Bio Business November/December 2017

Page 1

Innovation Disconnect

Aligning life sciences policies 8

Regional Profile

Newfoundland and Labrador leverages small size 12

Moments in Time

Nanotechnology leads to cosmeceutical breakthroughs 15

November/december 2017

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

About Biotechs find new opportunities in skin care and cosmetics


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Opinion: Raising the Alarm

feature 8

LSO president Jason Field says the Trudeau government needs to do better at supporting Canadian drug development.

Small but Mighty



Cosmeceuticals The life sciences industry is entering the cosmetics and skin care space.

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador’s life sciences sector is not big but it packs a punch.

standard Editor’s note 5 canadian news 6 worldwide news 7 moments in time 15 on twitter at @biolabmag

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editor’s note

Publisher & CEO Christopher J. Forbes Executive Editor Theresa Rogers Assistant Editor Hermione Wilson staff writers Alexander McCleave Melissa Wallace CONTRIBUTORS

Jason Field

art director Katrina Teimo graphic designer Houman Hadidi Secretary/Treasurer Susan A. Browne marketing Stephanie Wilson manager vp of production Roberta Dick production Crystal Himes COORDINATOR

Bio Business is published 6 times per year by Jesmar Communications Inc., 30 East Beaver Creek Rd., Suite 202, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1J2. 905.886.5040 Fax: 905.886.6615 One year subscription: Canada $35.00, US $35.00 and foreign $95. Single copies $9.00. Please add GST/HST where applicable. Bio Business subscription and circulation enquiries: Garth Atkinson, Fax: 905.509.0735 Subscriptions to business address only. On occasion, our list is made available to organizations whose products or services may be of interest to you. If you’d rather not receive information, write to us at the address above or call 905.509.3511 The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in part or in whole without the written consent of the publisher. GST Registration #R124380270.


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More than Skin Deep In our January/February 2016 issue, we profiled the life sciences sector in Brittany, France, and discovered that a big focus of the biotech industry there is cosmetics. Known for its rich marine biodiversity, Brittany has become home to blue biotech and has worked for many years to research the cosmetic and skin care benefits of marine-derived ingredients. The life sciences sector in this part of the world has a strong connection to the cosmetic ingredients industry which supplies big brands like Estée Lauder and L’Oreal. In Canada, things seem to be a bit different. That is not to say cosmetics manufacturers and suppliers here have no contact with members of the life sciences community, but they do seem to occupy a separate space. In researching this article, I spoke with Marie-Claude Nadeau, VicePresident of Development at Quebec’s Du-Var Laboratory, a contract manufacturer in the cosmetics and personal care space. Nadeau told me that Du-Var didn’t have much contact with the life sciences community, although she said she thought the companies who supplied its raw materials might. “We buy raw materials from either distributors or manufacturers and they give us what we need with technical sheets [that tell us] how to use the product, and what the characteristics are,” she said. “We’ve never asked a supplier or someone else to develop a molecule just for us or for one of our projects.” However, Nadeau did tell me that she knew of an instance where fellow Quebec cosmetic company Lise Watier worked with researchers at the Université du Quebec à Chicoutimi to develop active ingredients for an anti-aging product, which launched in October 2011. As Russell Kerr, founder of Nautilus Biosciences Canada says on page 9, cosmetics have been “a bit of a missed opportunity until recently” for the life sciences industry. According to the people we spoke to in this issue, that could soon change. On the other side of the equation, there is certainly a demand for more biotechnology expertise in the cosmetics space. In its Global Beauty Trends 2018 report, market intelligence agency Mintel said that “the concept of natural beauty ingredients is expanding in an ever-changing world; brands will give Mother Nature a helping hand by encompassing local approaches and developments in biotechnology.” Consumers want to buy clean products with naturally derived ingredients, but they ultimately want products that will effectively treat skin conditions and turn back the clock on visible signs of aging. The life sciences industry is perfectly positioned to provide the needed expertise to create these products. We know we’ve barely scratched the surface with this issue so we turn it over to you, reader. Do you think the Canadian biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry is doing enough in the cosmetics and skin care space? Maybe you have an example of just how active the industry is in cosmetics. Either way, we’d love to hear what you have Hermione Wilson to say. Send us a comment on Twitter or assistant Editor email me at

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Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada


canadian news

Schrödinger and MaRS Innovation Launch Bright Angel Therapeutics Schrödinger, Inc., a privately held company dedicated to revolutionizing drug discovery through advanced computational methods, and MaRS Innovation, a non-profit organization supporting the commercialization of research breakthroughs from Toronto’s leading academic institutions, announced the launch of Bright Angel Therapeutics. The new company is focused on the development of novel therapeutics for treatment of drug-resistant and lifethreatening fungal infections.

