Disruptive Technology Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapy Challenge program
1. Program details
The National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Disruptive Technology Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapy Challenge program is launching a call for proposals to create collaboration opportunities between the NRC and the broader research community. Collaborations would unify the value chain for engineered cell and gene therapies, from discovery to commercialization.
In 2018, the NRC launched the challenge program to develop a collaborative framework by aligning with multiple partners and collaborators from various sectors, to address critical health challenges facing Canadians.
1.1 Vision and mission
The program's vision is to transform health outcomes for Canadians with cancer and genetic diseases. Our researchers use synthetic biology-driven innovations in engineered cell and gene therapies to bring this vision to life.
The program's mission is to develop technologies, platforms, cell lines and collaborative models that will speed up development and enable the delivery of safe, accessible and affordable cell and gene therapies in Canada.
1.2 Addressing challenges
The program recognizes the challenges in the cost-effective development and clinical delivery of effective cellular immunotherapies for solid tumour cancers.
- high cost for autologous cell therapies
- tumour antigen escape through immune selection
- failures in cell trafficking or infiltration
- on or off-target toxicities
- immunosuppression of the tumour microenvironment
To overcome these hurdles, the program is seeking a collaborative partner to support the preclinical translation of 1 or more next-generation made-in-Canada cell therapy treatments for solid tumour malignancies.
Gene editing technologies have the potential to transform adoptive cellular therapies. Although engineered immune cell therapies have been highly successful for some hematological cancers, there are still significant challenges in translating these clinical successes to solid tumour cell therapies.
To overcome the challenges of cell therapy treatments for solid tumours, a number of new gene manipulation strategies could be used to engineer immune cells with additional capabilities to extend their utility and reduce their cost.
We envision that the new approaches for gene manipulation of immune cells, combined with our potent solid tumour targeting chimeric antigen receptors molecules, could offer disruptive potential for the development of a safe, effective and affordable treatment for solid tumour cancers.
We are also open to projects that propose to use transient expression technologies such as mRNA or other technologies for manipulating a cell product in combination with genomic modification.
To achieve our objectives, we are seeking a 2-year collaboration to:
- leverage collaborator experience in genetic manipulation of T cells, macrophages, NK cells or other immune cell types
- integrate off-the-shelf or other strategies to significantly reduce manufacturing cost per patient
- develop robust, clinically-translatable cell engineering workflows to enable safe and effective cell therapies
- test and optimize in vivo delivery and preclinical efficacy of new cellular immunotherapies in animal tumour models
- demonstrate a plan to be ready for clinical trials with Health Canada before the end of this funding cycle
3. Eligible projects and teams
Collaborators working with the NRC who are eligible for funding under this call:
- Academic institutions
- Research institutions
- Not-for-profit research organizations
- Local and provincial governments
- Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (those with fewer than 500 employees)
- Teams must be willing to collaborate with researchers from the NRC's Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre to deliver on this collaborative initiative
- Team members must be eligible recipients and collaborators, as identified by the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program
- Teams must provide a minimum of 1:1 matching contribution (cash or in-kind) towards achieving project deliverables
Note: Un-funded collaborators and subcontractors from across the technology ecosystem may also collaborate on projects.
3.1 Commitment to EDI and GBA+
Project teams must clearly demonstrate their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) in their research applications, including composition of their project teams, research methods, analysis and knowledge-mobilization plans. Undertaking GBA+ and critically considering factors related to EDI adds valuable dimensions in research and improves the quality, social relevance and impact of the research.
In addition, it may contribute to taking the research in a new direction. EDI and GBA+ considerations should influence all stages of research or development processes, from establishing priorities and building theory to formulating questions, designing methodologies and interpreting data. Applicants are invited to consult the guide to best practices in equity, diversity and inclusion in research practice and design.
- Salaries for highly qualified personnel working on the project activities
- Research support costs (direct costs incurred in the project implementation phase), including consumable materials, supplies, equipment rentals and rent, facility or equipment rental costs required for the execution of the project
- Costs for on-duty travel required to execute the project and limited conference travel (for highly qualified personnel)
- Amounts invoiced to the applicant by a contractor for services rendered relating directly to the project (e.g., professional services fees)
- Indirect costs not directly applicable to carrying out the project but necessary to conduct the recipient's general business, up to a maximum of 10% of total eligible costs
- Equipment costs
- Laboratory equipment and other components, generally between $10k and $50k
Equipment costs must not exceed 25% of the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program's project funding. Applicants must show that the project objective may not be achieved without this equipment and that equipment can be procured in a reasonable timeframe.
Costs not covered:
- Purchase of land
- Leasehold interest
- Property taxes
- Any portion of costs subject to refunds, rebates or credits, including HST, GST and PST
- Costs paid by the NRC
5. Funding and support
Funding provided by the National Program Office follows the terms and conditions of the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program. This program is intended to position the NRC as a collaborative platform that uses science excellence to respond to Canada's most pressing challenges.
