Dear LSO Members,

It was a busy summer for Life Sciences Ontario.  The BIO2013 international conference in Chicago in April was a huge success. LSO had a booth in the Ontario Pavilion for the first time and was able to more effectively promote Ontario’s industry on this international stage. Our President and Chair, Paul Lucas, conducted several interviews including one for PharmaTelevision (which can be viewed at www.pharmatelevision.com). We also had opportunity to interact with several officials and ministers, from both the federal and provincial governments, and to further raise their awareness of the many socioeconomic contributions of the life sciences sector and the challenges we still face.  

Our Policy and Government Relations Committee, co-chaired by Mark Smithyes and Jason Locklin, has worked diligently over the summer to help fine tune our advocacy messages. As we continue to interact with government as the strong, unified voice for life sciences in Ontario, we will focus on three key issues: Access to Capital, Support for Innovation and Commercialization, and a Forum for Life Sciences Policy Discussions.

We launched National Biotechnology Week at our Breakfast Forum on Sept. 23rd, with remarks from the Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, Hon. Reza Moridi. We continue to be encouraged by the Minister’s recognition of the importance of this sector to Ontario’s future social and economic prosperity.  

LSO will continue to strive to represent all areas of the diverse life sciences sector across the province. And we encourage all our members to contribute their voices as well and to be ambassadors for life sciences. Only together, are we the Voice of Life Sciences in Ontario.

Sincerely,

Jason Field

Executive Director

Life Sciences Ontario

Inspiring the next generation of Canadian scientists  

By Mark Lievonen  

Cultivating a love for science among our youth is essential to advancing innovation in Canada, and is critical to our competitiveness. Across the country, the majority of Canadians agree that young people’s interest in science is essential for Canada’s future prosperity. Yet, only 25 per cent of students say they have an interest in taking science at a post-secondary level.  

Never before has there been so much opportunity to create long-term, sustainable careers in science. According to Statistics Canada, employment is growing in health, natural and applied sciences and related occupations. For example, between 2001 and 2011, the number of people employed in health occupations rose by 35 per cent. In natural and applied sciences, the growth rate was 20 per cent. Federal figures indicate that almost 75 per cent of new jobs between 2009 and 2018 will be in high-skill occupations, such as applied science.

The Life Sciences industry must encourage talented young people to advance their scientific ideas. Collaboration among industry, government and academia is vital and is a model of innovative public-private partnerships.  

Twenty years ago, Sanofi Pasteur helped found the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC), a national biotechnology research competition to help advance interests in science among high school students. Since then, the competition has created opportunities for over 4,500 budding young scientists, including Calgary’s Arjun Nair (2013 winner), Waterloo’s Janelle Tam (2012 winner), and Toronto’s Marshall Zhang (2011 winner), to perform cutting-edge research that could lead them towards a career in biotechnology.  The SBCC is our commitment to identifying and nurturing interest in science as early as high school with many students continuing in scientific studies in universities.  

Without programs like the SBCC, our productivity, competitiveness and ultimately, the quality of life in Canada, will lag. However, being competitive also requires proper investment and funding to accelerate the commercialization of new discoveries, and an intellectual property regime that levels the playing field so Canadian organizations can protect their innovations and compete for global R&D investments. Clearly, the long-term success of Canada’s innovation system is dependent on predictable and sustainable investments like this that accelerate innovation and commercialization.

As the founding sponsor of the SBCC, Sanofi Pasteur is excited to see what new ideas spring forth from the curious young minds participating in the SBCC’s 21st year, and ultimately, to celebrate those ideas that evolve into commercial uses for some of our toughest challenges. Recently, we announced Partners In Research (PIR) as the new national coordinator for the SBCC and to emphasize the importance of biomedical research in advancing health and medicine, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as fields of discovery and study for Canadian students.  

 

With the skills, creativity and motivation of our young people, coupled with funding and intellectual property protection, we are in a strong position to cultivate the next generation of youth to become leaders who will shape and enhance Canada’s future. If government, private-sector partners and average Canadians join with us in our efforts, Canada will reap the benefits of the discoveries, and incredible opportunities that will result.

 

Mark Lievonen is president of Sanofi Pasteur Limited.

