Bio Business January/February 2018

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company profile A Brazilian biotech chooses Canada for expansion 15


Caitlin Miron awarded for DNA binder research 20

Moments in Time Ian Stirling makes mark on arctic research 23

january/february 2018

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada


into the Future


As shipping through Arctic waters increases, scientists race to study how to deal with catastrophe

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On Ice The Grand Seduction


NewsMaker: Caitlin Miron



Scientists are trying to understand the role bacteria plays in arctic oil spill cleanup.

How Mississauga convinced a Brazilian biotech to move in.

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

This young researcher helped uncover unusual DNA structures that are set to revolutionize cancer treatment.

standard company profile A Brazilian biotech chooses Canada for expansion 15


Caitlin Miron awarded for DNA binder research 20

moments in time Ian Stirling makes mark on arctic research 23

Application Note

jANuAry/feBruAry 2018

David Suzuki Global warnings

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada


The DefiniTive Source for Lab ProDucTS, newS anD DeveLoPmenTS

January/February 2018

PEARLs of Wisdom


Screening antibodies for rapid drug discovery


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

into the Future


As shipping through Arctic waters increases, scientists race to study how to deal with catastrophe

Do the flip!

Arctic hub for atmospheric research known worldwide

Make the trek north to Canada’s most remote research station.


on twitter at @biolabmag On the Web at

editor’s note

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

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Perspective When we talk about global warming and the effects of climate change, our attention tends to be drawn to the Arctic, and for good reason. The most immediate consequences of that phenomenon – melting ice caps and rising sea levels – are most visible in world’s northern-most pole. The Arctic is also a hub of shipping traffic and petroleum exploration, putting it at a greater risk for oil spills. Cause and effect come together against a dramatic backdrop of soaring white peaks and icy waters. Explorers, adventurers and researchers are all drawn to the Arctic too, as much by the danger associated with any venture there as by its breathtaking views and remote location; the same sort of appeal as Mars has to astronauts. And as from space, the Arctic makes an ideal vantage point from which to assess the environmental health of the planet. In November 2017, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, and Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, announced that the government would be investing $1.6 million in research in Canada’s high Arctic. The funding will allow researchers to “carry out uninterrupted research operations and data collection at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), until fall 2019.” PEARL is a research lynchpin when it comes to monitoring the causes and effects of climate change in the Arctic (read more in LAB Business, pg.9). Meanwhile a collaborative research project titled GENICE – a partnership between the universities of Calgary and Manitoba that was awarded $10.7 million as part of Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition (LSARP) – was gearing up to establish a research facility in Churchill, MB, from which scientists will study the possible effects of an oil spill in arctic waters (pg.8). “The big issue in the Arctic right now, because of the climate warming and the rapid rate at which we’re losing ice, is shipping,” says Gary Stern, chemist and co-lead of the GENICE project. “There’s a lot of shipping that’s going on – tourism, cargo shipping – and there are lots of mines in the Arctic and so there are a lot of fuel barges that are making their way into small communities.” The question is when – not if – an oil spill occurs, how will we respond? We invite you to plunge with us into Hermione Wilson those icy depths and confront the hard assistant Editor questions facing our world today.

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Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada


canadian news

ImmunoPrecise to Invest in Next Generation Antibody Discovery Technology

ImmunoPrecise Antibodies has signed a letter of intent with Single Cell Technology whereby the company has agreed to strategically invest $5 million (USD) in the expansion and development of production capability for Single Cell’s patented foundational technology. The investment will result in the company owning approximately 10 per cent of the issued and outstanding shares of Single Cell. This strategic partnership will strengthen the company as a single source provider of services across the full antibody discovery value chain.

Government Invests in Genomics and Precision Health Research

Sequence Bio Appoints Dr. Michael S. Phillips as Chief Scientific Officer

Sequence Bio, an emerging data-driven biotechnology company in Newfoundland and Labrador, announced the appointment of Dr. Michael S. Phillips as Chief Scientific Officer. Phillips is armed with more than 25 years of experience in large-scale genomic projects, drug target discovery and leading research teams, most recently as VP Genomics at Genomics Medicine Ireland. In his new role, Phillips will lead Sequence Bio’s scientific efforts to understand and cure diseases using genomic and longitudinal health data.

