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Building Canada’s Strengths: Drug Discovery and Commercialization

Creating an ecosystem of collaboration: from bench to bedside

 This story is taken from the NCE anniversary report "Building on 25 Years of R&D Excellence."

Developing new drugs is a long, complex and expensive process. The NCE supports several models that are helping reduce the risk and accelerate the commercialization of medical innovations that will improve health-care delivery and patient care in Canada and abroad.

Building blocks

The life sciences industry is an important contributor to Canada’s innovation economy and one of four priority areas of the government’s Science and Technology Strategy. Industry players are primarily clustered in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver. They include small- and medium-sized companies developing diagnostics, biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices; global companies with R&D and manufacturing operations; and contract service providers providing industry support for all these activities.

In 2008 the NCE strengthened the commercialization pipeline in each of these clusters when it awarded CECR funding to centres such as the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) in Vancouver, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization of Research (IRICoR) in Montréal and MaRS Innovation (MI) in Toronto. Both CDRD and IRICoR identify early-stage opportunities and advance them towards commercialization, either through licensing or the creation of spin-off companies. MI is the commercialization agent for discoveries originating at 16 Ontario research institutions.

One year later, the NCE awarded a BL-NCE to the Montréal-based Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery (CQDM), which connects global pharmaceutical companies with leading university researchers and Canadian biotech firms to develop shared tools and technologies that accelerate the drug discovery process. Today, these siblings in the NCE family are demonstrating that geography is no barrier when like-minded organizations pool their knowledge, infrastructure and business resources for the benefit of patients and the economy.

Taking collaboration to the next level

Strengthening regional clusters

  • CQDM, MI, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Life Sciences Ontario and BiopolisQuébec have partnered to support collaborative R&D within the Ontario-Quebec Life Sciences Corridor. The initiative funds industry-academic projects that accelerate the drug discovery process and lead to safer and more effective compounds. This has expanded the reach of CQDM’s pharmaceutical members into Ontario, providing access to leading health scientists.
  • In 2013, Merck invested $4 million in IRICoR to support a pan-Canadian collaboration with CDRD and MI. The partnership leverages the expertise and infrastructure of all three centres. This reduces risk while allowing each centre to fund a larger number of early-stage projects, thereby increasing the chances of licensing new products or creating a new company.

Accelerating commercialization

  • Domain Therapeutics of France is establishing a new subsidiary in Montréal to commercialize a biosensor technology that was licensed from IRICoR and developed with funding from CQDM. The agreement gives Domain Therapeutics co-exclusive access, with AstraZeneca, Merck and Pfizer having access via their participation in CQDM.
  • IRICoR and another CECR, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), are launching a new company to commercialize technologies developed at both IRICoR and CCRM.
  • Technologies developed at any of MI’s member institutions can be brought into CDRD for further development, under an agreement between the two CECRs. If scientific milestones are met, then CDRD’s investment arm, CDRD Ventures, or MI will step in to commercialize the technologies.

Geographic size, and the skill sets and resources that come with critical mass, matter to global pharmaceutical interests when deciding where to locate a clinical trial. By combining Ontario’s and Quebec’s regional strengths, the corridor has established a more robust foundation that will support significant projects across sectors.

– Raphael Hofstein, President and CEO, MaRS Innovation

This exciting partnership will leverage the unique expertise within IRICoR and its partners to capture more value from the world-class research being carried out in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

– Michel Bouvier, President and CEO, IRICoR

CDRD’s technology platform is available to laboratories across Canada, and can work on many technology types or therapeutic areas. This enables us to provide support where the other CECRs may not be able to work. In turn, we are able to partner with other CECRs for a particular specialized expertise or capacity we require.

– Karimah Es Sabar, President and CEO, CDRD