Total Direct Cost of Patented Drugs Stable: Study

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A new study published by the Canadian Health Policy Institute (CHPI) concludes that there is no spending crisis regarding patented drugs in Canada. Adjusting for real economic factors like population, CPI and GDP, the total direct cost burden from patented drugs is stable and moderate. Prices are also stable and moderate relative to CPI or comparable countries. The paper, “Facts about the cost of patented drugs in Canada” can be accessed at

Virtual Music Instrument Awarded

An interprofessional team of Torontobased scientists from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital has been recognized with one of Canada’s highest honours – the Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division), presented by the Governor General of Canada. The team developed the Virtual Music Instrument (VMI) in 2003 to help individuals with complex disabilities express themselves and experience the benefits of music therapy.

Vaccine to Prevent Deadly Infections in Canada’s North Reaches Manufacturing Milestone An NRC glycochemistry expert observes polysaccharides isolated from the Hia bacterium. (Photo Credit: CNW Group/National Research Council Canada)

Children and immunocompromised adults at risk of Haemophilus influenzae type a (Hia) bacterial infections are one step closer to having access to a vaccine that will help protect them from the potentially deadly infection. The vaccine developed by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been licensed to InventVacc Biologicals Inc. for manufacturing in preparation for clinical trials. Each year in Canada, especially in the north and in Indigenous communities, hundreds of infants and immunocompromised adults are at risk of Hia. The bacterial infection can result in pneumonia, lethal meningitis, septic arthritis, and bloodstream infections. PHAC scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory studied the epidemiology and microbiology of Hia infection, and identified the need for a vaccine for Canada’s northern populations. These scientists, in collaboration with NRC researchers, developed a vaccine solution. PHAC scientists developed the seed strain of the bacterium needed for the clinical production of the vaccine, while NRC researchers developed the process to grow the bacterium inside a steel fermentation tank, isolated the portion of the bacterium needed for the vaccine, and attached it to a carrier protein that enables it to be recognized by the immune system of infants. The NRC, PHAC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Health Canada are participating in workshops held annually to discuss and engage in the vaccine’s development and eventual implementation. Representatives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations have outlined their respective engagement processes. Clinical trials are expected to begin in 2019, and if successful, the vaccine could be made available by 2022. “As part of our collaborative approach to solving big challenges and facilitating the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in Canada, the NRC is proud to be working with InventVacc Biologicals Inc. and the Public Health Agency of Canada to bring such a critical vaccine to market,” says Iain Stewart, President of the National Research Council of Canada. “This important collaboration will help children in Canada’s northernmost communities.” Quick Facts • Since the late 1990s, there has been an emergence of Hia infections, especially in Indigenous communities in the northern regions of Canada and Alaska associated with significant morbidity and approximately a 10% mortality rate. • A total of 102 Hia cases have been observed since 2007, an average of 12.5 cases per year, with territorial referrals representing one-third of the cases. • Most Hia cases were observed in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Montreal hospitals, which serve as referral centres for Canada’s territories. • InventVacc Biologics Inc. and its parent company Inventprise specialize in developing and manufacturing vaccines for unmet needs. The president of the firm, Subhash Kapre, led the development of the MenAfrivac vaccine to prevent Meningococcal A epidemics in Africa.

worldwide news

Getting Straight to the Heart of the Matter in Stem Cells

Encrypgen Partners with Health Wizz and Codigo46

EncrypGen, which specializes in blockchain for the genetic market, announced strategic partnerships with Health Wizz and Codigo46. Under the first partnership, EncrypGen and Health Wizz will work together to integrate EncrypGen’s Gene-Chain product into the Health Wizz mobile platform. As part of the second partnership, EncrypGen will sell Codigo46’s genetic testing through the preferred vendor section of the EncrypGen website.

