Bio Business May/June 2017

Page 1

high-value food Is Canada a global food leader? 8

human microbiome

Glucose metabolism after chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners 13

food science

A cross-country look at what’s going on 16

may/june 2017

Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

In the Prairies, the life sciences and agri-food sectors are deeply intertwined, creating commercial opportunities on both sides

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In Canada’s agricultural centre, the life sciences sector draws inspiration from the agri-food sector and vice-versa.

These Canadian scientists are dedicated to adding value to Canadian food crops.





Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada

Dr. George Kyriazis is investigating how taste receptors affect glucose metabolism after chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners.

A cross-section of food research from coast to coast.

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

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editor’s note

Publisher & CEO Christopher J. Forbes Executive Editor Theresa Rogers staff writer Hermione Wilson editorial intern Lily Huang CONTRIBUTORS

Jessica Moore

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Canada Wants to be the Trusted Global Food Leader


anada’s agri-food leaders are calling for the creation of an Agri-Food Growth Council to “focus on actions that will unleash growth in the industry”, according to the Canada as an Agri-Food Powerhouse report released in April by the Public Policy Forum (PPF) and the Canadian AgriFood Policy Institute (CAPI). The report is a summary of roundtable discussions held in March 2017 with more than 150 agri-food stakeholders across Canada and builds on the February 2017 report issued by the Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth which emphasized the potential for Canada to become “the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century.” “The stakeholders we talked to made it clear — the agri-food sector needs to be a national economic priority. Establishing an Agri-Food Growth Council that reports to the centre of government and includes leaders from across the broader food system has the potential to drive this growth agenda, triage and resolve issues, and galvanize this diverse sector around a common vision,” said David McInnes, special advisor to the board and former CEO of CAPI, in a press release. “We heard repeatedly that the potential for inclusive growth is enormous, especially if we put a strong emphasis on the greater societal benefits delivered by Canada’s agri-food sector, such as improved nutrition and environmental sustainability.” In this issue we take a closer look at some of the amazing things Canadian researchers are working on that could positively affect human health and agri-food sector growth. Our cross-country look on page 16 and 17 highlights a few of the many projects we found interesting from therapeutic diets for farmed Atlantic salmon out east to hydroponic towers in the north to supply locally grown produce. We wish we had room to include more! Our Regional Profile on page 18 features the Prairies, which has a long and fruitful history of mixing life sciences and agriculture. Wilf Keller, President of Ag-West Bio, says the sector has the experience and expertise to solve big issues like world hunger and the effects of climate change, but it needs some government leadership and support. This brings us back to the April report, which also calls for the creation of an inter-departmental agri-food task force, to improve alignment within government and resolve priority regulatory obstacles. “The agri-food sector can unleash significant economic growth and deliver broad societal benefits for decades to come,” says Edward Greenspon, Public Policy Forum Theresa Rogers president and CEO. “Now is the time to make it happen.” executive Editor

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Championing the Business of Biotechnology in Canada


canadian news

Brain Cancer Research gets a $10M Boost

Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, announced five translational research grants funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), one of which will boost a first in-human phase one clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of an oncolytic virus vaccine called Farmington that was engineered at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute. The grant is worth $10 million, of which $2.2 million will go directly to the CHEO RI. The clinical trial will target adult patients with glioblastoma, the most aggressive cancer that begins in the brain. The balance of funds will support work at labs in Toronto and McMaster University to study the genetic make-up of glioblastoma using advanced sequencing technology.

Agriculture and Health Receiving Receiving $17 Million for Genomics Research

Partnership to Enhance Indigenous Maternal and Child Health

A unique Indigenous-led, community-hospitaluniversity-private sector partnership to enhance Indigenous maternal and child health will address some of the underlying causes of health inequity and multigenerational impacts of family disruption in Toronto through an innovative new action-research project. The project is supported by $2.6 million in funding from Merck Canada Inc. provided in part through Merck for Mothers, a 10-year, $500-million initiative of Merck & Co., Inc. to help create a world where no woman dies giving life.

