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Message from the Executive Director

Vassilios Papadopoulos, D.Pharm., PhD

Dear colleagues,

This fall we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). In 1965 Drs. Phil Gold and Sam Freeman published their landmark work on the identification of an antigen that was present in both fetal colon and colon adenocarcinoma, yet appeared to be absent from healthy adult colon. Because the protein was detected only in cancer and embryonic tissue, it was given the name carcinoembryonic antigen, or CEA. 

Fifty years after its initial detection in serum, CEA is one of the most widely used tumour markers worldwide and certainly the most frequently used marker in colorectal cancer, the first FDA-approved biomarker in oncology. 

The discovery of CEA was important not only for saving countless lives, but also for attracting a number of brilliant clinicians and scientists to the Montreal General Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MGH-MUHC) and McGill University, establishing McGill as a primary site for cancer research. This legacy endured, as demonstrated by the critical mass of clinicians and scientists working in our Cancer Research Program, at the Cedars Cancer Centre and at the Goodman Cancer Centre. Moreover, this work helped in the creation of the Montreal General Hospital Research Institute, the basis of what is today the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). 

Today our Research Institute is thriving. In the last Research Infosource (www.researchinfosource.com) analysis of the top Research Hospitals in Canada in 2015, the RI-MUHC reached $190M in total research activity with an average of $530,000 per full-time researcher, despite ongoing difficulties in the funding environment. These are the highest numbers we have ever achieved, a testimony to the outstanding research and efforts performed by all members of our institute. With new infrastructure at the Glen, upgraded facilities at the MGH-MUHC research site, and soon, I trust, new facilities for the members of our Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, we are now even better positioned to tackle disease problems and understand health. I take this opportunity to inform you that our Centre for Innovative Medicine has begun serving clinical research at the RI-MUHC.

Although for the last few years we have seen a continuous increase in our funding, I am cognizant that this will not last. Our ability to continue in an upward funding trajectory will be challenged by continuous reduction in funding by government, changes in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funding and review processes, changes in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, the disruption of research due to the move to our new Glen facilities and renovated ones at the MGH-MUHC, and lack of recruitment of new faculty. 

For the RI-MUHC, 2015 was the year of the move and reorganization, the year when many long-term issues (e.g., tenure-track) were addressed and we worked hard together to prepare for changes in our research ecosystem. I hope that in 2016 we will take advantage of the possibilities offered by our new environments, adjust to our changed ecosystem and succeed in new endeavours. Let's be inspired by the CEA discovery and bring to the world many more such success stories to be celebrated 20, 30 and 50 years from now.

Best wishes for wonderful holidays.

Vassili