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Nautilus Biosciences Purchase Brings Croda to PEI

Croda International, which creates, makes and sells speciality chemicals, has acquired Nautilus Biosciences Canada, a technologyrich marine biotechnology company based in Charlottetown, PEI. Nautilus was founded in 2007 by Professor Russell Kerr and, together with its world-class scientists, focuses on using marine microbial biodiversity to discover novel actives and materials. Through this acquisition and the associated patents, Croda will utilise this innovative science for applications across all its market sectors.

Photo credit: SickKids

Precision health promises to transform the way Canadians receive medical care. In the near future, doctors may be able to precisely diagnose symptoms based on a patient’s unique genetic makeup and offer them tailor-made treatments that can save the patient’s life. To help make that possibility a reality, the federal government recently announced two new major investments in genomics research totaling $255 million from federal and provincial governments, as well as research institutions and private sector partners, bringing new hope for Canadians living with cancer, cystic fibrosis, juvenile arthritis, childhood asthma, and other diseases. The federal Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, made the announcements at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto on Jan. 23, where she highlighted a $162 million investment through Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and co-funding partners, in 15 genomics and precision health projects across Canada. “It is an honour to support some of Canada’s leading genomics and precision health researchers through investments that will allow them to further their discoveries and innovations,” says Minister Duncan. “Their incredible work brings hope to Canadians living with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and arthritis, while strengthening Canada’s health care system.” The projects funded at SickKids will provide targeted treatments for children with brain cancer and will transform treatment for children living with arthritis. The funding also supports a targeted initiative to address health challenges facing Indigenous populations, improving diagnostic outcomes for Indigenous children that have genetic diseases. Duncan also announced a second major investment to support advanced genomics technology platforms across the country. These technology platforms support the development of improved technologies that underpin research advances in health, agriculture and natural resources. A total of $93 million is being invested in 10 platforms nationwide, with $45 million in federal funding through Genome Canada and an additional $48 million from other sources. The combined totals of these two investments will provide researchers with access to cutting-edge tools, technologies and services while furthering the Government of Canada’s goal to strengthen and support the country’s scientific community. “All Canadians stand to benefit from the innovative and collaborative research projects announced today,” says the Honourable Ginette Petitpas, Minister of Health. “The platforms, tools, technologies and services that will be developed through this funding will improve our understanding of many illnesses, particularly those that affect the most vulnerable patients, including children and Indigenous peoples.”

worldwide news

Beckman Foundation Announces 2018 Beckman Scholars Program Awardees

Ingenza Embarks on ConBioChem Collaboration

Ingenza has joined forces with leading universities and industrial partners to participate in the ConBioChem collaboration, a translational project focused on the development of novel platform technologies for the continuous bioproduction of commodity chemicals. The consortium, led by Professor Gill Stephens of the University of Nottingham, aims to develop new industrial biotechnology-based routes to commodity chemicals, moving away from fossil fuel and petrochemicalderived building blocks.

TissUse Reports Progress Made in Collaboration with AstraZeneca

Systematic Gene-toPhenotype Arrays: Drug Discovery in Four Dimensions

Two papers recently published in Molecular Cell by UC San Diego researchers describe new technologies that enable a detailed analysis of how genetic mutations and chemical compounds affect the molecular machinery inside a cell. This could lead to entirely new ways to predict a drug’s activity in the human body, ultimately leading to new treatment approaches or unexpected new uses of existing FDA-approved drugs, the researchers said. Read “Systematic Geneto-Phenotype Arrays: A High-Throughput Technique for Molecular Phenotyping” and “The Dfm1 Derlin Is Required for ERAD Retrotranslocation of Integral Membrane Proteins” at