Healthcare Survey Says Employees Want Genetic Testing bio business m ay/j u n e 2 01 7


The 20th anniversary of The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, shows employers significantly underestimate the presence – and therefore likely the impact – of chronic disease in the workplace. 57% of surveyed employees report having at least one chronic disease or condition (such as depression or high blood pressure) yet plan sponsors estimate that just 32% of their employees have a chronic condition. 37% of employees with chronic conditions take three or more medications on a regular basis and are therefore the most frequent users of drug benefits plan. While the science is still in early development, 67% of employees are interested in a simple form of genetic testing to help doctors prescribe drugs that are the most likely to work for them. This increases to 76% among those taking three or more medications.

The federal government and partners are set to support five new projects that will help scientists work with industry to address real-world challenges through genomics research. In May, the federal government announced $6 million in federal funding for five applied genomics projects at the University of Guelph, where several of the projects’ academic partners are based. One of the projects being funded at the University of Guelph is Dr. Peter Pauls’ work with Benson Hill Biosystems. His research is exploring ways to enhance crop productivity of canola. Dr. Pauls’ work will have ...these projects will have a direct a direct benefit on the growers, impact on Canada’s agriculture, processors and others along the agri-food and healthcare sectors. value chain. With a total $17 million being invested, including $11 million in funds from the private sector and provincial governments, these projects will have a direct impact on Canada’s agriculture, agri-food and healthcare sectors. Four of the projects receiving funding will result in significant competitive advantages to the Canadian dairy, canola, pork and turkey industries, while the fifth project will address the problem of adverse drug reactions in the healthcare system. “The Government of Canada is proud to support these five research teams who are using genomics to benefit the health, environment and economy for all Canadians,” says Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary for Science. “These projects open new avenues for stronger markets for our industries, job creation, and opportunities that support all Canadians.”

worldwide news

Helping Plants Pump Iron A study led by researcher Wolfgang Busch at the Salk Institute has found that variants of a single gene can largely determine a plant’s ability to thrive in environments where iron is scarce. The work, which appeared in Nature Communications on May 24, could lead to improved crop yields for farmers and richer dietary sources of iron for animals and humans. “It’s very important for us to understand how plants solve the problem of getting iron because even though it’s generally abundant on Earth, the form that plants can use is actually scarce,” says Wolfgang Busch, an associate professor in Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. The current work, led by Busch and including researchers from Austria’s Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology, focused on the well-studied weed Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of cabbage and mustard. They obtained Arabidopsis seeds from strains that naturally occur all over Sweden, which has a variety of soils including some that are very low in iron. The team was particularly interested in strains that have adapted to low-iron soils and can grow a long root even in those poor conditions.

Jeff Broin to Receive BIO George Washington Carver Award

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) announced POET Founder, Chairman and CEO Jeff Broin will receive the 10th annual George Washington Carver Award for Innovation in Industrial Biotechnology. The award will be presented on July 24 at the 2017 BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology in Montreal. Brent Erickson, Executive Vice-President of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section says, “Jeff Broin is one of the great innovators and entrepreneurs in the industrial biotechnology sector. He ranks among the most influential leaders in agriculture as well. Biofuels have created new markets for agricultural products and rejuvenated rural America. Jeff Broin has positioned POET at the forefront of developing cellulosic ethanol and improving the economics of biofuel production.”

Canada and Germany Pledge Closer Ties in Ag Research

Global Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance Looms

To find out whether variants of FRO2 were actually causing the difference (rather than merely being associated with it), the team grew seeds whose FRO2 gene had been deactivated. All plants in which the FRO2 gene had been deactivated now had stunted roots. The team then put either one variant or the other variant of the gene back in and again grew the plants in low-iron conditions. Variants for long roots grew better than variants for short roots. Together, the experiments showed that, indeed, genetic variants that confer higher activity of the FRO2 gene can largely be responsible for root growth and plant health in low-iron conditions. The FRO2 gene is common to all plants, so boosting its expression in food crops or finding variants that thrive in poor soils could be important for increasing crop yields in the face of population growth and global warming’s threats to arable land.

