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Education

Closing the gap on job readiness 14

Regional Profile Atlantic provinces work together 17

Moments in Time Meet the father of pharmacogenetics 23

september/october 2017

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

MIND GAM ES Personalized medicine meets mental health with psychopharmacogenetics


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Cultivating BioTalent

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Bio Possibilities

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9

Target Practice

Psychopharmacogenetics is helping clinicians to be more precise about what drugs they prescribe for mental health patients.

Preparing students for the Canadian biotech industry.

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

Transforming natural resources into life sciences innovation in Atlantic Canada.

standard Education

Closing the gap on job readiness 14

REgional PRofilE Atlantic provinces work together 17

MoMEnts in tiME Meet the father of pharmacogenetics 23

septeMBer/oCtoBer 2017

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DaviD Suzuki Quality vs quantity

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

MIND GAM ES Personalized medicine meets mental health with psychopharmacogenetics

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September/October 2017

Propelling drug screening research

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in the

Editor’s note 5 canadian news 6 worldwide news 7 moments in time 23

Zone UBC researchers study gambling’s effect on the brain

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See inside the lab bringing new insights to gambling

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editor’s note

Publisher & CEO Christopher J. Forbes cforbes@jesmar.com Executive Editor Theresa Rogers trogers@jesmar.com Assistant Editor Hermione Wilson hwilson@jesmar.com CONTRIBUTORS BioTalent Canada art director Katrina Teimo kteimo@dvtail.com graphic designer Houman Hadidi hhadidi@dvtail.com Secretary/Treasurer Susan A. Browne marketing Stephanie Wilson manager swilson@jesmar.com vp of production Roberta Dick robertad@jesmar.com production Stephanie Bellows COORDINATOR sbellows@jesmar.com

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 www.biobusinessmag.com 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, biondj16@publicationpartners. com 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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Brave New

World

Three years ago, when I was still new to the world of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical business, I wrote a piece for Bio Business magazine’s September-October 2014 issue about personalized medicine and nichebusters – pharmaceuticals developed through personalized medicine approaches, that is. My imagination lit up with all the possibilities such innovation held, with visions of drugs carefully tailored to a specific patient population so that they had little to no adverse effects, drugs that targeted an individual’s specific genetic makeup to deliver a more effective treatment. It all seemed so impossibly futuristic. Little did I know that a mere month later, in November 2014, CAMH would start enrolling patients suffering from mental health disorders in its IMPACT study, to have their genes tested with technology that could, with some accuracy, predict how they would react to antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. Three years later CAMH has analyzed genetic markers in 9,000 patients and gained invaluable data about how a person’s DNA affects their response to common psychiatric drugs, which you can read about on page 9. Here’s the thing: personalized medicine is no far-fetched science fiction flight of fancy – not any more – it’s simply the next logical step. Once it was possible to rapidly sequence the human genome (it now takes as little as 26 hours, according to Popular Science and can cost less than $1,000) tasks like testing a patient for the infamous BRCA mutation in order to assess their risk of developing breast cancer and predict the efficacy of certain therapeutic treatments, became merely routine. Chances are we will look back on a time before personalized medicine the way we now look back at a time before penicillin was in regular use. What a time to be alive.

Hermione Wilson assistant Editor

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Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

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canadian news

Green Cross Biotherapeutics Opens Montreal HQ

Green Cross Biotherapeutics (GCBT) inaugurated a state-of-the-art biomanufacturing facility in Technoparc Montreal, its North American HQ. GCBT is the only Canadian manufacturing facility of plasma-derivative products, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and albumin. This $400-million investment brings new biopharmaceutical technology, and creates more than 200 jobs. The plant features a unique service of plasma fractionation, and will support healthcare in Canada by improving self-sufficiency and the security of its plasma protein product supply.