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The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation recently announced the selection of its 2018 class of Beckman Scholars Program Awardees, U.S. colleges and universities which underscore the Foundation’s mission of supporting basic research in chemistry and the life sciences. The institutions were selected after a rigorous application process which included a two-part review led by a panel of scientific experts. This year’s award was comprised of more than $1.5 million in funding for 58 undergraduate scholars at 12 universities: Amherst College, Barnard College, Boston College, Case Western Reserve University, College of William and Mary, Furman University, Haverford College, Dr. Leana Wen Hope College, Texas A&M University, Union College, University of Arizona and University of Idaho. “In the 20 years of Beckman Scholars, this award has provided more than $27 million to over 1,300 undergraduate students, enabling each of them to conduct a unique 15 month research project with a faculty mentor,” says Dr. Anne Hultgren, Executive Director of the Beckman Foundation. “We’re excited to recognize our newest awardees, learn about their early progress at our upcoming annual Symposium, and celebrate with all of our program alumni during this milestone year.” One of the program’s alumni includes Dr. Leana Wen, who was honoured with the award in 1998, California State University. Wen now works as Health Commissioner for the City of Baltimore. “My mentors encouraged me to apply [to the Beckman Scholar program],” she says. “I appreciated the opportunity to become more immersed in research and be part of a cohort engaged in the same thing.” Wen focused her research on exploring the oxygen binding capacity of hemoglobin and cites her mentors as being an ongoing support throughout her life. She also credits the Beckman Scholar experience for having an effect on her career. “It encouraged me to continue pursuing a career with science and intellectual inquiry.” Located in Irvine, CA, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation supports researchers and non-profit research institutions in making the next generation of breakthroughs in chemistry and the life sciences. Founded in 1978 by 20th century scientific instrumentation pioneer Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, the foundation supports United States institutions and young scientists whose creative, high-risk, and interdisciplinary research will lead to innovations and new tools and methods for scientific discovery. For more information, visit

TissUse continues its successful collaboration with AstraZeneca to establish relevant Microphysiological System models based on TissUse’s Multi-Organ-Chip technology. As part of the collaboration, the teams have explored the unmet need for a physiologically relevant human ex-vivo type 2 diabetes model. The result was a human microfluidic two-organ-chip model to study pancreatic islet–liver cross-talk based on insulin and glucose regulation for up to 15 days in culture. This work was recently published in Nature Scientific Reports.


feature storY

Nature�s First

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By Hermione Wilson

Scientists race to study whether bacteria are a viable solution in the event of an oil spill in the Arctic

feature story

As the planet warms and the sea ice melts in the world’s polar regions, more and more ships are tempted to cut across Canada’s Arctic waters via the Northwest Passage rather than take longer routes.


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t’s a win-win for companies who save millions with shorter shipping routes and cut down on their C02 emissions, says Casey Hubert, University of Calgary professor and microbiologist. But this increase in shipping traffic comes with a different cost. It increases the risk of oil spills in an environment where the consequences of such a disaster are not well understood. Hubert is one of the principal investigators for GENICE, a new initiative from Genome Canada that is looking to study natural bioremediation. That is the process by which microorganisms that are naturally present in sea water, usually bacteria, consume petroleum hydrocarbons such as oil and diesel. This natural bioremediation has been observed after spills like the blow-out of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Currently, there are a number of ways used to clean up an oil spill, one of which is in-situ burning. This method involves igniting the oil so that it burns off of the surface of the water. Because oil is less dense than water, it naturally moves to the surface, which makes skimmers another effective way to clean up spills. Skimmers are a type of mechanical equipment used to physically remove oil from the surface of the water. A third cleanup method is the use of chemical agents such as dispersants, which help to break up an oil slick into small droplets that are then diluted throughout the water. What happened after the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010, however, is that a lot of the oil was eliminated from the water due to bacterial degradation, rather than by any other method used to get rid of the oil, says Gary Stern, University of Manitoba professor and chemist. “The oil disappeared more quickly from the environment than they thought it would and studies have shown that it was actually natural bacteria that were present in the environment that degraded the oil,” he says.