The emergence of “superbugs” is one of the most significant health threats to Canadians and tackling Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) requires the development of new drugs to treat infections. The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, announced $1.39 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to support five research teams. Other contributions to address AMR include Health Canada’s Food and Drug Regulation changes, the Government of Canada’s Global Action Plan and Canada’s provincial and territorial partners are finalizing a Pan-Canadian Framework on AMR and Antimicrobial Use in Canada.

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In May, the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, joined the Honourable Christian Schmidt, German Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, in Prince Edward Island to announce that Canada and Germany will work closer together in four areas of agricultural research. The areas include sustainable agriculture and climate change, agri-food, sharing best management practices for knowledge and technology transfer to farmers and industry, and personnel exchange.


The “Canada as an Agri-Food Powerhouse” report indicates Canada needs improved capacity, which according to roundtables with the provinces, is seen as “less than half of what it should be for the size of the industry.”

food science


F od Value-added research is impacting human health and agri-food sector growth By Hermione Wilson

n April 2017, the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute published a report summarizing a series of nationwide roundtables on Canada’s competitiveness as a global food leader. The roundtable discussions were based on recommendations released by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth in February 2017 which recommended that the Canadian government take a targeted approach to removing growth obstacles from the agri-food sector and emphasized the potential for Canada to become “the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century.” The report said, “There is now increasing awareness outside of our food system of the tremendous opportunities presented by a burgeoning global population, a growing global middle class, and changing consumer trends such as increased demand for higher-value food, like proteins and functional foods that have health benefits beyond simple nutrition.” Part of Canada taking its place as a leading producer of high-value food is high-quality research that adds value to Canada’s agri-food products. Indeed, the “Canada as an Agri-Food Powerhouse” report indicates Canada needs improved capacity, which according to roundtables with the provinces, is seen as “less than half of what it should be for the size of the industry.”

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food science

The Research At the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM) in Manitoba, Team Leader Carla Taylor and her fellow scientists seek to advance medical treatments through the application of novel agricultural products. The researchers at CCARM are studying Canadian agri-food products like beans, peas, lentils, oil seed crops, cereal crops, and berries in order to better understand how bioactive compounds in these foods could help manage diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and inflammation. “Our mandate is to provide reliable scientific evidence-based information about the health benefits of functional foods and nutraceuticals, and to conduct studies to the same standards as you would expect with a pharmaceutical,” Taylor says. As the Principal Investigator of the Metabolic Nutrition Laboratory, Taylor and her colleague and Deputy Team Leader Peter Zahradka have been studying pulses through a series of animal and human studies. They have been able to show that pulses, particularly lentils, can improve cardiovascular health by altering the structural and functional properties of blood vessels. “This data means that we can reverse some of the changes that happen with atheroscolerosis, which is the primary cause of heart attack and stroke,” Taylor says. Most of Taylor and Zahradka’s work has been focused on the functional food aspect of the CCARM research mandate. Taylor says they plan to shift that focus in the near future to studying new bioactives in certain agri-food products. In particular, they want to do a deeper investigation of the health effects of pulses, beyond the digestive benefits of its high fibre content. Another of Taylor’s colleagues is looking into the bioactive compounds present in Saskatoon berries, what their positive health effects are, and how they are metabolized by the human body. Michel Aliani, the Principal Investigator of the AgriHealth Metabolomics Laboratory at CCARM, is using Saskatoon berry frozen yogurt, developed in collaboration with the dairy science unit at the University of Manitoba, as a delivery method in his study. “[Using] metabolomics he is analyzing both the Saskatoon berry powder in the yogurt and the blood and urine of people who have consumed the Saskatoon berries, to be able to make that direct link,” Taylor says. At the University of Saskatchewan, Associate Dean of Research Jane Alcorn is doing similar work with flax seeds and the lignans found in them. “These molecules have been associated with a number of health benefits, cardiovascular disease risk factors in particular,” Alcorn says. “Epidemiological evidence points to reduction in cholesterol, reduction in blood pressure, et cetera.” Alcorn and her research group have been trying to understand the mechanisms of action associated with those health effects. So far they have identified a mechanism of action by which the lignans in flax seeds are reducing cholesterol, that may also be linked to the reduction of cardiovascular and cancer risk. Alcorn tells a story of a dietary supplement product called BeneFlax that was created using technology Agriculture and Agri-food Canada developed in the 1990s to extract lignans from flax seed. BeneFlax was a lignan-rich complex approved by both Health Canada and the FDA. It was marketed for a few years before the company bio business m ay/j u n e 2 01 7