Overcoming Therapeutic Resistance in High Fatality Cancers

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the International Development Research Centre, the Azrieli Foundation and the Israel Science Foundation, have announced recipients for the Joint CanadaIsrael Health Research Program. Two teams will develop strategies to improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy against leukemia and lung cancer. Four other teams will use advanced genomics and protein engineering techniques to elucidate basic molecular mechanisms associated with tumour development, progression and resistance to therapy in pancreatic, breast, renal and hepatic cancer. bio business s e p t e m b e r / o c to b e r 2 01 7

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Canadian Team Shares in €1 Million MS Grant

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany announced recipients of the fifth annual Grant for Multiple Sclerosis Innovation (GMSI). Three research teams, from Canada, Portugal and the U.S., were selected to share the €1 million grant to support their research. “This year’s winners exemplify recent innovation with promising concepts in artificial intelligence, augmented diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, as well as sophisticated monitoring of disease progression,” said Steven Hildemann, Global Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Patient Safety.

Prince Edward Island Bioscience Cluster Adds Manufacturing Capacity

PEI Bioscience Cluster partners took another step to address the manufacturing scale-up needs of the region’s biotechnology industry with the unveiling of a new fermentation and downstream processing equipment suite at the BioFoodTech facilities in Charlottetown recently. In September, the governments of Canada and Prince Edward Island announced an investment of nearly $1 million in funding for the new equipment to address a gap in the manufacturing infrastructure in the region. Through its Business Development Program, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) provided a non-repayable contribution of $500,000 to the PEI BioAlliance that went toward the purchase of the advanced fermentation, filtration, and drying equipment. “Bioscience is one of the fastest-growing industries in PEI, thanks in part to the PEI BioAlliance,” says Sean Casey, Member of Parliament for Charlottetown, on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the minister responsible for ACOA. “Our investments in the bioscience sector support Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan and the Atlantic Growth Strategy, and are contributing to the growth of this sector that is playing a key role in transforming our economy to one of innovation.” The government of Prince Edward Island has provided a $100,000 grant through Innovation PEI as well as a repayable contribution of $337,822. “This type of infrastructure investment further cements our province’s growing reputation as a leader in biotechnology,” Economic Development and Tourism Minister Heath MacDonald says. “By helping to grow the bioscience cluster on Prince Edward Island we are spurring innovation and creating jobs and prosperity for Islanders.” Rory Francis, Executive Director of the Prince Edward Island BioAlliance, says the new manufacturing equipment which includes fermenters, centrifuge, a filtration unit and spray dryer, is much needed as PEI and Atlantic Canadian companies continue to expand operations. “We’re at the stage now where we are moving beyond R&D and have more manufacturing requirements within our region’s bioscience companies. Thanks to the federal and provincial governments and the expertise and technical support at BioFoodTech, the National Research Council, and other partners, we can provide access to the technology needed to scale-up manufacturing and help commercialize their products,” says Francis. These investments will allow regional and international companies in the intermediate phase of scaling up their production to engage the resources needed to optimize their manufacturing processes and prepare for commercial scale manufacturing. Through strategic investments and collaborative efforts such as this, the BioAlliance says the 53 companies in the PEI Cluster are continuing to grow their revenues and expand their workforce. Since 2005, BioAlliance partners in business, academia and research, and governments, have been supporting the growing bioscience industry in the province, helping to bring skilled jobs, new companies, and economic growth to the island.