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Natural Bioremediation Studies about whether such petroleum hydrocarbon consuming bacteria are present in Arctic waters and if they would function in the same way are few and far between, Stern says. “It’s just difficult to do real field studies nowadays because nobody wants you to be dumping oil into their natural habitat, so it’s very difficult to do those kinds of studies,” he says. Stern points to a few field studies that took place in the 1970s and 1980s, and a few smaller outdoor studies and lab studies over the years, but says that none have been on the scale GENICE is planning. “Microbes are capable of using hydrocarbons for food, so if they’re in the Arctic environment and if there is a spill, we’re interested in what role they might play in helping with the cleanup effort,” Hubert says. The great thing about these oilconsuming bacteria is that, if they are indeed present in the Arctic waters, they would need little human intervention to do their work. That is especially important in an environment like the Arctic where the resources needed for an oil spill cleanup are often hard to access. “If [these microbes] are present in enough numbers or distributed in the right kind of biogeography or have the right kind of potential to kick it into gear if there was a spill, they might not need a lot of help from us,” Hubert says. The GENICE project brings together two teams; one from the University of Microbes are capable of using hydrocarbons for food, Calgary, led by Hubert, and so if they’re in the Arctic environment and if there is the other from the University a spill, we’re interested in what role they might play of Manitoba, led by Stern. The team will be working out of in helping with the cleanup effort. the yet-to-be-built Churchill – Casey Hubert, Principal Investigator, Genice Marine Observatory (CMO) in

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The Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Amundsen in the Hudson Strait on its way to Iqaluit. Far right: Sediment incubations collected on the CCGS Amundsen – microcosms of oil spills that test microorganisms’ ability to break down different fuels.

feature story

Churchill, MB. The facilities will include two large concrete pools, 30 by 30 feet wide and 12 feet deep, which will contain seawater pumped in from Hudson Bay. One will serve as the control and the other will have oil added to it. The presence of real seawater, combined with the cold climate of Churchill, will allow the GENICE researchers to study real seawater chemistry with real nutrient loads. “We add the seawater to the pool, we let it start freezing, and we can actually control the thermodynamics of the ice,” Stern says. “It’s a covered facility, so we can put the cover on or retract the cover, we can heat the water to try and keep it at a certain depth or a thermodynamic state.” The work of GENICE at CMO will allow researchers to observe oil-consuming bacteria at work and eventually provide proof to end users (namely the Coast Guard who are the first responders in the event of an Arctic oil spill) that this method of bioremediation really works. “We think these bacteria might be nature’s first responders in an emergency, and so it’s important that we understand what they can do without our help,” Hubert says. There may also be ways to give the bacteria a boost, he says. When cleaning up oil spills on land, fertilizer is often added to the soil to aid bacteria in consuming the oil. It’s possible that adding fertilizer or some other nutrient to seawater at the scene of a spill may have the same function, but the problem is that these nutrients may become diluted or disperse too quickly to be effective. “There might be a natural level of those fertilizer compounds in seawater anyways, it just might be too low,” Hubert says. “If you consider the oil to nutrient ratio, by using dispersants and smaller droplets of oil, that means that the relative amount of nutrients goes up, and so without adding nutrients you’ve effectively increased the local concentration of those nutrients.” This might be a way of intervening in order to help the bacteria metabolize the oil more quickly, he says.

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Below: Architectural renderings of the yet-to-be-built Churchill Marine Observatory in Manitoba. The facility will feature two large concrete pools containing seawater pumped in from Hudson Bay.