Our mandate is to provide reliable scientific evidence-based information about the health benefits of functional foods and nutraceuticals, and to conduct studies to the same standards as you would expect with a pharmaceutical. – Carla Taylor, Team Leader, Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine

food science

As the Principal Investigator of the Metabolic Nutrition Laboratory, Taylor and her colleague and Deputy Team Leader Peter Zahradka have been studying pulses through a series of animal and human studies. They have been able to show that pulses, particularly lentils, can improve cardiovascular health by altering the structural and functional properties of blood vessels.

The Benefits The agri-food industry is certainly taking notice. The recent success of MSPrebiotics, which took its product – a potato starch supplement – to CCARM for further research, is a great example of how value-added research can have a positive effect on both human health and sector growth. A clinical trial conducted by CCARM researcher Michelle Alfa using the MSPrebiotics product has provided this Manitobabased company with the scientific evidence required to market their product for gut health. “The research adds value to the crops, and understanding more about bioactive compounds in our food is important for better management of different diseases,” Taylor says. “By investigating how certain bioactive compounds are metabolized in specific individuals and in the absence and presence of various diseases, we can get a better understanding of how they work and in the future be able to make more specific recommendations for what’s going to be more beneficial for certain groups of people or different types of diseases.” BB

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selling it decided to discontinue it and focus instead on flavinoids. BeneFlax hasn’t been on the market since. “My goal, when I got into this field, was to provide some scientific evidence behind the lignans to support the remarketing of a product like BeneFlax, because it was marketed, it was approved by both regulatory agencies, and there is a lot of epidemiological evidence to show it does have benefit in mild and moderate disease,” Alcorn says. She has used the BeneFlax supplement in subsequent human clinical trials to show the safety and tolerability in both healthy and frail elderly adults. “I’ve been building a body of evidence around this product that can be created, only if someone would come along and show the interest in remarketing it,” Alcorn says. “There is capability, from an agricultural perspective, of easily finding value-added uses for these bioactives of flax. I think the biggest barrier to any of these things is not commercialization, but actually marketing, getting it out there and having the general public understand that there is value.”


food science

Exploring the Link Between

Sugar Receptors in the Gut and Metabolism


e all know about taste receptors on the tongue. But did you know other organs also “taste� sugars or even artificial sweeteners through the same receptors? Dr. George Kyriazis, Investigator at the Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI-MD) and Assistant Professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) in Orlando, FL, is an expert in extra-oral sweet taste receptor function. In one of his studies, Kyriazis investigated how taste receptors interact with the gut microbiome to affect glucose metabolism in the body after chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners. His work is leading to a proof-of-clinical concept research study looking at adults (18 to 45 years old) in good general health and stable weight who do not currently consume artificial sweeteners.

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By Jessica Moore


food science

Integrative Metabolism Program

Regularly consuming artificial sweeteners increases the chance that you will gain weight and develop type 2 diabetes, but it’s not clear yet whether saccharin, aspartame, and other non-caloric sweeteners directly alter metabolism. If they do, figuring out the molecular basis for their effects could lead to new ways to treat obesity and prevent metabolic problems. Toward that goal, the lab of George Kyriazis, PhD, recently did experiments in people that measured the immediate consequences of a substance that acts to block the receptors that sense sweeteners. These receptors, called sweet taste receptors, are located on the tongue and are responsible for our enjoyment of tasting sugars and artificial sweeteners. But they’re also found in the gastrointestinal tract, which may help regulate metabolism. To figure out whether sweet taste receptors in the gut directly affect blood sugar control in humans, Kyriazis’s team had 10 non-obese volunteers drink either water or water containing lactisole, a food additive that inhibits sweet taste receptors – the opposite effect from that of artificial sweeteners. Surprisingly, lactisole increased

Sweet receptors through the body regulate metabolism.

