Ontario biotechs in good company with CCRM’s Industry Consortium
Commercial products, technologies and processes are typically viewed as a means to an end – not unlike the car that takes you to work and back – and it’s not until that vehicle is missing or not working efficiently that we consider its importance and value.
The same can be said for products and technologies that are part of the process of translating cell therapies from bench to bedside. And yet, without them and the companies that produce and invest in their development, few, if any of the regenerative medicine advances would be possible today. In the last two decades, these often unheralded products and technologies have brought us scaffolds to guide stem cells in vision repair and the expansion of blood stem cells for transplantation to treat leukemia, among many other examples.
Indeed, without the commercialization component, many research discoveries would simply wither and die. This is what led to the formation of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) in 2011, a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research that is funded by the federal government and focused on the essential commercial developments that move discoveries from bench to bedside.
One of CCRM’s ambitious and more innovative goals when it started out was to pull together a consortium of large multinationals, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and start-ups from Canada and across the globe. This group would act as receptors of IP for out-licensing from CCRM’s institutional members and be co-development partners for new opportunities and in finding solutions to existing bottlenecks.
Industry consortia are hardly a new concept. In Canada, the oil industry created a consortium in 1966, while consortia in the chemical and automotive industries date back to the turn of the century. Broadly speaking, the general goals of each are the same: to improve efficiency, facilitate access to markets and innovations, and reduce the costs of doing business. Benefits and cost savings can then be passed along to the consumer. In health care, this means access to improved therapies and better outcomes.
What made CCRM’s consortium initiative noteworthy was the fact that it was the first of its kind in regenerative medicine. Further, it is a sign that a fledgling field is maturing and is both ready and able to deliver on the promise of cell therapies.
CCRM’s consortium includes 25 full members and 20 associate members representing a cross section of small and large companies whose products include reagents, devices, therapeutics and cells as tools. To date, CCRM has initiated 12 co-development partnerships with industry, with more projects on the horizon.
Eight of these companies are headquartered in Ontario – in Kingston, London, Ottawa, the GTA and Waterloo.
London-based Sernova Corp. joined the industry consortium in early 2013. CCRM introduced Sernova to the pancreatic progenitor research developed by Drs. Cristina Nostro and Gordon Keller, University Health Network (UHN), as a potential cell source to be utilized in Sernova’s Cell Pouch System™. The Cell Pouch System™ is an implantable medical device that facilities the long-term survival and function of therapeutic cells to treat chronic diseases, such as diabetes, as an alternative to daily administration of drugs.
Pending execution of a licensing agreement with UHN to Sernova, CCRM will transfer the cell production method from Dr. Nostro’s lab and establish methods to generate a sufficient number of the pancreatic progenitor cells to conduct proof-of-principle animal studies. CCRM will then help Sernova develop this protocol for clinical production. This is just one example of how CCRM is partnering with industry consortium members to translate cell-based medical discoveries into commercial products and therapies.
In attracting both local and international business savvy, CCRM’s industry consortium is a win for Canada and, more specifically, a win for Ontario. As a founding partner of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, CCRM plays a critical role in Ontario’s goal to deliver on the health and economic promise of regenerative medicine. With the allocation of $25 million over five years by the Province of Ontario in last month’s provincial budget, both OIRM and CCRM will coordinate efforts to translate more research into medicine and, in doing so, will build a sustainable industry with jobs and innovations benefitting the province and its people.