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Urban research facility poised to transform Quebec City into a world-class neuroscience hub

Launched in May 2007, the NeuroCité project involves the construction of a privately owned industrial and academic complex dedicated to neuron and brain disease research.

NeuroCité is a privately owned non-profit organization co-founded by the City of Quebec, Laval University’s Laval Robert Giffard Research Centre (CRULRG) and the Quebec City Congregation of the Sisters of Charity

  • Total land area to be developed: 1.5 million sq. feet
  • Estimated number of jobs created by 2017: 2,000
  • Expected investment: CA$250 million
  • On-site companies: 10 world-class pharmaceutical companies and 10 international high-tech firms
  • Research areas: schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, depression, attention/sleep disorders, chronic pain, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

On-site activities will be undertaken in the areas of neurophotonics, neurogenesis, psychiatric genetics, tissue banks, neuron imaging, neuropharmacology, nanomedicine, nanotechnology, sleep electrophysiology, memory, brain aging, etc.
  • Over the next 25 years, the fastest-growing sectors worldwide will be neurotechnology and neuropharmaceuticals
  • Brain diseases affect 450 million people around the world and account for 25% of total healthcare costs
  • Central nervous system therapy is the second-largest sector for pharmaceutical companies, accounting for nearly CA$96 billion or 21.4% of the global drug market in 2007

NeuroCité is the culmination of an innovative strategy that combines the strengths and resources of industry and academia with a view to speeding scientific and technological development. As it takes shape over the next decade, NeuroCité will become a world-class medical and scientific hub. At the same time, Quebec City’s abandoned D'Estimauville district will be transformed into an ultra-modern and human-scale neighbourhood.

The lack of available research funding in Quebec and across Canada is unquestionable. Nevertheless, in recent years, Laval University’s Robert Giffard Research Centre (CRULRG) has managed to stake out an enviable position among the world’s leading research facilities devoted to brain function and neuropsychiatric diseases, employing some 400 people from 15 different countries. But two crucial questions have been raised: Can CRULRG’s growth be supported and sustained in a difficult financial climate? And can an outstanding talent pool be maintained by persuading local researchers to stay in the area and by attracting additional personnel from outside the Quebec City region?

“The NeuroCité project was developed in response to those concerns,” says CEO Raynald Bourassa. “If the time-honoured academic funding model and government contributions are insufficient to adequately support research programs and provide training for the new generation of researchers, we have to come up with new formulas and revenue sources. We will open new doors by bringing together industrial and university stakeholders and by creating innovative synergies between them. Our goal is to ensure that academic research is tailored to commercial development requirements and to facilitate technology transfers with our industrial partners.”

According to Mr. Bourassa, NeuroCité will provide researchers and entrepreneurs with a broader and deeper set of tools by virtue of the fact that the industrial and academic sectors have different financing mechanisms. “Research facilities can access public funding, while businesses benefit from the Quebec government’s R&D; funding and tax credit program, one of the most generous of its kind in the world.” New types of partnerships will also mean faster development and marketing of scientific and clinical applications to treat brain disease. At the international level, NeuroCité will offer a highly competitive range of services to multinational pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and major equipment manufacturers. “The commercial revenues generated will be reinvested in basic research and education programs with a view to preparing the next generation of researchers and expanding our talent pool.”


NeuroCité’s first phase includes NeuroCentre, which will focus on training activities, in addition to basic, clinical and applied research. It will also include various private medical clinics and scientific spinoffs as well as a high-tech park for world-class pharmaceutical and companies. In addition, a consortium of leading universities from Quebec, Europe and Asia will be located on site. “The consortium will offer an international PhD program in neuroscience for local and foreign students. They will be able to enrol in courses here and then pursue their studies at any of the participating universities,” says Mr. Bourassa.

A number of NeuroCité entities will foster stronger synergies between academia and the private sector. For example, pharmaceutical companies wishing to conduct collaborative research and develop new drugs will be able to access top-of-the-line local teams and enter into unique partnerships with post-secondary institutions. Conversely, corporate resources will be made available to researchers. “Thanks to the project’s commercial leverage, researchers will be able to obtain project financing and develop medical applications more efficiently,” notes Mr. Bourassa. NeuroCité will also provide project incubation and hosting facilities: “Researchers who want to set up a company to promote their discoveries will have access to business support services from the outset, together with office space. This will increase their chances of successfully developing and marketing technologies, medical therapies and drugs that will benefit patients.”

A human-scale project

Even though its futuristic name may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, NeuroCité is a human-scale social and urban development project. In addition to infrastructure for the various project components and on-site companies, living spaces geared to users’ needs will also be built. The D'Estimauville district will be retransformed into a residential area, with housing for students, professors, researchers and doctors. Plans are also in the works for a “smart neighbourhood” that will be technologically adapted to the difficulties faced by brain disease patients. “As the number of elderly people keeps growing, so too does the number of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. There is also an increasing need for medically adapted housing with amenities such as security systems and specific comfort requirements,” says Mr. Bourassa.

A vibrant neighbourhood will take shape in tandem with scientific and business ventures. “When we achieve a critical mass of people studying, working and living in the area, an urban network of restaurants, hotels and cafés will emerge. Real estate developers are already expressing an interest in the district.” The City of Québec, which has supported the project from the outset, has committed itself to revitalizing D'Estimauville by creating a high-quality living environment with extensive green space. Thanks to the accessible public transportation network, downtown Quebec City will be only a few minutes away for NeuroCité residents.

“Some of the best scientists in Canada and the world live and work here. NeuroCité will be a valuable asset in the transformation of Quebec City into an innovation and development hub for neuron and brain disease research. The sector is booming, and thousands of people stand to benefit,” says Mr. Bourassa.

Véronique Lord

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