blood and tissue components, the development of validation and compliance assays for blood components and human tissues, the analysis of microbial contamination and the evaluation of decontamination methods for blood and tissue components. The Operational Research team is also interested in the continued improvement of the quality and safety of the various products supplied to hospitals.
Héma-Québec’s R&D Donor Registry is also under the responsibility of the EOG (if you are interested in taking part in ongoing research projects, you may register to the R&D Donor Registry.
The Operational Research team is also responsible for manufacturing specialized reagents and kits developed in R&D. These reagents and kits essentially address internal needs of the organization.