Seeding the Biotech Industry in Toronto
Have you ever felt the power of your own personal war chest? That’s what Dr. Sachdev Sidhu calls the catalogue of discoveries that he and his colleagues have amassed with the help of a technology that Dr. Sidhu pioneered while he was working in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Sidhu continued to develop his technology after coming to the University of Toronto back in 2008. Over time, his “war chest” has evolved in a platform consisting of recipes for thousands of complex molecules, known as antibodies, which have been matched with hundreds of targets in human cells.

Dr. Sidhu developed these antibodies by collaborating with genomicist Jason Moffat, among others. Researchers at the University Health Network have conducted follow-up studies on these antibodies and found that many could potentially be engineered into entirely new classes of drugs.

Unleashing the War Chest

With an eye toward the future, Dr. Sidhu and his colleagues are now ready to open the war chest to the fledgling community of biotech companies in Toronto. As Dr. Sidhu says, “You can’t keep building a catalogue forever. You have to let things out.”

The first inkling of the infinite possibilities contained within the “war chest” was launched recently. Northern Biologics, a Toronto-based company, will shortly begin working with a choice selection of antibodies drawn from Dr. Sidhu’s research. The company hopes that it will be able to develop these antibodies into new therapies for cancer and fibrosis.

This development is just a small part of the larger culture shift that’s currently under way across the pharmaceutical industry in Canada. Increasingly, the industry has been turning to biologic drugs, which means drugs that are produced inside of living systems, such as yeasts or microbes.

In theory, these biologic drugs can provide an express route to new treatments, not to mention their long-term profitability. As of now, biologic drugs account for nearly half of the top selling drugs on a global scale. A few well-known examples of biologic drugs include Humira, the anti-inflammatory used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and Avastin, which is used to treat cancer patients.

Attracting High-Level Attention

The interesting work being done by the team at Northern Biologics has already attracted a number of international investors with deep pockets. For a Canadian community that has long been considered scientifically proficient but lacking capital and entrepreneurial leadership, this international attention is a welcome sign of things to come.

One of the key players helping to sponsor Northern Biologics is Versant Ventures, a venture capital firm based in the Bay Area. Versant Ventures specializes in biotech and medical devices. They have committed $10 million to Northern Biologics as one of the first investments from a new $305 million fund that Versant recently announced.

As Dr. Sidhu’s “war chest” spins off more companies in the near future, the University of Toronto is in the process of launching the Centre for the Commercialization of Antibodies and Biologics. This centre is being made possible by a $15 million grant from the government and its’ main focus will be helping to move promising candidate drugs to the market more efficiently.

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Posted by: DSR
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Tag: Healthcare
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