For more information please visit www.sanofibiogeneius.ca.

Biotechnology: A Post-Industrial Revolution

In the early 1970s, Herbert Boyer, a biochemist, and Stanley Cohen, a geneticist, pioneered a new scientific field called recombinant DNA. Upon learning of this development, Robert Swanson, a young and ambitious angel investor, placed a call to Boyer and requested a meeting. Boyer agreed to give the young entrepreneur 10 minutes of his time.  

Swanson's enthusiasm for and faith in the technology and its commercial potential were contagious; the meeting stretched from 10 minutes to three hours. As it ended, Genentech was born.  

Though Swanson and Boyer faced skepticism from both the academic and business communities, they forged ahead. Four decades and several genetically engineered blockbuster therapeutics later (e.g., growth hormone, insulin and tissue plasminogen activator to name but a few), Genentech silenced its skeptics and dominated the market, becoming so attractive that Roche acquired Genentech to take its own lead in a growing biopharmaceutical industry.  

At the time, scientists and business developers realized that they could harness a single cell to make commercially-viable quantities of peptides, which became a key component of an industrial revolution. Over the years, it has become a conventional global practice.

Another revolution took place when immune system were used as mass-production machinery for monoclonal antibody-based therapeutics, leading to yet another tide that still runs high (e.g., Herceptine, Rituxan, Erbitux, Tysaberi, etc.).  

Canadian research has significantly contributed to this global understanding of how cells can be harnessed to create industrial production lines, but Canada missed the outcome’s first tide and has not prospered as a biotech industry leader.  

Anyone else want to change that?

This week is Canada’s Biotech Week. It’s to celebrate our accomplishments but also to act on establishing a Canadian biotech industry in general and a prospering stronghold for Ontario in particular.

We must seek every possible way to work together so that this formidable task gets the right level of attention. Mars Innovation has taken a very creative approach, that’s already starting to show signs of positive trajectory.

Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research: Bridging the Innovation Gap

If you’re familiar with the Canadian life sciences research landscape, you know our challenge is not the quality or quantity of our research ideas but our ability to commercialize those ideas and translate them into market-ready products.  

Aware of and concerned by this gap, the Canadian government established the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program in 2007. Part of the internationally recognized Networks of Centres of Excellence suite of programs, the CECR program is a unique collaboration between the three federal granting agencies, along with Industry Canada and Health Canada.  

Designed to bridge the challenging gap between innovation and commercialization, the CECR program matches clusters of research expertise with the business community to share the knowledge and resources that bring innovations to market faster.

In MaRS Innovation’s case, it’s proven to be catalytic at the provincial, inter-provincial and national international levels.

A Catalyst for Southern Ontario

MaRS Innovation was among the first CECRs to be created in 2008. Its member institutions conduct extensive, world-class medical research to crack some of medicine’s most challenging enigmas. They include the University of Toronto and its nine affiliated hospitals, York University, Ryerson University, OCADU, Thunder-Bay Regional Research Institute and the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, along with the MaRS Discovery District.  

Through our collaborations with the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE Network), the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Ontario Brain Institute, Ontario Genomics Institute, and the LSO itself, we have become another catalytic cog in Ontario’s biotechnology innovation engine. Naturally, this influence is most concentrated in the GTA where the bulk of our members, researchers, government partners and industry colleagues are located.  

Our collective mission is to overcome the innovator’s classic valley of death for disruptive technologies. MaRS Innovation was initially commissioned to improve success rates in licensing disruptive technologies in therapeutics, diagnostics, medtech and healthcare IT. Over time, it’s become clear that while industry is struggling with rapidly depleting product pipelines, our portfolio comprised of technologies in early stages. Industry expects us to de-risk these assets using the best practices, which is also aligned with Ontario’s economic strategy and drives job creation.  

Early Successs: Xagenic Inc.

Consider the rise of Xagenic Inc., one of the first companies to enter MaRS Innovation’s portfolio and access our seed funding and expertise, such as technology development, intellectual property protection and business development. Founded by two of the University of Toronto’s leading scientists, Shana Kelley and Ted Sargent, Xagenic’s disruptive technology rapidly, efficiently and cost-effectively detects and diagnoses infectious diseases.  