As such, projects supported under this initiative benefit from NRC assets in place (special-purpose research facilities, scientific expertise and networks) and financial assistance in the form of non-repayable grants or contributions.
For more information on available funding, consult the grant and contribution funding for collaborators webpage.
The program is planning to make $300,000 available to support 1 project under this call with a 1:1 matching contribution (cash or in-kind) from the selected collaborator.
All deliverables must be addressed and the funding must be used by the end of the program on March 31, 2026. There will be no project extensions beyond this date.
5.1 Stacking provisions
The stacking provisions for projects are as follows:
- The maximum limit of the total Canadian government assistance (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal assistance for the same eligible costs) cannot exceed 100% of the total eligible project costs
- The maximum NRC cost share will not exceed 50% of total eligible project costs
6. Application process and timelines
The NRC is committed to a consistent, fair and transparent selection process to identify, select and approve the allocation of funding to projects that best fit the objectives of the collaborative call.
Proposals will be assessed based on the following technical requirements and the criteria in Annex A.
6.1 Technical requirements
Essential for consideration:
- Significant and proven experience in genomic manipulation of human cells
- A strong track record in both in vitro and in vivo evaluation of cellular immunotherapies for solid tumour cancers
Non-essential for consideration:
- We encourage teams to integrate scientific, clinical and commercial partners in proposals
- Teams would benefit from having preliminary data demonstrating experience with a proposed solid tumour cell therapy or solid tumour cancer models
The collaborator will be able to leverage novel and preclinically validated NRC-developed CAR molecules targeting various solid tumour antigens (e.g., EGFR, HER2, CAIX, FAP, MUC1, and others).
Applicants may choose to leverage other NRC expertise and technologies supporting potential cell therapies, including:
- lentiviral packaging and producer cell technology
- adeno-associated viral vectors
- pluripotent stem cell lines
- microfluidic cell manipulation technologies
- cell characterization strategies
- antibody-based therapeutics
- targeted or non-targeted lipid nanoparticles
6.2 Key dates and deadlines
- November 15, 2023: Call opens
- December 12, 2023 Q&A with the NRC research team (requires registration)
- January 22, 2024: Full project proposal submission deadline
- February 2024: Notification of results
- April 1, 2024: Funding disbursed and project starts
Register for this call and the Q&A session by sending an email to NRC.HealthProgram-ProgrammeSante.CNRC@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.
7. Project and funding agreements
After receiving the notice of project approval, applicants must enter into a collaborative research agreement with all project collaborators or a funding agreement (non-repayable transfer payment) with the NRC. If an agreement cannot be finalized within a reasonable time frame, funding may be cancelled.
8. Contact information
For more information on this specific collaboration opportunity with the Disruptive Technology Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapy Challenge Program, please send an email to: NRC.HealthProgram-ProgrammeSante.CNRC@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.
Annex A: Proposal evaluation criteria
The proposals will be assessed using the following criteria.
- The project team has an applicant principal investigator from an organization that is eligible to receive funding from the NRC
- Principal investigators are identified from each collaborating organization and their role in meeting the project deliverables is clearly defined
- The team demonstrates expertise and experience in gene editing technologies, immune cell therapies and in vitro and in vivo cancer cell models
- The team incorporates core team members with relevant expertise in clinical treatment of solid tumour malignancy
- The team demonstrates support from or directly integrates a potential commercialization partner in the proposal
- The project aligns with the NRC's key technologies, such as novel NRC antibody assets, NRC lentiviral plasmids, NRC cell lines, or NRC lipid nanoparticle technology
- The collaboration leverages the NRC's assets and resources, including scientific expertise, networks and research facilities
- The collaboration is feasible in terms of implementing the NRC's technologies and achieving the project's objectives
- The project aligns with the objectives of the Disruptive Technology Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapy Challenge program, particularly in terms of increasing affordability and accessibility of cell therapies in Canada
- The project presents a vision of a cell therapy with significantly reduced manufacturing cost per patient
- The project has the potential impact and transform health outcomes for Canadians with solid tumour diseases
- The project description fits within the available timeline
- The project supports the attainment of benefits Canada
- The project has a sound research approach and clearly articulates the rational for a cellular therapy application in solid tumours
- The project presents a plan with strong potential for clinical translation in the next 5 years
- The project has a strong likelihood of generating new high value scientific insights into the biology of cellular therapies.
- The proposal includes a potential commercialization strategy of one or more elements of the proposed cellular therapy
- The project collaborators are eligible based on the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program guidelines
- Adequate rationale is provided for financial assistance of the recipient
- The funding recipients are eligible based on the Collaborative Science, Technology and Innovation program guidelines
- The applicant team can commit a minimum of 1:1 matching funds (cash or in-kind)
- The project costs are eligible