From left: Kathy Jones and Conchi Estarás (Photo credit: Salk Institute)

CRISPR Technology Will Be Fastestgrowing Gene Editing Market Segment

Frost and Sullivan expects that multiple applications of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) genome editing technology can generate almost $25 billion in revenue by the 2030s. Various CRISPR/Cas9 systems are being developed as new diagnostic tools and others are being programmed to edit DNA at precise locations of genetic code. Read the full analysis at:

AAHRPP Accredits Four More Research Organizations

The Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs accredited four more research organizations: BC Diabetes (Vancouver, BC), Boston Medical Center and Boston University Medical Campus (Boston, MA), Chang Gung Medical Foundation (Taipei City, Taiwan) Korea University Medical Center (Seoul, South Korea). They join 18 other organizations in earning AAHRPP accreditation this year, bringing the total to 22 in 2017 and 251 accredited organizations overall.

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The process by which embryonic stem cells develop into heart cells is a complex process involving the precisely timed activation of several molecular pathways and at least 200 genes. Now, Salk Institute scientists have found a simpler way to go from stem cells to heart cells that involves turning off a single gene. The work, which appeared in Genes & Development in December, offers scientists a streamlined method to arrive at functioning heart cells (cardiomyocytes) for both research and regenerative therapies. “This discovery is really exciting because it means we can potentially create a reliable protocol for taking normal cells and moving them very efficiently from stem cells to heart cells,” says Salk Professor Kathy Jones, senior author of the paper. “Researchers and commercial companies want to easily generate cardiomyocytes to study their capacity for repair in heart attacks and disease – this brings us one step closer to being able to do that.” In 2015, Jones’ lab, which studies proteins that manage “Researchers and commercial companies want cell growth and development, to easily generate cardiomyocytes to study their discovered two different capacity for repair in heart attacks and disease cellular processes cooperate – this brings us one step closer to being able to to enable embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to develop into do that.” specific cell types like pancreas, – Kathy Jones, Salk liver and heart. The team found that the Wnt pathway loads up the cellular machinery to begin copying and activating genes, and then the Activin pathway ramps up that activity many-fold. Together, the two pathways (named for key proteins) direct stem cells to an intermediate stage from which they further progress into cells of specific organs. By exposing the cells to a signaling molecule at two different timepoints, the team could trigger first Wnt, then Activin, and end up with specialized cells. In the process of their experimentation, the team also discovered a third pathway – governed by a protein called YAP – which seemed to put the brakes on the Activin pathway, thereby keeping stem cells from specializing. Wanting to better understand this effect, Jones and first author Conchi Estarás set out to manipulate the YAP gene in various ways to see what would happen. They began by using the molecular scissors known as CRISPR-Cas9 to cut the gene out of ESCs’ DNA so they could no longer make the YAP protein. Then the duo exposed the cells to the signaling molecule to see what, if anything, happened. To their surprise, the cells went from the stem cell stage directly to beating heart cells. “Instead of requiring two steps to achieve specialization, removing YAP cut it to just one step,” says Estarás, who is a Salk research associate. “That would mean a huge savings for industry in terms of reagent materials and expense.” Visit to read more.


opinion editorial

The Innovation Disconnect:

Aligning policy to accelerate Canada’s health and life sciences sector

The federal government has declared itself an innovation government – so why aren’t we seeing policy to match? By Jason Field


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fter the last federal election, the Trudeau government came out of the gate with a mandate strongly focused on science and innovation. It backed this up with an ambitious Innovation Agenda, an innovation-themed federal budget, and the appointment of a Chief Science Officer. On paper, it looks great. But we have yet to see corresponding policy that will accelerate innovation, particularly within our health system and our life sciences sector. And to secure our economic and social prosperity, Canada must up its game in both these arenas. Let’s start with some fundamentals about innovation policy. Foremost, all innovation is market-driven. The investment and risk of commercializing those discoveries is driven by capital markets. This is the incentive for businesses and investors. In a public healthcare environment, government procurement policies play an integral role in influencing market dynamics. As such, any changes to these policies have far-reaching impacts and must be carefully scrutinized. In the field of drugs, where prices are controlled through government regulations (such as the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) and the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA)), the implications can have global repercussions on how, where, and when innovative treatments will be launched. And, with new PMPRB regulations on the horizon, the Canadian pharma industry has raised the alarm on potential barriers that may hamper our access to new medicines. These concerns are not threats. Pharmaceutical companies’ head offices make global-market-based decisions on where and when new products are launched. In turn, policy makers must be aware of the market dynamics at play