Qiagen, a prominent European diagnostics tools developer, has already recognized the value of Xagenic’s technological approach by making a significant investment in the company. Xagenic now employs 22 people in HQP positions, has created a functional prototype and closed a Series A financing round in less than four years.  

Encycle Therapeutics: Demonstrating the ON/QC biotech corridor’s power

MaRS Innovation, together with CQDM of Quebec, realized the potential of combining the expertise at the two ends of the Quebec-Ontario research corridor using research they co-funded from the University of Toronto and University of Sherbrook. Preliminary work led to the incorporation of Encycle Therapeutics, a discovery-stage biotechnology company exploiting a novel chemistry platform that accesses an attractive, but previously inaccessible, space within medicinal chemistry: small- to medium-sized cyclic peptides.

Cyclization is a viable strategy for increasing compound stability and other drug- like properties of peptides, but hasn’t been widely adopted due to the lack of broadly-applicable synthetic strategies.

Encycle’s technology represents a breakthrough in design and synthesis of stabilized peptides for therapeutic applications, and provides an adaptable platform for drug discovery with a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Following this seed investment, the company reached out to global pharmaceuticals and meaningful discussion is underway. Encycle is leveraging its proprietary chemistry into drug discovery efforts to find novel chemical entities against a range of high-value biological targets. Catalysis, it would seem, works,

Seeking Canadian cures for massive problems facing developing countries  

Most recently, MaRS Innovation helped to close a Phase II financing round for an innovative, handheld point-of-care analyzer, developed by ChipCare Corporation. The company secured an investment of $2.05M to support ChipCare’s continuing development and commercialization over the next three years.

The financing evolved through a uniquely collaborative funding model among Canadian social angel investors, including Maple Leaf Angels, MaRS Innovation and the University of Toronto (Connaught Fund), with special financing leadership from Grand Challenges Canada and the Government of Canada.

ChipCare’s Phase II project plan calls for a three-year development of the device to further refine its functionality, develop a more robust prototype and reduce costs, as part of the move to scale.

MaRS Innovation, who provided seed funding at the company’s earliest development, is working with ChipCare to manage its technical, market and execution risk, and has observer status on its board of directors.  

Collaborations that span five provinces  

MaRS Innovation also collaborates with the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), another CECR based in Vancouver that is equally concerned with how to translate commercially promising health research conducted at the university level into new therapies that improve and save lives.

MaRS Innovation and CDRD identify and seed finance projects of mutual interest in various disciples of drug development, in collaboration with industry and government partners in both provinces and aboard.  

Financing is Key

These are just a few examples that demonstrate how MaRS Innovation is playing a catalytic role in rejuvenating Canadian biotech industry. In fact, it should be viewed as one of many tasked with effectively bridging the chasm between government support for early-stage technologies and industry-based commitments to late-stage R&D and products’ launch.

The federal government responded to recommendations made by the Tom Jenkins Committee by announcing on a $400M ‘seed’ investment (Venture Capital Action Plan or VCAP) that would catalyze the Canadian venture capital industry’s revitalization. The biotech sector is clearly one that could and should benefit from this essential initiative.  

The federal government proposed the funds to be used as a trigger, by virtue of building a robust fund-of-funds system, that could then lead to the formation of a whole new industry of VC funds. The only way the biotech sector can expect to benefit from the initiative is if all constituents joint their efforts to send a strong message that the biotech sector is offering all the requirements to successfully lead Canada toward a knowledge-based economy.  

As mentioned already by others, Ontario has all the necessary ingredients for baking the best biotech industry; we have to combine the skillsets of all who care and we need to ascertain that the machinery is well lubricated with the proper financing.

While everybody is diligently trying to figure out how to structure the VCAP as a top-to-bottom initiative, those of us involved in the process must adapt classical bottom-to-top techniques of addressing the financial distress.  

Since we understand that governments cannot carry the burden alone, we have to identify those who could fill the void of angel investors, which was a very significant component in the financial equation until about 10 years ago. Angel investors are the ideal partners to both entrepreneurs and government.  

Happy Canada Biotech Week!

By Rafi Hofstein, the eternal optimist and CEO of MaRS Innovation