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The Time is Now Scientists are eager to understand more about cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic now, more than ever. Because of low oil prices and the dangers associated with doing Arctic exploration, a lot of oil companies such as Shell and Exxon have suspended drilling in places like the Beaufort Sea. Exploration will restart again in another decade or so, Stern predicts, so scientists want to take advantage of this time to get the scientific evidence in place that will back up a streamlined response in the event of an Arctic oil spill. “If we’ve got 10 or 15 years before they start up, we want to make sure that we have some of these methodologies in place so that if there is ever a spill associated with that, then we know how to clean it up,” he says. If the GENICE research team is able to prove that natural bioremediation is the most effective method of cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic, ships could possibly be required to carry quantities of nutrients with them in case of a spill, Stern says. There would be scientific evidence that the bacteria was present in the water and what per cent of the oil the bacteria could degrade. Right now, the GENICE researchers are working from the Amundsen Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker ship. The CMO facility is still being constructed and should be up and running by December 2018. “GENICE is just a small part of what we’re going to be doing [at the Churchill Marine Observatory],” Stern says. Studies will also be done into how oil interacts with ice and with the water below the ice, which will allow scientists to track the movement of oil in Arctic waters using remote sensing. The research team will also be looking at the in-situ burning method of oil spill cleanup to learn how the residue of that process interacts with the sediment and biota at the bottom of the ocean once those particles sink. “We’re looking at all aspects of the ecology, chemistry, genomics and biology and everything that goes on in the Arctic marine system should a spill occur,” Stern says. BB

CCGS Amundsen icebreaker

Top: The Petroleum EnvironmenTal Research Laboratory (PETRL) at the Centre for Earth Observation Science, University of Manitoba. Middle: The Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, which serves as a base for researchers in the Arctic. Bottom: A box corer used to collect sediment aboard the CCGS Amundsen.

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ECOSYSTEM BUILDER: Bioenterprise Corporation

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• Andrew Casey, President and CEO BIOTECanada • Dr. Anthony Cheung, President and CEO enGene • Donald Olds, President and CEO NEOMED



company profile

Coming to


The story of how a Brazilian biotech found a new home in Mississauga Brazil By Hermione Wilson

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company profile


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n October 2017, Biolab Farmacêutica celebrated the opening of its Research & Development Centre in Mississauga, ON. The centre is the first unit of Biolab Pharma Canada, the first-ever international subsidiary of the Brazilian pharmaceutical company. It begins life in Canada with an initial investment of $56 million and a team of 60 Canadian researchers. Biolab Farmacêutica is a small molecule drug company with no specific specialization, says Head of Canadian Operations Paulo Marques. In Brazil, the company is strong in cardiology and women’s health. “We look for good opportunities wherever they may come,” Marques says. “We work also in pediatrics, in rheumatology; we’re opening a central nervous system unit as well. We look for good and innovative products and good opportunities in general wherever we may find them, as long as it’s small molecules.” In Mississauga, the plan is for Biolab Pharma The R&D facility is only the first step of Biolab Canada to develop several in Canada. If all goes well... we’re going to have a strategic products currently manufacturing operation here in Canada within five in the pipeline and to use its Canadian headquarters as a or six years. launching pad to international – Jayme de Lima, Head of Corporate Strategy, Biolab Pharma markets in the U.S. and Europe. In the next few years, Biolab also plans to expand its operation to include a manufacturing facility. “The R&D facility is only the first step of Biolab in Canada,” says Jayme de Lima, Head of Corporate Strategy. “If all goes well... we’re going to have a manufacturing operation here in Canada within five or six years.” Marques says the company opted to start with an R&D operation to bring some of the products it has in Brazil up to Health Canada standards. “We cannot just simply take a product we sell in Brazil and submit it here; we need to redo some tests according to Health Canada regulations, such as stability studies regarding different temperatures and humidity levels, because the weather in Brazil and Canada are quite different.” It made sense for Biolab to locate its first international subsidiary in the Greater Toronto Area, Marques says. Biolab wanted to take advantage of Toronto’s vibrant life sciences ecosystem and its pool of bio science talent, he says. Mississauga also happens to be conveniently located near the airport, which makes exchanging materials with their headquarters in Brazil that much easier. Biolab had been considering a move overseas for some time, Marques says. “When we started looking into it we went to the usual suspects: Europe, United States,” he says. “It was brought to our attention by one of our shareholders who had had some “We cannot just simply dealings with Canada in the past that we should look it up, that there is a lot of good take a product we sell in business happening here in Canada.” Brazil and submit it here; we need to redo some tests The Grand Seduction according to Health Canada Like a matchmaker to this multinational marriage, the Canadian consulate and trade regulations, such as commissioner’s office in São Paulo, Brazil, served as a go-between for Biolab and stability studies regarding various Canadian interests. The City of Mississauga’s economic development office, different temperatures and which had strong ties with the Brazilian market and the trade commissioner’s office, humidity levels, because learned that Biolab was shopping around for a Canadian location and quickly put the weather in Brazil and together a plan to convince the Brazilian company to settle in their city. Canada are quite different.” It helps that the Canadian officials in Brazil have a good understanding of the life sciences ecosystem in Mississauga, says the City of Mississauga’s Manager of Business Investments and Client Services, Harold Dremin. “That paved the way for Paulo Marques, them to, when they identified Biolab Farmacêutica as a prospect that was considering Head of Canadian Canada and Ontario, among other locations, bring us in to be able to talk to what it’s Operations, Biolab Pharma