worldwide news

UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers have discovered early evidence that the genetics of a person’s immune system may help predict what that person’s cancer might look like, molecularly speaking. This finding, published October 26 in Cell, is the latest move toward precision medicine – the ongoing quest for more precise, personalized ways to predict a person’s cancer risk, and prevent it. At the centre of the study is Major Histocompatibility Complex class I (MHC-I), a family of molecules that stick out from the surface of most cells in the body. They hold out antigens – bits of just about everything from inside the cells – and display them to T cells, immune cells that are constantly checking for infected or damaged cells. If T cells spot MHC-I with “self” antigens, they leave the cell alone. But if they spot foreign antigens, like those from bacteria or viruses, or mutated self antigens, they kill the cell before the damage spreads. “But we don’t all have the same MHC-I – the antigens your cells can or can’t bind depends on your genetics,” says senior author Hannah Carter, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Everyone shows their immune system a different variety of things happening inside their cells.” Carter led the study with first author Rachel Marty, a graduate student in her lab, and Joan Font-Burgada, PhD, an assistant professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center. The team wondered if there might be a correlation between the cancer antigens that a person’s MHC-I is able to present and the likelihood that a mutation would actually show up in his or her tumor. They reasoned that cancer antigens that are presented would not manifest in cancer cells themselves because T cells would see them and eliminate these potentially cancerous cells early on, and vice versa. To investigate, Carter and her team applied computational biology methods to data available from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), the National Institutes of Health’s database of genomic information from thousands of different human tumors. They scored 9,176 patients based on the ability of their MHC-I molecules to present 1,018 cancer-causing gene mutations for inspection by their T cells. If a person had a poor presentation score for a given mutation, they were more likely to have that mutation in their cancer. The researchers found clear associations between a person’s MHC-I genetic makeup and the genes mutated in that person’s cancer. They saw this correlation in many cancers, but they found the strongest links in thyroid and brain cancer. According to Carter, it’s possible that one day clinicians could use a person’s MHC-I type to predict the type of cancer a person might get, helping them know where to look for potential tumors and then which molecularly targeted therapeutics to prescribe. But first her team needs to see how this finding generalizes across larger populations, particularly when it comes to rare mutations. But Carter also emphasizes the fact that your cancer fate isn’t written in your MHC-I genetics. “No matter what your immune system or cancer genetics, many factors affect your risk for cancer – and environmental factors such as diet and smoking are likely much more influential than your MHC-I type.” Read the full study at www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(17)31144-3

NeoGenomics Opens First International Lab to Support Clinical Trials

NeoGenomics has opened its first international laboratory facility in Rolle, Switzerland. This expansion brings NeoGenomics’ Pharma Services menu to the European market and will benefit clients by offering greater continuity of services for Europeanbased clinical trials. Advanced testing services offered from the facility include flow cytometry, fluorescent in-situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry.

Global Contest to Help Rare Disease Community

The Rare Genomics Institute launched the 2018 BeHEARD (Helping Empower and Accelerate Research Discoveries) science challenge, a global competition that offers rare disease researchers, who traditionally have difficulty attracting funding, grants of cash and the latest life science innovations and technologies. This unique crowdsourced biotechnology competition allows companies to contribute their technology to make a difference for the rare disease community. Apply at www.raregenomics.org/apply-here .

Belgian Scientist Rewarded for Commitment to Scientific Communication

Belgian scientist Erik Jacquemy has been awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science during the World Science Forum in Jordan. An independent jury selected Jacquemy in recognition of his commitment to disseminate knowledge about the sciences among the general public. He is an expert in scientific communication, science centres, science museums and interactive museums. The UNESCO Prize was created to reward outstanding contributions in communicating science or technology to society.

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Immune System May Predict Molecular Look of Cancer, Research Suggests

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feature story

Trial

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CAMH’s IMPACT study could drastically change the way psychiatric drugs are prescribed