to ensure Canadian patients continue to have access to the latest medicines. Further complicating matters, policymakers often view patents and intellectual property as barriers to health budget sustainability, equating them with costly monopolies. This argument is fundamentally flawed on multiple levels. Worse still, it undermines the core principles of an innovation policy framework. Patents are designed to protect the investment made by innovators in developing new technologies. They are not a monopoly, as they allow for competition: any company can develop and patent an innovation that improves upon an existing product. In short: patents don’t stifle innovation and competition – they encourage it. The idea is not to “reward” innovation through market exclusivity, but rather, to invest in it. For example, many provincial healthcare plans were caught off guard by the development of a new treatment for Hepatitis C. The treatment is costly, but offers a cure for the disease in most cases. The long-term implications for patients and cost savings to the public health system are compelling. However, annual public health budgets are not designed to invest in health innovations for the long-term. The short-term cost implications had policy makers scrambling to adjust to this technological disruption. This model needs to change. The disconnect between innovation policy and health procurement also extends to economic policy. The life sciences sector represents Canada’s greatest untapped potential for economic and social prosperity. In the U.S., two biotech companies, Amgen and Celgene, have a combined market capitalization of US $242 billion,

Dr. Jason Field, President & CEO, Life Sciences Ontario

rivalling the entire Canadian mining sector listed on the TSX (more than 1,200 companies with a market cap of US $244 billion). Both companies were founded on great science (which Canada has in spades) and underwent rapid growth to become global biotech giants. So why is there no made-in-Canada global biotech success story? Numerous government programs support innovation. Most of those funds collectively could not support the development of a single drug product. Simply put, government funding programs are not well-suited to developing biopharmaceuticals. However, government policies can play a vital role in creating the environment for health innovators to succeed. Market access, procurement policies, tax incentives, regulatory approvals, and intellectual property policies all factor into creating this environment. Aligning policies across government mandates is no easy task. But to truly move the needle on life sciences innovation, healthcare sustainability, and economic prosperity, government needs to come together around a common vision for life sciences in Canada. It must be bold, ambitious, and market-driven. BB Dr. Jason Field is President and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario, a not-forprofit, member-driven organization advancing the success of Ontario’s life sciences sector.

Beautiful Bio By Hermione Wilson

When Russell Kerr founded Nautilus Biosciences Canada, in 2007, his goal was to build a global microbial library and find natural marine-derived products that could be exploited for different applications, such as human health, animal health and nutraceuticals. The biotechnology company’s focus on the discovery and development of marine-derived natural products has since expanded to include skin care and cosmetics applications. These applications now represent more than half of the business.

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Nautilus collaborates with multinational companies who have the capabilities to turn the marine-derived bioactives they discover into skin care and cosmetic products. Nautilus’ role is to find the bioactives and natural products with certain attributes the multinationals are looking for, and do the applied research. “We focus on one simple part of this, the discovery of the actives from this microbial collection,” Kerr says. The University of Prince Edward Island professor says that cosmetics are an area where the life sciences sector has the potential to grow. “It’s been a bit of a missed opportunity until recently,” Kerr says. “I think a number of people are just now realizing that this is a huge opportunity.” In terms of the development of the ingredients that go into skin care and cosmetics products, there is a fair amount of overlap with the food industry, at least in the case of companies like POS Bio-Sciences. The company specializes in creating the processes associated with developing ingredients and putting them into stable forms; microencapsulating ingredients or adding stabilizers to them, for example. “Typically, the client comes to us with the ingredient concept or they know that there are some human trials or application trials,” says Rich Green, Vice President of Technology. “They come to us with the concept and the reason they want to develop this ingredient.” POS is contracted to help companies develop the process, test the concept and work out the product specifications. The goal is to understand how the physical and chemical factors for processing may affect the ingredients, both the process of extracting an ingredient out of a material and the process of putting it into stable form. By testing this process on pilot scale equipment provided at the POS facility, Green says, the company can help its client determine the best plan of action for processing at the commercial scale. With cosmetics, POS usually works on a fee-for-service process. Often, Green says, the company works only with developers who usually keep the identity of the formulation company behind the product confidential. Green recalls one project that involved the company working with pomegranate