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Dr. Kyriazis studies how intestinal and pancreatic sweet taste receptors sense changes in dietary and circulating nutrients.

food science

the amount of insulin released when the participants drank a glucose solution a few minutes later. “This is the first evidence that sweet taste receptors could regulate acute metabolic responses in humans during the ingestion of glucose,” says Kyriazis, senior author of the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “While these results don’t directly tell us how and whether artificial sweeteners or sweet taste receptors contribute to obesity and diabetes, we’re currently exploring their long-term effects using mice.” Experiments in mice and human cells show that activating sweet taste receptors makes cells in the intestine secrete hormones called incretins, which amp up production of insulin. “Surprisingly, in the human study, lactisole had no effect on incretins,” says Kyriazis. “That means sweet taste receptors are affecting the pancreas by some other means. We hope to gain further insight on that using animal models. We’re also having healthy subjects consume lactisole for a few weeks to understand the long-term metabolic impact of targeting sweet taste receptors.” Kyriazis has been awarded the Polak Young Investigator Award by the Association for Chemoreception Sciences in honour of this pioneering research. BB Reprinted with permission.


with Dr. George Kyriazis

We've been consuming artificial sweeteners for decades. Not just for coffee anymore, they’ve become more popular in complex food. But what do they do to the body long-term?

Dr. George Kyriazis, Assistant Professor, Diabetes and Obesity Research Center, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Dr. George Kyriazis, Assistant Professor in the Integrative Metabolism Program at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and investigator at the Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes, is about to enroll patients in a clinical trial to find out. Q: What kind of people do you need for this trial? Kyriazis: Starting in early 2017, we will be recruiting about 50 adults in central Florida, both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 45. We are interested in healthy individuals who do not normally consume artificial sweeteners, those with a so-called normal metabolism. Participants will be given a saccharin supplement every day for two weeks and take a glucose tolerance test, to see how the body handles glucose. We will also measure changes in plasma hormones and assess whether saccharin alters the composition of microbes in the gut. Q: What are you looking for? Kyriazis: Artificial sweeteners are not significantly metabolized by human cells, they are not broken down. But they stimulate sweet taste receptors, which we thought were only in the tongue, but now know they are spread throughout the body. Sweet taste receptors sense “sweet” compounds in the gut, such as ingested sugars, to inform the body of the energy status and increase energy availability. But with the consumption of artificial sweeteners, there is a possibility that you are temporarily fooling your body into thinking you are bringing in energy. We want to know if chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners affects metabolism and may pre-dispose some people to certain metabolic diseases. We will also block sweet taste receptor function in the gut to see if this changes the effects that artificial sweetener consumption has on the body’s metabolism. Q: How could your findings affect human health? Kyriazis: Although the consumption of artificial sweeteners has been linked to some diseases such as diabetes and obesity, we do not have conclusive evidence that their regular consumption directly causes negative effects on metabolism. There is no need to panic if you are a consumer of diet products. We want to determine the effects of saccharin consumption on metabolism, independent of the energetic content of food and elucidate the role of sweet taste receptors in the gut. Findings from this and other future studies may lead to revisions or reconsiderations of artificial sweetener use.

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Regularly consuming artificial sweeteners increases the chance that you will gain weight and develop type 2 diabetes, but it’s not clear yet whether saccharin, aspartame, and other non-caloric sweeteners directly alter metabolism.


food science

North Star Agriculture Inc. is developing the first indoor, vertical aquaponics farm in Yukon. Aquaponics is an innovative method of farming that raises fish and vegetables simultaneously. The Yukon government’s new local food strategy will support an updated Agriculture Research Plan and develop further partnerships with the Yukon College and First Nations. Using a hydroponic system called Cropbox and clean energy from Solvest, researchers at Kluane Lake Research Station plan to wrap the Cropbox in a thermal blanket, plant seeds and determine whether it can withstand the -40 C winter temperatures to grow affordable produce.