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By Hermione Wilson

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s with most things relating to the brain, treating mental health disorders is no easy feat. In the autobiographical book Changing My Mind, in which Margaret Trudeau opens up about her lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, psychiatrist Paul Grof wrote an addendum which shed light on the difficulty of treating the condition. “The choice of a primary mood stabilizer carefully tailored to the patient’s clinical profile is essential; otherwise, the patient ends up on a large cocktail of The main difficulty in neuropsychiatric drugs – polypharmacy,” he says. “Each type of bipolar disorders like depression, schizophrenia illness has its effective primary mood stabilizer and and Alzheimer’s is that we really don’t have helpful ways of treating low moods. There is, for example, a characteristic clinical profile that responds any biological tests to point the physician best to lithium. Thus, for some patients lithium is the toward the right treatment. best solution, while others such as Margaret fare much better on neuroleptics (e.g., olanzapine, risperidone and -James Kennedy, Head of the Tanenbaum Centre for Pharmacogenetics, CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health quetiapine) or require lamotrigne.” Research Institute In the often long and harrowing journey travelled by those struggling with mental health issues, one of the most difficult steps is finding the right medication and dosage to treat their condition. This alone can take months, even years. In the case of Margaret Trudeau, it took 11 years to diagnose her bipolar disorder and another four years to find the right medication to treat it, says James Kennedy, Head of the Tanenbaum Centre for Pharmacogenetics at CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. “The main difficulty in neuropsychiatric disorders like depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s is that we really don’t have any biological tests to point the physician toward the right treatment,” Kennedy says. “By contrast in cancer, now the doctors take a piece of the tumour and they characterize the cell type, and then they pick a chemotherapy that suits that particular type of tumour for that individual person’s type of cancer. In brain science we cannot do that because we can’t get any brain tissue and secondly the brain is way more complicated than a tumour or the heart or the lungs, and we don’t know what causes these common neuropsychiatric illnesses.” The common practice among clinicians when treating these illnesses is to initiate a trial and error process where the patient goes on first one drug then another until they hit upon the most effective one. It is a clumsy process that is bad for the patients and costly for the health care system, Kennedy says. That is a situation CAMH’s seven-year IMPACT (Individualized Medicine: Pharmacogenetic Assessment and Clinical Treatment) research program seeks to remedy. Using psychopharmacogenetics, which is the study of pharmacological responses to psychiatric medications in the brain, the IMPACT study aims to predict how individual mental health patients will respond to different drugs, whether positively or aversely. CAMH has partnered with U.S. company Assurex Health on the IMPACT study, using Assurex Health’s GeneSight Psychotropic test to analyze genes that play a part in a patient’s metabolism and their response to 33 Health Canada-approved drugs, half of which are antidepressants and half antipsychotic medications. “We know a fair amount about how drugs interact with the body and what genes are involved,” Kennedy says. “We have leveraged that knowledge to create a multi-gene panel that, in its current form, tests for eight different genes in the liver that break down medications, and then two genes in the brain that are involved in the response to antidepressants and antipsychotics.”


feature story

We’ve analyzed data on about 1,000 patients where we have good records about how their medications were changed by the test In terms of depression symptoms, the patients who had the test improved than the patients where their doctor did not act on the test. There was a similar result in anxiety symptoms where there was a

23 per cent improvement - J ames Kennedy, Head of the Tanenbaum Centre for

Pharmacogenetics, CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute

The results of the test can predict whether a patients’ body will break down a medication quickly or slowly. If metabolized too quickly, the medication will have no effect; too slowly and the patient may end up with toxic levels of the drug in their bloodstream. “Across these 10 genes, almost no patient is the same as another patient,” Kennedy says. “It’s a very rare occurrence.” A report is sent to the participant’s physician that colour codes the medication in question. Green means the medication will likely be effective for that particular patient, yellow means the dosage levels may need to be adjusted, and red means the physician should use caution when prescribing the medication. To date, 9,000 patients have been tested through the IMPACT study. Kennedy and his colleagues have made their pharmacogenetic test available to university hospitals, psychiatrists and family doctors, to assess its feasibility and usability. Family doctors are usually the first place mental health patients come to for relief, Kennedy says, so it was critical for the researchers to provide these primary care doctors with the information the test provides. The test has had better uptake than a new procedure or a new drug, he says. “We’ve analyzed data on about 1,000 patients where we have good records about how their medications were changed by the test,” Kennedy says. “In terms of depression symptoms, the patients who had the test improved 27 per cent more than the patients where their doctor did not act on the test. There was a similar result in anxiety symptoms where there was a 23 per cent improvement.” In addition to testing for genetic variation in the liver and the brain, the IMPACT study team is tracking the side effects of the 33 psychiatric medications they are working with, side effects such as insomnia, headaches, nausea, fatigue and weight gain. The goal, Kennedy

