Bright minds work together to develop new strategies for treating brain diseases

News release

March 14, 2018 – Ottawa – National Research Council of Canada 

One in ten Canadians over the age of 65 is living with dementia, for which effective treatment is limited. To tackle brain diseases like dementia, leading neuroscientists from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Biogen are putting their heads together to leverage the NRC’s unique molecular map of blood vessels that form the blood-brain barrier, to develop new treatments. 

The blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from bacteria and viruses, also blocks the access of over 95 percent of medicines and is the major obstacle in treating brain diseases and conditions like Alzheimer’s, brain cancer, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. To overcome this obstacle, over 30 scientists from the NRC and Biogen are now identifying new pathways for medicines to cross the barrier, exploiting a mechanism that allows the passage of essential nutrients through the interior of blood-brain barrier cells. 

Together they will use this molecular map to analyze the surface of cells that make up the barrier, using algorithms to isolate the best targets that can facilitate medicine transport into the brain. The team will then engineer antibodies that can bind to those targets, acting like Trojan horses to sneak their medicinal payload into the brain. 

New medicines will be tested for their ability to cross the barrier and treat the disease they are targeting, and the most promising molecules will be selected to advance to clinical trials.

Additional multimedia

Illustration of the blood-brain barrier: endothelial cells form a barrier that separates the blood stream from the brain. On the surface of endothelial cells are receptors that allow nutrients to enter the brain. These receptors are targets for new medicines that can cross the barrier. An engineered monoclonal antibody with two medicinal arms and two carrier arms is shown biding to the target on the surface of endothelial cells, being taken through the barrier, being released on the brain side, and finding its target on the surface of a neuron. The NRC-Biogen team will identify new targets that are best suited for taking medicine through the barrier.
Neuroscientists from the NRC and Biogen discuss scoring results for different targets on the blood-brain barrier.


“We are working with Biogen on advancing knowledge of the brain and its internal workings, so that new treatments that ease the burden of brain diseases for patients and their families can be developed.”
– Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice-President of Life Sciences at the National Research Council of Canada

“Biogen is pleased to partner with the National Research Council on this pioneering research to improve the delivery of medicines to patients. With forty years of expertise in neuroscience we know the tremendous need of advances in areas like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We welcome the opportunity to be part of this important initiative.”

– Marina Vasiliou, Managing Director, Biogen Canada

Quick facts

  • The National Research Council and Biogen have been collaborating for eight years on the development of brain therapeutics.

  • The NRC’s molecular brain-mapping technologies, also known as blood-brain barrier carta (BBBC), use advanced computer algorithms to identify targets and their properties, to enable the development of new medications that can cross the blood-brain barrier.

  • The BBB Carta collaboration will involve over 30 scientists from the NRC and Biogen and will take three years to complete.

Associated links


Media Relations Team

National Research Council of Canada


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