company profile

Local politicians, including Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie (centre left), Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa (centre right), and Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Growth Brad Duguid (far right); and Biolab Farmacêutica leadership celebrate the grand opening of the Biolab Pharma Canada facility at an event in October 2017.

Biolab Farmacêutica begins life in Canada with an initial investment of

$56 million and a team of


Canadian researchers.

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like to do business [here] and how successful our biotech, pharma, and medical device community was,” Dremin says. In the spring of 2015, Biolab came to Canada as part of a familiarization tour. Mississauga was given the opportunity to participate, along with partners from the Ontario and federal governments. “We were in a competitive position with other communities in the Greater Toronto Area and in the U.S.A., and what we were asked to do is to showcase doing business in our region,” says Client Account Manager at the City of Mississauga, Cheryl Peters. She recounts how the city arranged for Biolab to have one-on-one meetings with key life sciences industry players, such as Ulrich Krull, VP-Principal at the University of Toronto Mississauga and founder of the university’s Master of Biotechnology program; and the executive team at Matrix Healthcare, a healthcare consulting firm that helps companies bring therapeutics into Canada and do market assessment. “[Matrix Healthcare’s] role was to show how it could be done and what the process would be, and Dr. Ulli Krull’s role was to showcase the pipeline of talent that was coming out of our university system,” Peters says. Mississauga’s economic development office also arranged a company visit to Eurofin’s Alphora Research, where Biolab executives had a conversation with the head of the company about obtaining labour in the city, securing supplies, and the cost of doing business. “[Biolab] wanted to validate this through our partners in industry,” Peters says. “One thing that caught our eye was how mature and how well-rounded the whole ecosystem for life sciences innovation is here,” Marques says of that visit. Mississauga “just matched with our culture and how we wanted to run things,” he adds.


company profile

bio business j a n u a ry/ f e b r u a ry 2 0 1 8


Soon after Biolab took its initial familiarization tour in Canada, a team from Mississauga – which included Mayor, Bonnie Crombie; Director of Economic Development, Susan Amring; and Manager of Sector Development and Economic Partnerships, Bonnie Brown – was scheduled to attend the 2015 Bio International Conference in Philadelphia, PA. The team arranged to meet with Biolab’s executive team, also at the conference, and further strengthen the relationship between the Brazilian pharmaceutical and the City of Mississauga. A few weeks later in July 2015, the Mississauga team was part of an investment mission that the former Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance was undertaking in Brazil. Mayor Crombie, Amring and officials from the trade commissioner’s office went to visit Biolab’s head office in São Paulo to make a presentation to its board of directors. “We really showed them that we would go out of our way to travel the distance to go in market and meet with them and provide further value to them,” Peters says. “To get Biolab to commit to Ontario and to commit to Mississauga, our team really over-serviced them. They’re coming from a different market and they don’t know the players on the ground.” Now that Biolab Pharma Canada has settled into its new facility in Mississauga, Peters says the economic development office continues to support the company in its endeavours through Life Sciences Business Consultant, Avtar Sodhi. “He really is the aftercare person now for Biolab,” she says. The company is still in the process of setting up the facility, installing equipment, preparing manuals and waiting on machines it needs for formulation development. Marques says the company hopes to be up and running by early January 2018. “Biolab has been focused on innovation since its foundation,” de Lima says. “We have an R&D structure in Brazil and we also have a structure focused on radical innovations, meaning new molecules. As a company that has been working to develop new molecules for a long time, being in Canada allows us to accelerate that process, both the discovery of new molecules and the development of innovative products. [This move to Canada] is totally aligned with our DNA, with our key strength, and with our long-term strategy.” For its part, Mississauga hopes that the success of Biolab will serve as a case study for other Brazilian companies looking to set up shop in the city. There has not been a lot of foreign direct investment flow between Brazil and Canada, Dremin says, especially when it comes to the life sciences. “What’s really exciting for Mississauga is to have a company of Biolab’s size and brand, well-known in the Brazilian market, come here and choose to do their R&D in Mississauga as their first foray overseas,” he says. “That means a lot and I think it means a lot to Ontario and Canada because we believe that when other Brazilian life sciences companies see their success here, they too, will look to doing more in Canada, more in Ontario, and more in Mississauga.” BB