seed oil which the client was putting into a cosmetic emulsion. POS has also worked with protein extracts, which Green says can also serve as emulsifiers. An enzyme can be added to chop up that protein and give it beneficial properties, he says. “[Protein extracts] can also be used as natural, biological clean label ingredients to replace chemicals or synthetics,” Green says. Cosmetic ingredient trends tend to be similar to food ingredient trends, he says. There is an emphasis on clean label, natural and sustainable ingredients, and plant-based if possible. The process of developing food ingredients versus cosmetic ingredients is also fairly similar and use very similar equipment and processing methods. “With cosmetics it’s a lower volume, higher value market, so in some cases you need to go to a higher purity,” Green says. “I’m talking about botanical extracts, and also peptides and proteins, because they’re used at a very small level for very specific uses.” POS has recently undertaken activities through spin-off companies that could position it as an ingredient supplier in the cosmeceuticals space, which involves cosmetic products that have medicinal properties. One of those spin-off companies is Algarithm, a vegetarian omega-3 oil supplier. Most of Algarithm’s ingredients currently go to the food industry, but there are some omega-3 cosmeceutical applications that focus on the ingredient’s effectiveness in reducing wrinkles, points out Business Development Manager, Ben Kelly. POS’s other spin-off company, Lakessence, is a 50-50 joint venture with POS and a Sri Lankan company called Apeiron. “[Apeiron] sources raw materials from Sri Lankan crops, things like ginger and clove and nutmeg, and then we produce essential oils and oleoresins,” Kelly says. “We see an opportunity where in the future we may be an ingredients supplier to the cosmetic industry, because there is this move toward naturally sourced ingredients, especially with flavour and odour compounds instead of

Russell Kerr, Founder, Nautilus Biosciences Canada

Michel Lavoie, President, DermTek Pharma

synthetically derived compounds. The preference both for foods and cosmetics is to realize a more natural compound.” On the fringes of the life sciences sector are companies like DermTek Pharma, a family-owned dermatology company that formulates its own products. In the 1990s, DermTek launched one of the world’s first sunscreen products that protected against UVA rays. Ombrelle quickly became the most recommended sunscreen in Canada by dermatologists. The brand was eventually sold to L’Oreal in 1997. DermTek has gone on to develop dermatology products to treat acne, psoriasis, roscacea, dandruff, warts and eczema, as well as a cosmeceutical antiaging product called Reversa. “As a whole, we’re really a medical dermatological company, but of course there was such a demand for cosmeceuticals,” says President Michel Lavoie. “You have to innovate and you have to have the patient close to your heart. That’s really why we’re in this business. There’s always a financial aspect to it but there’s a real gratifying aspect to it as well; receiving messages from patients that we’ve helped cure their acne or their psoriasis, or their roscacea.” DermTek Pharma employs an industrial chemist and microbiologist in-house, but its research capabilities are limited. Clinical trials are beyond its budget, but the company does sometimes conduct blind testing. More often, DermTek uses ingredients that have already been tried and tested, and have considerable data behind them. “We have great rapport [with dermatologists],” Lavoie says. “We really value their opinions and it’s usually their recommendations that will lead us to product development.” Cosmetics and cosmeceuticals still exist somewhat on the fringes of the life sciences sector, but it is a space that is clearly full of untapped potential. As the biotech industry moves into the space, the standards for skin care and cosmetic products are on the rise. “In the past, a lot of companies got away with essentially selling snake oil,” Kerr says. “But now, the [cosmetics] industry and our partners are very much focused on proof of efficacy and safety, and our partners are adamant about that. There are some products out there that have fantastic claims and they don’t work. But what is changing in the industry is a recognition that that has been going on for too long, not across the board at any stretch, but that is changing.” BB