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says, is to eventually add more genetic targets to the test and get a better handle on predicting which patients will experience the bad side effects of various drugs. This is a particularly critical area of research when it comes to some of the stronger antipsychotic medications, which cause serious weight gain that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and eventually ends a patient’s life prematurely. Unfortunately, for patients who need these antipsychotic drugs to live a normal life, there are no healthier alternatives, Kennedy says. “We’ve developed a panel of seven genes for predicting weight gain that are completely different from each other,” he says. “There are genes involved in appetite, your appetite centre in your brain. They are all brain-based genes.” The team has submitted the seven genes for patent protection, with the goal of adding them to their pharmacogenetic test. In the first few years of CAMH’s IMPACT study, Kennedy and his team used a homegrown genetic test created by Kennedy. In 2013 they partnered with Assurex Health, having identified its GeneSight Psychotropic test as the best product on the market at the time, Kennedy says. The U.S. company allowed the CAMH team to significantly scale-up their operation. “[Assurex Health] set up a Canadian subsidiary that only hires Canadian scientists and lab technicians,” he says. “Now we can do about 3,500 patients per year, and we could scale it up even more with more funding.” Currently, the IMPACT study is mainly funded by Ontario taxpayer dollars through the Ministry of Research and Innovation of Ontario. Kennedy’s team has been providing data to the ministry and to the OHIP insurance program, with the goal of one day achieving OHIP reimbursement for the pharmacogenetic test. In August of this year, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada announced that it would be joining the IMPACT study, as part of an effort to prevent disability and absenteeism in the workplace. According to a Sun Life press release, at least 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to mental health problems, and

Top: James Kennedy with a trainee at CAMH. Bottom: To date, the Tanenbaum Centre for Pharmacogenetics has run tests on 9,000 impact study participants.

mental health problems and illnesses accounted for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism in 2013. Partnering with the IMPACT study will give Sun Life clients on approved mental healthrelated disability claims an opportunity to participate in the study and benefit from the test. There is a good chance that pharmacogenetic tests like GeneSight could someday become standard practice when it comes to treating

mental health disorders. It’s all part of the personalized medicine movement; tailoring treatments to an individual patient not only saves them possibly harmful side effects of ineffective medication, it also saves the health care system the cost of the trial and error process. In the future, Kennedy says, patients will insist on doctors checking their genetic variation before writing a prescription. “There’s just no advantage to ignoring that information,” he says. BB


education

Beyond Co-op By BioTalent Canada

Closing the gap between what students learn in school and what Canadian biotech companies need

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new program that aims to increase the job readiness of STEM and business students is bringing renewed attention, and a new solution, to a skills gap that employers have identified in new graduates. The federally funded Student Work-Integrated Learning Program includes $6 million in wage subsidies over four years for 1,000 co-operative education placements in Canadian biotech companies, and further funding for curriculum enhancements for college and university biotechnology programs. As a national non-profit HR association for the Canadian biotechnology industry, BioTalent Canada works to ensure that the bio-economy has access to the talent it needs, and is serving as the connector between government and the biotechnology industry to administer the program. “Approximately 80 per cent of Canada’s bio-economy is comprised of companies with less than 50 employees, and so every hiring decision has an enormous impact,” says Rob Henderson, President and CEO of BioTalent Canada. As a result, he says, “cash-strapped companies are often reluctant to take a chance on a new hire that doesn’t meet all of their needs. Wage subsidy programs have played a key role in bridging this gap.” “We’re a small, growing business and we don’t have the budget that bigger companies do,” says Keith Tucker, Senior Human Resources Director at Therapure Biopharma. “Wage subsidy programs have allowed us to hire new employees we wouldn’t otherwise have had the budget for.”