Top: Biolab Pharma leadership from left to right: Jayme Dias de Lima, Head of Corporate Strategy; Paulo Wickbold Marques, Head of Canadian Operations; Paulo de Castro Marques, Chief Operating Officer; Cleiton de Castro Marques, CEO; Dante Alario Jr., Chief Scientific Officer; and Marco Aurélio da Silva, VP of Innovation and Quality. Bottom: Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Paulo Marques hold up a certificate of congratulations from the City of Mississauga to Biolab Pharma on the occasion of the opening of their new research and development facility.


Caitlin Miron By Hermione Wilson

Twenty-eight–year-old Caitlin Miron’s discovery of a novel DNA binder that could represent a significant breakthrough in cancer treatment won her the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – PhD in 2017. The Queen’s University’s PhD student spoke to us about her work and where she will go from here.

QA &


Caitlin Miron

Walk me through your discovery of the dna binder. bio business j a n u a ry/ f e b r u a ry 2 0 1 8


What our lab is looking at is the recognition of this unusual DNA architecture with small molecule binders. You can think of it as a necklace. You’ve got a chain and you’ve got beads that are freely moving along that chain, and they move along that chain until they get to a knot. Once they get to that knot, they can’t get past it. Now, you could go in and untangle that knot, but somebody else has gotten there first and they’ve superglued it together. Basically what that amounts to, is that chain is a temporarily single-stranded DNA and the beads moving along it are your enzymes that are processing that DNA, and the knot is your quadruplex. What we’ve discovered is essentially a superglue that’s going to stabilize that quadruplex and prevent the cell machinery from accessing what comes after it. Based on our results, we’re seeing that it’s probably one of the best stabilizers in the field to date.

Are there others out there?

There are others out there. It’s a relatively young field; it’s maybe 20 or 30 years old. The collaborator we actually made the discovery with (Jean-Louis Mergny, Research Director at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology in Bordeaux, France) was somebody that had previously worked with my supervisor on a different quadruplex ligan.

You were at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology when you made your discovery, correct? Why were you there?

I’ve spent two summers there essentially – a three-month internship and a four-month internship. The first year when I went over I had an NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) grant, we thought we would apply for the travel supplement that you can get with it, and we had a little bit of a pre-existing collaboration


Members of the Petitjean group, from left to right: Yushi Liang, Caitlin Miron, Dr. Anne Petitjean, and Isaiah Hasham.

there so we thought, why not? As a lab we have been interested in DNA recognition, but we weren’t specifically, at that point, entrusted in guanine quadruplexes. But when we discovered that really amazingly stabilizing compound, it kind of changed our focus. We’re still very much in the fundamental research stage of analyzing these things and developing them further, but we do have very preliminary results from a cancer cell line screening that show that we have certain human cancer cell lines where we do see an inhibition of cell growth in the presence of our binders, so they may end up representing an alternative to more traditional chemotherapeutic agents that might potentially be slightly safer with less side effects. Aside from that, guanine quadruplexes have been implicated in other diseases as well. There’s at least one that is around the region of the protein responsible for infection by HIV, and there are genetic disorders as well. So there are a number of diseases, we’re just focusing on cancer first. We have more resources on it.