Growing North, founded by Ryerson University students, built a 42inch Geodesic Growing Dome in Nunavut. Its hydroponic towers produce more than 20,000 pounds of locally grown produce.



british columbia Researchers at Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University are developing sustainable cleantech solutions that will provide potable water and clean food globally. bio business m ay/j u n e 2 01 7


University of Alberta research shows that cooking certain types of pea-seed coats or breaking others down through a method of hydrolysis, can enhance the fibrous material’s ability to lower bloodsugar levels.


saskatchewan A research project on apomixis was launched at the Global Institute for Food Security. Apomixis is the asexual reproduction of seeds, where all offspring are genetically identical to the mother plant. The Canadian Triticum Applied Genomics project was launched to understand the wheat genome and develop genetic markers and predictive genetic tests to make Canadian wheat breeding programs more efficient and combat climate and precipitation changes.

MSPrebiotics Inc. of Carberry discovered that a digestionresistant starch from potatoes helps reduce constipation and increases good bacteria, which contributes to better gut health and decreased blood glucose levels.


food science

a cross-country look at

food science compiled by lily huang

A McGill-led research team has discovered the interplay of the DRD4 VNTR with 7 repeats gene variant in girls, combined with their early socio-economic environment, may determine whether they have increased fat intake.

Food experts at the University of Guelph are embedding bacteriophages – viruses that eat specific bacteria – directly into food packaging, to target foodborne pathogens such as E. coli.

The first-ever global symposium dedicated to the potential health benefits of pure maple products from Canada took place recently. Scientists shared research that expands the science of maple’s potential impact on several areas affected by chronic inflammation. This could allow classification as a functional food.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Prince Edward Island


ontario New Brunswick A study by the University of New Brunswick explains why certain chemicals reach toxic levels in food webs. That includes how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.

A PEI farmer began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago, leading agricultural scientist Rob Kinley to discover a red seaweed called Asparagopsis Taxiformis that reduces methane in cow burps and farts. Roughly 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally are from ruminant animals.

Nova Scotia The CFIA recently approved the use of mechanically extracted camelina oil as a feed ingredient for farmed salmon and trout. It’s rich in omega-3s and a viable and cost-efficient substitute for the wild-sourced fish oils and proteins currently used in fish feeds.

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Kelly Cove Salmon is partnering with the University of Guelph to incorporate genomics into the company’s breeding program. They have increased the survival of salmon at the egg and juvenile stages, leading to better saltwater performance and a lower cost of production.

Scientists at Memorial and UPEI are partnering with EWOS/Cargill to develop therapeutic diets for farmed Atlantic salmon. Their genomics research will lead to the development of better feeds for improved treatments to combat co-infections.


regional profile

The Seeds of Success Life sciences and agriculture intersect in the Canadian Prairies

By Hermione Wilson

bio business m ay/j u n e 2 01 7


There has long been a symbiotic relationship between the life sciences and agri-food sectors in the Prairie provinces. The life sciences are employed to improve crop yields and, once those crops been harvested, to add value to them in order to create more commercial opportunities. In turn, researchers analyze crops grown in the province and discover novel components and health benefits in them that lead to innovation in the biotech and biopharmaceutical spaces. Though the Prairie provinces have much in common, they each have a unique story to tell.

regional profile

Alberta Main life sciences hubs:

Calgary and Edmonton Number of life science companies:

more than 200 R&D investment:

$108.6 million (2015) Industry revenue:

over $1 billion (2014) Number of jobs in the sector:

approx. 18,000 (2014)


e have more cattle than we have people in the province,” says Mel Wong, President and CEO of BioAlberta, with a laugh. “We have a long history of agricultural production, both animal and plant, and we’ve got a long history of investing in science and research.” The Alberta life sciences sector doesn’t feature many large homegrown pharmaceuticals, though big U.S. companies like Gilead have a presence in the province. “Where we have the most representation is the small companies, in particular therapeutics and med devices,” Wong says. “We have a whole host of bioindustrial companies that have grown in the last few years.” Historically, he says, therapeutics have come out of Edmonton and med device and bioengineering activity has been concentrated in Calgary, although not exclusively. The province is also home to several ingredients companies and a few natural health product companies Wong says have been doing quite well in recent years. These are companies that are doing innovative work in the field of food science research, such as CEAPRO, which is developing medicinal and cosmetics applications based on the oat bran molecule, or BioNeutra, which makes sweetener additives for diabetics from starch. Wong says Edmonton-based health science company SinoVeda, which turns natural ingredients into both nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, is working to develop analgesic products, as well as doing work in the rare diseases space. Alberta’s research institutions are a hive of activity as well. The universities of Calgary and Alberta specialize in areas such as cardiology, blood pressure, pain, organ transplant, diabetes, and bone and joint research. Wong says