education

Approximately 80 per cent of Canada’s bioeconomy is comprised of companies with less than 50 employees, and so every hiring decision has an enormous impact. – Rob Henderson, President and CEO of BioTalent Canada

Mathieu Poulin

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Alana Bolton, a Talent Generalist at STEMCELL Technologies, which uses its co-op program as its primary recruiting pipeline, says “we need students who are ready for the workplace, and we are prepared to follow through when the fit is right.” “Our co-op students take on remarkable roles,” says Bolton. “When we have outstanding students, we want to hire them.” The added challenge now is that new graduates, even ones with co-op experience, are missing key skills like project management and financial literacy that aren’t the traditional domain of academic programs, but employers increasingly expect students to have. “Industry-led curricula enhancement is the holy grail to this problem,” says Henderson, “because wage subsidy programs alone won’t address the skills gap in a sustainable way.” Under the program, industry and post-secondary institutions will come together to identify gaps in existing bio-economy curricula. BioTalent Canada will then use this as a roadmap and develop a series of related modules to better align curricula with industry needs. The curricula are available to post-secondary institutions at no cost. BioTalent Canada hopes that post-secondary institutions, many of which have long embraced the co-op culture, will see this curricula enhancement as a natural extension of that philosophy. “Curriculum creation is expensive,” says Henderson. “It doesn’t make sense to expect each institution to do that on their own when there’s a common set of essential elements that industry is looking for.” By bridging that gap, BioTalent Canada hopes to see an across-the-board increase in the number of graduates who are job-ready, and a community of companies that are keen to hire them. So far, the program is getting a warm reception from industry. BB

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Life Sciences Ontario Celebration of Success

Annual Awards Presentation February 28th, 2018—Liberty Grand, Exhibition Place, Toronto

Recognizing our 2018 Award Recipients for: • •

Lifetime Achievement Award LSO Volunteer Award

• •

Community Service Award Life Science Company of the Year

Registration is open. Reserve your table / tickets today.

For more information on registration and sponsorship phone: 416-426-7293 or email: admin@lifesciencesontario.ca For more details, please visit: www.lifesciencesontario.ca


regional profile

AtlantiC

An

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI are working together to transform traditional industries into future innovation

By Hermione Wilson

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here is a lot of buzz around the issue of resource management in Atlantic Canada these days. In the context of the life sciences sector in that region, it means mining the traditional industries and natural resources of the Atlantic provinces – aquaculture, agriculture and lumber, to name a few – for potential innovation.

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New Brunswick “We are still a province of hewers of wood and drawers of water,” says Meaghan Seagrave, Executive Director of the New Brunswick bio cluster, BioNB. “We still live with our traditional industries; they are the basis of the province. Severty-five per cent of our land mass is covered in trees, we have the cheapest arable agricultural land in North America and we still have significant fisheries.” Seagrave believes that the future of the life sciences in New Brunswick lies in collaborations between the life sciences and the province’s traditional industries. “The future of that cross-sectoral pollination is what the feds are essentially calling cleantech,” she says. Seagrave points to examples of this cross-polination in innovations like replacing petroleum-based products with bioproducts found in industries like forestry, agriculture and aquaculture. The New Brunswick life sciences sector encompasses a wide range of industries, she says. The industry works in a multitude of areas from bioenergy to pharmaceuticals. Fifty-five per cent of the BioNB member companies work in resource management, developing natural resources into energy, biochemicals, natural health products, and pharmaceuticals. “Nova Scotia has got a focus around med tech, PEI and [the province’s life sciences cluster PEI BioAlliance] are more on the life sciences and natural health products side of things, and we do a little bit of everything, which makes us the ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’” Seagrave says. “Because we are the masters of none we utilize the expertise and the knowledge base within both PEI and Nova Scotia when we have companies that need that knowledge base, and they utilize us for pretty much everything else because our networks are very vast and very diverse.” New Brunswick has 14 major research institutions outside of academia, institutions like the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, Northern Hardwood Research Institute, and the Coastal Research Institute, Seagrave says. The province has more research institutes and researchers per capita than anywhere else in Canada, she adds. Most of them are focused around the traditional industries of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, marine and aquaculture – all except the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in