Now that you’ve returned to Canada and to Queen’s University, what are your plans to further the work?

Since coming back it’s been a little bit of a double strategy. I’ve been able to identify a number of techniques that were useful in Bordeaux that we can translate back to Queen’s and adapt into the instrumentation that we have here. At the same time, we’re also looking at the progress we’ve made so far and going, OK, where do we want to take these compounds and how do we modify them to perhaps target cancer cells better or improve entrance to the cell membrane, and those kinds of things. So I am back at the bench doing chemistry.

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What are the implications of this discovery for cancer therapy?



Top: Caitlin Miron’s colleagues at the Mergny group, in Bordeaux, France. Bottom: Researchers from the Mergny and Gabelica groups at the 5th International Meeting on Quadruplex Nucleic Acids in Bordeaux.

patent has been filed, and at this point it is a joint patent with our inventors here and the ones in Bordeaux: John-Louis [Mergny] and [Anne] Petitjean (Miron’s supervisor at Queen’s and head of the Petitjean Group) and me. Queen’s will be ultimately responsible for identifying partners who might be appropriate for us to license this to. We’re not quite there yet; I think within the next two to five years we might see something happening that might be quite exciting, but we’ll see.

What does it mean to you to win the Mitacs Awards for Outstanding Innovation – PhD?

What is it about Queen’s University that makes an ideal place for you to do this work?

bio business j a n u a ry/ f e b r u a ry 2 0 1 8


We have a very strong chemistry department so there is a lot of knowledge here, and it’s a very international department. We also have a lot of instrumentation. We’ve got great NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) facilities; I have access to some very good fluorescent spectrometers and so forth, and we have the space to do the research that we need. We have the resources to work on the biochemistry side of things, but we also have the facilities we need to do all the chemistry that has to get done as well.

When you say it is a very international department, what do you mean?

I mean the faculty and the graduate student community. There is a strong international cohort, which is kind of nice because you end up with people who have different perspectives on the same problems and, as I learned in Bordeaux, that’s really valuable.

Have you had any contact with pharmaceutical companies or industry partners of any kind who are interested in your discovery?

Not at this point. We filed the provisional patent in November [2017]. We’ll probably end up having to file a second provisional patent. It won’t go public for a year, until a formal

It’s a really great honour. As a researcher, the best reward was actually the funding to go over and do the research, because at the end of the day, that’s what I do and that’s what I care about. I really love what I do and I want to be able to do it in the best way possible. But the Mitacs Award, it’s an acknowledgment that, a) the research is valuable, and that, b) I’m doing a good job with it. Also knowing it was my supervisors who nominated me, there’s a bit of recognition there as well. It’s pretty amazing.

Does the award come with any monetary component?

I don’t think so, no, but I’ve done a bunch of media interviews, [and I joined] the Mitacs delegation to Parliament Hill, in [November 2017]; that’s kind of a lobbying effort. I think in terms of where I want to go in the future, it will be valuable for me. BB

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moments in time

Dr. Ian Stirling Makes his Mark in

Arctic Research I

Photo credit: Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures


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n 2015, Dr. Ian Stirling was awarded the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. The award recognizes a leading northern researcher in natural science and is the largest award of its kind. Stirling has carried out research on the ecology and behaviour of arctic marine mammals for the past 40 years, most notably with polar bears and was the first researcher to make the connection with the declining nature of the polar bear population and global warming. A great deal of his research focuses on this relationship of Arctic animals to depleting ice conditions. Stirling estimates almost half of the Arctic’s polar bear population could disappear as early as 2050 if global warming continues at its current rate. Stirling has been an integral part of Arctic research, helping to mentor other young scientists since he became an Adjunct Professor with the University of Alberta in the 1970s. BB


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