Canadian biotech sector makes strong showing at BIO2013

Every six weeks, MaRS Innovation’s marketing and communications manager writes a guest post for the MaRS Discovery District blog profiling MI’s activities or one of our start-up companies. You can read the original post on the MaRS blog.

Downtown Chicago skyline in late April

Chicago‘s famous downtown skyline during the 2013 BIO Convention.

Nearly 14,000 delegates—representing over 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centres and related organizations across the United States and more than 60 countries—attended the 2013 BIO International Convention from April 22 to 26, 2013.

The event drew biotechnologists, pharmaceutical industry executives and life sciences researchers, along with sector-based organizations and associations, to Chicago.

According to a press release issued by the conference organizers, BIO 2013 offered “a record number of partnering meetings and panel sessions on the latest science, policy issues and business opportunities and challenges facing the biotechnology industry.”

BIO2013 showroom floor in the Canada pavilion was a busy spot throughout the conference.

The BIO2013 showroom floor in the Canada pavilion was a busy spot throughout the conference.

On the showroom floor, it was hard to miss the combined Canada and Ontario pavilions, or the Quebec pavilion located nearby. Plenty of maple leaves, signature red carpeting and even a pair of Mounties were on hand to welcome attendees.

All three levels of Canadian government were well represented at the conference. On Monday, April 22, the Honourable Reza Moridi, minister of research and innovation for the Ontario government, and Nicolas Marceau, minister of finance and the economy for the Quebec government, were present for the pavilion openings, joined by Hazel MacCallion, mayor of Mississauga, and other prominent leaders within the Canadian biotech community.

On Tuesday, April 23, the Honourable Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology), was present for BIOTECanada’s Gold Leaf Awards, which recognize the best of Canadian entrepreneurship and leadership in the biotech sector.

The Ontario pavilion, organized by the Ministry of Research and Innovation, included kiosks for six organizations committed to supporting life sciences commercialization, entrepreneurship and sector development.

During the pavilion’s opening, Minister Moridi announced MaRS Innovation’s formation of a strategic partnership with Pfizer Inc. to advance early-stage technologies related to human health in therapeutics and diagnostics.

Through this collaboration, MI and Pfizer will jointly identify investment opportunities emerging from well-validated scientific research discoveries emerging from within MI’s member institutions.

Both Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO of MI, and Uwe Schoenbeck, chief scientific officer, external R&D innovation at Pfizer, were present at the event and announcement.

Leaders of the organizations involved in Merck-IRICoR-MI-CDRD deal

From left to right: IRICoR CEO Michel Bouvier, Quebec Minister of Finance and the Economy Nicolas Marceau, Merck Canada President and Managing Director Thomas Cannell, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi, CDRD CEO Karimah Es Sabar and MI President and CEO Raphael Hofstein.

Later that afternoon in the Canadian pavilion, Merck Canada announced that it is reinforcing its commitment to the Canadian life sciences research innovation sector by providing $4 million in funding to the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization of Research (IRICoR) for future corridor projects developed.

IRICoR, in conjunction with MI and the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), will identify, develop and commercialize technologies in healthcare.

All three institutions share a common objective: facilitating and accelerating the commercialization of research breakthroughs that will improve the quality of life of Canadians and others around the world.

Dr. Raphael Hofstein

Dr. Raphael Hofstein, president & CEO, MaRS Innovation.

“As our partnership announcements demonstrate, BIO is a team event,” says Hofstein. “Ontario’s presence was well planned and well orchestrated. By taking MI along with our colleagues at CTO, LSO, MaRS, OCE and OICR, MRI sent a strong signal about our openness to international business and the integrated infrastructure that exists to support the biotechnology industry in Ontario and across the country.”

Through the partnering forum and informal meetings on the showroom floor, BIO also provided opportunities to highlight emerging companies within Ontario’s and Canada’s life sciences sectors, including the following MI startup companies:

  • ScarX Therapeutics (also a client of the MaRS life sciences and healthcare practice), which is developing the first topical wound-healing cream from the Hospital for Sick Children
  • Encycle Therapeutics, which is exploiting a proprietary platform technology to rapidly synthesize small to medium macrocycles from the University of Toronto
  • DLVR Therapeutics Inc., which is developing a novel high-density lipoprotein–mimicking nanoparticle delivery system suitable for various oncology indications
  • Vasomune, which is developing a first-in-class Tie2 receptor antagonist for diseases associated with endothelial cell dysfuntion and vascular destabilization

MaRS life sciences and healthcare practice at BIO

Dr. Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS Discovery District and member of the board of directors, MaRS Innovation.

Dr. Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS Discovery District and member of the board of directors for MaRS Innovation.

The MaRS Discovery District team, including CEO Ilse Treurnicht, members of the life sciences and healthcare practice and more, was also very active at BIO’s business forum and partnering sessions, connecting with more than 80 organizations during the conference, including multinational pharma companies, contract research organizations, innovation clusters, accelerators and foreign venture capitalists. These connections will help advance the development and growth of MaRS’ life sciences and healthcare client companies and enhance MaRS’ role as a global hub of innovation in the sector.

Sonia Sanhueza, lead of the MaRS Life Sciences practice

Sonia Sanhueza, practice lead for the MaRS Life Sciences & Healthcare.

“The BIO event is about collaboration and networking at the national and international levels,” said Sonia Sanhueza, MaRS advisor and life sciences and healthcare practice lead. “MaRS Discovery District was well represented and, along with our clients, we were able to successfully develop alliances with key industry partners and network with colleagues at many organizations, including OICR, BIOTECanada, LSO, OCE, MRI, MaRS Innovation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and international organizations.”

Armour Therapeutics, a MaRS client developing a first-in-class anti-hormonal therapy for the treatment of reproductive cancers (including prostate and breast cancer), was selected to give a showcase presentation in the Canada pavilion on April 24. The presentation was well-received and included an overview of new research data showing the effectiveness of their lead compound toward impairing human prostate cancer growth in an animal model system.

All in all, it was a tremendous showing of Canadian entrepreneurship and leadership in the biotech sector.

By Elizabeth Monier-Williams, marketing and communications manager.