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regional profile

Newfoundland and Labrador has Big Aspirations for Life Sciences

By Hermione Wilson bio business n ov e m b e r / d e c e m b e r 2 01 7


The province is leveraging its small size to build and drive an open health innovation ecosystem


he Newfoundland and Labrador health and life sciences sector is in the process of building itself from the ground up. The province has strong research capabilities and IP development expertise through well-established centres like Memorial University, Ocean Sciences Centre, and Genome Atlantic, but struggles to establish large private stakeholders in the local area. There are several large organizations that have a presence in the province but most of the homegrown biotechs are small, emerging companies. The province’s biggest strength is its small size, says Andrew Smith, a practicing physician and assistant professor at Memorial University. “We have pretty much every clinical discipline found in any other big centre, but because of our small size we can navigate the health system very quickly,” he says. “We’re very familiar with the local ethics processes, so we can advance clinical development projects very quickly, we can do pilot projects around technologies in the health system very quickly.” In addition to being a physician and professor, Smith is the co-founder of biomedical device company JRAS Medical Inc., which was developed around its JVPez device that facilitates the measuring of jugular venous pressure (JVP) in patients with congestive heart failure. JVP is important to predicting when these patients will get sick and require hospitalization, and it is traditionally calculated using two rulers which measure the height of the neck veins, a cumbersome process.

regional profile

Finding their niche “We’re trying to fine tune our little niche in the world,” says a spokesperson from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Innovation Supports Division. “We’re much smaller than some other provinces, but we specialize in some areas and have a huge capacity with one of the largest universities in Canada, Memorial University, in terms of our medical faculty there and the things that they’re doing.” At Memorial University the MUN Med 3D group, made up of medical students affiliated with the university’s Clinical Learning and Simulation Centre, are building prosthetic limbs for children and young adults in Zimbabwe with the help of a 3D printer. MUN Med 3D is the first biomedical 3D printing lab and innovation centre in Newfoundland and Labrador. The group intends to develop a business based on using 3D printing technologies as a means to provide solutions for rural, patient-centred healthcare needs and to develop experiential learning technologies. Also out of Memorial University, from the laboratory of molecular geneticist Terry Lynn Young, comes the discovery of the sudden cardiac death gene, which is responsible for the often fatal arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy heart condition. Yet another Memorial University connection is with AquaBounty’s development of the first genetically modified fish. AquaBounty is now in Prince Edward Island, but the IP for its AquAdvantage Salmon came out of Memorial University. In November 2014, the Translational and Personalized Medicine Initiative (TPMI) was announced. Memorial University received $50 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and IBM to develop a tool to be used in personalized medicine for improved delivery of healthcare. The TPMI is made up of two major programs, the Quality of Care Program and the Translational Genomics Program, both of which are supported by a Centre for Health Informatics and Analytics (CHIA) and is housed in the Craig L. Dobbin Genetics Research Centre at Memorial University’s medical school.

JVP-ez in action.

Hacking healthcare The province does not have its own all-encompassing life sciences industry association like other provinces, but it is part of the Atlantic Canada Industries Association and

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“We devised a device that projects a vertically adjustable horizontal laser line on the patient’s neck, so it actually does away with this whole concept of using two rulers to try and measure the height [of the neck veins],” Smith says. A provisional patent has been filed on the JVP-ez and he and co-founder Jason Roberts are working on getting their medical device designation. JRAS Medical Inc. would be the first medical device company in the province to have that designation. “We’re very excited about that and we have several other technologies in the pipeline that we want to push through this company and do it right here [in Newfoundland and Labrador],” Smith says. Smith says he and Roberts are hoping Andrew Smith, Co-founder, JRAS Medical Inc. that through their experience getting a biotech startup off the ground, they can provide mentorship to other people who want to take a similar path. They want to support the development of other innovations and entrepreneurs in the space. Smith and Roberts in turn tap into local resources with relevant expertise, such as Design Smith Inc, a local design firm with the founder having more than 10 years’ medical device experience, or Paul Bassler of PASB Technical Solutions, who has medical technology quality control, regulatory and manufacturing experience. “Supporting local expertise provides us with a solid foundation from which to grow,” Smith says.


regional profile

Left: Server room at the Centre for Health Informatics and Analytics (CHIA). Right: Microbiologist Dr. Terry Lynn Young, whose lab discovered the sudden cardiac death gene.