Moncton. In terms of commercializing pharmaceuticals, the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute is working toward cancer treatments and therapeutics, and one of the province’s biotech companies, Soricimed Biopharma, was recently granted orphan drug status by the FDA for its peptide SOR-C13 treatment of pancreatic cancer. Then there are companies such as McCain’s Food and Cooke Aquaculture who would not necessarily consider themselves part of the bioscience sector. Seagrave refers to them as “non-core bioscience companies” and says she considers them all part of the ecosystem. “McCain’s would consider themselves a global food company, but they actually develop and patent technologies around their waystreams and they do really novel food-based applications,” she says. “Cooke would consider themselves an aquaculture fish company, but they need to evolve their fish feeds, they need vaccines, they need to deal with energy solutions from a processing perspective, so there are all of these components and they either integrate them, development them, or purchase them.”


Nova Scotia In the province of Nova Scotia, the life sciences sector is divided in to five key areas: medical technology, pharmaceuticals and vaccines, natural health products, digital health (involving the interplay between the digital community and classic life sciences), and bio products. Resource transformation comes into play yet again where bio products are concerned. “You take a lobster shell, you pull the chitin out of it, then you can make some chitosan which is used as slow-release backbone for slow-release pharmaceuticals,” says BioNova Managing Director Scott Moffitt. “Instead of making dog food with lobster shells, you’re making something you can sell at $15,000 a kilo.” Resource transformation is an area where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick overlap, he says. Under that broad umbrella, Nova Scotia leans toward the health technology space. “The majority of the companies that we have in Nova Scotia are actually falling into the health technology area,” Moffitt says. “That would be medical technology, pharmaceuticals and vaccines, natural health products, and digital health fits in there as well.” Part of the reason for this is that Nova Scotia has research infrastructure that is historically focused on the health technology space. That research infrastructure includes the province’s extensive adult hospital network, the IWK Health Centre – “The only tier one pediatric system east of Quebec City,” Moffit says – and the Dalhousie University medical school, to name the major players. The Nova Scotia life sciences sector has its sights set on emerging fields like natural products, digital health and bio products as key areas of future growth. For example, in the natural products space, Nova Scotia would like to take leftovers from the wild blueberry production process (the province is one of the largest producers of wild blueberries in the world) and extract bioactives that could be used for preventative treatments and antioxidants. BioNova is currently in the process of developing a sector growth plan, which has

so far identified a need for a human resources network and a capital investment network, Moffitt says. “We want to basically identify the investment community, the organizations and individuals who have some sort of an affinity for Atlantic Canada, so that there’s a bit more of a soft landing when a company from here goes and talks to an investor [outside of Canada].” In terms of retaining talent in the province, Moffitt says that the sector has put a lot of effort into ensuring recent graduates have plenty of job opportunities available to them, and that those who are educated in Nova Scotia stay in the province. There is also a need, he says, for the province to recruit experienced talent from abroad. “There are some skill gaps in this part of the world, and that’s primarily around senior-level executives with the industry experience that have the ability to take a company from Point A to Point B.”