that the University of Lethbridge does particularly well in epigenetics and brain function. “The research environment has been pretty well-fed over the last few years,” he says. “They’re facing challenges like everybody else across the country, with cutbacks, but at the same time the industry spin-offs of the universities probably could use some streamlining in terms of industry working tighter with academia.” Along with the common problem of a lack of investment, Wong says that what the life sciences sector in Alberta is really lacking are good mentors. “This industry is relatively young in Alberta compared to other jurisdictions. We don’t have a lot of former CEOs or entrepreneurs who have been there done that, that can give back or mentor, so we have to draw them from outside.” It was recently announced that TEC Edmonton and Merck Canada would be collaborating on a business incubator that will connect Albertabased health technology companies to Merck’s health research expertise. The partnership is part of the Alberta Merck Innovation in Health Fund, a larger collaboration between Merck Canada, the University Hospital Foundation and the Government of Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. “Working in partnership with TEC Edmonton to provide both scientific expertise and funding to this new business incubator will help propel Alberta-based, health-focused startups to new heights,” says Chirfi Guindo, President and Managing Director of Merck Canada. “This type of collaboration with promising, key players is essential to the future of the health sector.”

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From left to right: Mel Wong, President & CEO, BioAlberta; Paul Braconnier, BioAlberta Co-Chair; Gilles Gagnon, CEO, CEAPRO Inc.; and Michael Gottlieb, Head of Business Operations, Sanofi Genzyme. Gilles Gagnon and CEAPRO received the Company of the Year Award, recognizing the completion of their new Edmonton manufacturing facility and their revenue growth in 2016.


regional profile

Manitoba Main life sciences hub:

Winnipeg Number of life science companies:


We have a few large pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the province which I think outside of Ontario and Quebec, makes us an anomaly.

R&D investment:

– Mel Wong, President and CEO, BioAlberta

$128.4 million (2016) Industry revenue:

estimated $977,800,000 (2016) Number of full-time positions in the sector:


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he total revenue from the life sciences industry in Manitoba amounts to more than $977 million, just shy of a billion dollars, according to a 2016 industry survey by the Life Sciences Association of Manitoba (LSAM). LSAM President, Tracey Maconachie, attributes that to the presence of big pharma in the province. “We have a few large pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the province which I think outside of Ontario and Quebec, makes us an anomaly,” she says. Maconachie says the majority of the province’s life sciences companies are on the human health side, if one only counts companies doing novel research and developing new technologies and discounts growers on the agricultural side. Within that human health space, there are several companies developing new technology around imaging. Monteris, a homegrown neurosurgery technology company that has since moved its headquarters to Minnesota but maintains a strong presence in Winnipeg, won a Governor General's Innovation Award last year for its NeuroBlate system. NeuroBlate enables MRI-guided neurosurgical ablation, marrying real-time imaging with diode

laser energy to allow the safe targeting and selective ablation of soft tissue and lesions in the brain. Another biotech company making waves in the imaging space is Cubresa. The Winnipeg-based company is developing imaging technology designed for use in clinical trials involving animal models. Cubresa is directing the profits from this technology to its long-term goal of developing new imaging technologies around breast cancer diagnostics. “We’ve got a really strong biomedical engineering component as well,” Maconachie says. “Because we’re a smaller location we have some companies where the people who worked on the project came from aerospace, so they took the skills and knowledge from aerospace and they used that to make a med device.” As in other Prairie provinces, adding value to locally grown agricultural products is one of the big priorities of the sector. At the University of Manitoba and at St. Boniface Hospital’s Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research in Health and Medicine, clinical trials are ongoing to investigate the cardiovascular health benefits of flax seeds and canola oil. In May of this year, Manitoba company

regional profile MSPrebiotics released a new study on the positive results it received in a clinical trial conducted by St. Boniface Albrechtsen Research Centre. The company has been producing a digestion-resistant starch supplement for hogs that was extracted from potatoes for more than a decade. The recent clinical trial tested the supplement for human consumption and found that the MSPrebiotics product significantly increased the abundance of good bacteria.