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Building from the ground up With the help of initiatives like Hacking Health and strong research centres like

bio business

local industry association Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries (NATI). “[NATI isn’t] sector-specific in terms of bio and life sciences,” the government spokesperson says. “They take on that role and that’s part of their envelope of industries that they look after, but they do participate in most of the Atlantic Canada initiatives.” Enter the Hacking Health initiative, which is being championed by Memorial University’s Andrew Smith. Hacking Health is a global movement that was founded by Canadians, and in Newfoundland and Labrador it is bringing together organizations like Memorial University, Eastern Health, the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information, and the provincial government, as well as patients and frontline healthcare workers, to tackle problems facing the region’s healthcare sector. “We’re focused on trying to build a medical technology/life sciences sector here in the province and we’re trying to build it from the ground up,” Smith says. “We’ve been having some good success using the Hacking Health group and they’ve provided us with the network and support that has allowed us to create an entity that enables all these other big organizations to all get together and meet under one roof and drive an agenda that is completely wide open.” In March 2017, NATI and its community partners hosted a Healthcare Hackathon, the first of its kind in St. John’s that brought together healthcare professionals, designers, developers, innovators and entrepreneurs for three days. Local cardiologist Sean Connors presented the group with a problem that needed solving: the challenge of referrals for heart patients needing cardiac catheterization, a process that relies on the archaic technology of the fax machine. The assembled group at the St. John’s Healthcare Hackathon put their heads together and developed a web portal, called MyCCath, which enables healthcare providers to do real-time triage of heart patients and update a patient’s changing status on a province-wide system. “I could be working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, have a patient admitted with chest pain, and know that they need to be referred into the catheter lab,” Smith explains. “I could log into [MyCCath] and enter the appropriate patient information, and they will automatically go into a visual queue where I can see where they are in real-time. As their conditions changes, let’s say they were to deteriorate, I can go in and I can update that very quickly and they may actually see their priority bumped in the queue.” The main driver of the MyCCath initiative, the first of its kind in Canada, is a partnership between Eastern Health and local company MOBIA Technology Innovations. MyCCath is currently in testing in several provinces as well as in the U.S. All this was accomplished in eight months, Smith says, an unheard of level of acceleration. “I think that example provides a great visualization of what you can do with a vehicle like Hacking Health.”

Memorial University, Newfoundland and Labrador is slowly but surely gaining its footing in the healthcare and life sciences sector. “We’re really trying to unlock our health system in terms of innovation,” Smith says. “For a long time our health system has really been a closed shop and I think we’re almost afraid to admit that it has problems that really any big system is going to have and put them out in a very matter of fact fashion so that people can actually look at them, discuss them, bounce around different ideas and come up with solutions that are uniquely tethered to what our province needs.” Through initiatives like Hacking Health, the life science sector aims to transform Newfoundland and Labrador’s healthcare system by connecting healthcare professionals with designers, developers, innovators and entrepreneurs to build solutions for front-line healthcare problems as diverse minds and perspectives fuel innovation. “We have taken this concept and leveraged our small size to build and drive an open health innovation ecosystem,” Smith says. BB

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moments in time


Nanotechnology helps Roll Back the Clock


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n 2009, Ceapro Inc., a company that develops and commercializes innovative ingredients for both human and animal health markets, reached out to the researchers at the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) located in Edmonton. Ceapro commissioned the NINT to investigate certain products in order to develop a deeper understanding of certain ingredients. Many of the products contain Ceapro’s signature avenathramides and oat beta glucan, which have anti-inflammatory and skin healing properties. After a significant amount of testing, NINT discovered that Ceapro’s formulations had the ability to increase skin permeability, reduce local tissue inflammation and help to boost immune response. The research done by NINT and Ceapro has led to significant breakthroughs in the cosmeceuticals market and as a result, created advances in the healing properties of some cosmeceutical products. BB


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