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Prince Edward Island The focus of the PEI life sciences sector has long been on natural product chemistry and product development and commercialization, ever since the National Research Council (NRC) established the Institute of Nutrisciences and Health in Charlottetown in 2007, says Rory Francis, Executive Director of PEI BioAlliance. “That has continued to be an important area where we’ve grown our credibility as a cluster and is really a key part of how we have attracted and grown companies, attracted technologies and leadership to grow companies in that space,” he says. That emphasis on natural product chemistry has applications in human health, cosmetic ingredients, functional food ingredients, natural health products green chemistry (such as natural products that replace petroleum-based actives), animal health and nutrition. The PEI life sciences sector offers contract manufacturing services and contract research capacity in these areas of application, through both public and private sector service providers. In the public sector are contract service providers like Atlantic Veterinary College, the NRC’s Charlottetown research facilities, the University of PEI, Holland College and the Bio Food Tech Centre. In the private sector there is BioVectra (known for its fermentation and chemical synthesis capacity), the Centre for Aquaculture Technologies, the Central Nervous System Contract Research Organization, and Diversified Metal Engineering (which manufactures specialized equipment for supercritical extraction equipment, fermentation and downstream processing). These research institutions and companies are “an important support and service provider to businesses in our cluster and it’s also a magnet that attracts other businesses in to be able to get access to the infrastructure and the talent that those organizations represent,” Francis says. “We try to focus on areas, technologies and markets where the time to market is three or five years,” he says. “Drug development is not a big part of what we do here, partially because the timeline to get products to market for companies is 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars, so we’ve focused on shorter time to market segments.” The PEI BioAlliance cluster has about 53 member companies ranging from large organizations - like BioVectra, Sekisui and Elanco - to small start-ups just getting off the ground, Francis says. BioVectra, Sekisui and Elanco all began as start-ups in PEI and were subsequently purchased by multinationals, he says. “Those multinationals have continued to invest here and grow the businesses, so that seems to be our model,” Francis says. “We develop these early stage companies and work with them, help them grow, and even if they do get purchased by a bigger player at some point, the important thing from an economic development standpoint is that those new inquisitors continue to invest in those businesses and grow them here.” So far, he says, that model has been successful.

A Strategy for Growth The goals of the Atlantic Canada life sciences sector dovetail neatly with the Atlantic Growth Strategy, an initiative of the federal government and four Atlantic provinces that is designed to focus resources and effort on the region’s economy. Five pillars were identified as areas of focus by the Atlantic Growth Strategy, one of which is particularly relevant to the life sciences: innovation. Under the pillar of innovation, the initiative further identifies the areas of “bioscience, aquaculture, ocean technology and renewable energy” as hubs of future growth. What that looks like, practically, is that the government is doing things like working on a new immigration pilot program that will help companies access skilled labour, and by encouraging SMEs to “innovate, pursue commercialization R&D and generate new value-added opportunities,” says Wade Aucoin, Director General of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. “One of the key ways we’re doing that, under the Atlantic Growth Strategy, is by the Accelerated Growth Service in the region. It brings in various federal agencies and the provincial government together to really provide the full range of services so that companies in the region that really want to grow are able to get access to those services more easily.” BB

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moments in time

Father

The

of

Pharmacogenetics

The man credited as the father of pharmacogenetics was a German medical doctor who joined the University of Toronto Pharmacology department in 1951. r. Werner Kalow’s research was focused on the study of how genetic variations affect drug metabolism and drug safety. In 1982, during an experiment to see how participants metabolized a sedative drug, Kalow noticed a marked difference between the participants’ results, mainly with the results of those participants who were of Chinese descent. This discovery led Kalow to publish the first comprehensive investigation of interethnic differences in drug metabolism. Later in life, Kalow developed a test that uses caffeine metabolism as an indicator of enzyme activity that affects people’s ability to safely take certain drugs. In 2001, the scientist was honoured with the Killam Prize, which recognized his research achievements. BB

Sources www.science.ca/scientists/scientistprofile.php?pID=410 www.research.utoronto.ca/edge/fall2002/discover.html

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Bio Business September/October 2017  

Bio Business September/October 2017