Maconachie also points to the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Neutraceuticals (RCFFN), the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM), and the Manitoba Food Development Centre as research centres contributing to value-added agri-food research. “Those three organizations work to take novel ideas around food, enhancing food production and pulling essentials out of food, from concept all the way to the storefront,” she says.

An aerial view of Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, SK.

Saskatchewan Main life sciences hub:

Saskatoon Number of life science companies:

141 (2015) R&D investment:

Industry revenue:

Saskatchewan is the heart of Canada’s agricultural biotechnology sector... Crop development and crop production have always been a forte.

$3.65 billion (contribution to Provincial GDP, 2015) Number of jobs in the sector:

1,957 (public and private, 2015)

– Jackie Robin, Communications Director for Ag-West Bio


askatchewan is the heart of Canada’s agricultural biotechnology sector,” says Jackie Robin, Communications Director for Ag-West Bio, Saskatchewan’s life

sciences industry association. “Crop development and crop production have always been a forte.” In Saskatchewan, agricultural and agri-food innovations are adding

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over $310 million (2015)


regional profile

College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, SK

value to the life sciences, instead of the other way around. When Saskatoon-based biotech Prairie Plant Systems was established in the 1980s, its main goal was creating diseasefree Saskatoon berry trees for commercial orchards. Now, Prairie Plant Systems has perfected a GMP plant-based manufacturing technique that allows it to produce therapeutic and industrial proteins. “In other words, genetically modifying a plant and targeting it as a pharmaceutical factory,” says Wilf Keller, President, Ag-West Bio. Life sciences research in Saskatchewan is not only having a positive effect on human health, but on the environment as well. Newly developed crop technologies like zero-tillage agriculture, which preserves organic matter and sequesters tons of carbon in the soil, means the agricultural industry can operate in a more economical and ecologically friendly way. In 2012, the Global Institute for Food Security was established in Saskatoon “with the goal of using science to solve some of the world’s food issues,” Robin says. “Highcalibre researchers from around the world are coming to GIFS to do cutting-edge research in many areas.” One research project is working to develop genetically identical seed production through asexual plant reproduction. Another is looking into root-soil interactions and how they affect soil health and fertility. “We’re a bit isolated so we have to compete hard to get talent here,” Keller says. “Once people settle here they like it, but it’s a little harder to get out here and we do have longer winters. I do think that’s a challenge but on the other hand, an advantage is that we have all of this land. We have 42 per cent of the arable land in Canada, so that makes us a big player.” The Breadbasket The life sciences sector in the Prairies has the experience and the expertise to solve big issues like world hunger and the effects of climate change, Keller says. “We can address environment, we can address health and nutrition, and we can certainly address basic food needs.” Like its waving fields of wheat, canola and flax, the Prairies are ripe for a harvest of biotech, biopharmaceutical and agri-food sector growth. All it will take, says Keller, are some wise moves on the government’s part. “We need the right federal government and provincial government leadership, and the right policies and funding schemes, and we can go a long way.” BB

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A Berry a Day Keeps the Doctor Away n 2009, Chris Siow, a scientist at the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine in Winnipeg, and Samir Debnath, a scientist at the Atlantic Cool Climate Crop Research Centre in St. John’s, discovered that lingonberries have many health benefits. Their research indicated that due to climatic conditions, lingonberries in northern regions have higher antioxidant content. Anthocyanins, a prominent phytochemical found in lingonberries that contains antioxidants, is believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. In particular, anthocyanins prevent the oxidation of blood cholesterol and helps keep blood vessels healthy. Other studies have shown certain extracts from lingonberries are effective against Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which causes a range of infections. In addition, lingonberries contain health-promoting dietary fibre, vitamin C, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids. According to Siow, Canada has the potential to increase harvest and production for lingonberries as demand increases for the use of fruit to help fight diseases. BB

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