BC life science powerhouses partner to commercialize targeted cancer therapies

Mark Henderson
May 29, 2019

Two British Columbia-based research and innovation heavyweights are joining forces to utilize nuclear medicine to develop targeted alpha therapies (TAT) to treat cancers with “significant unmet need”. The collaboration was struck last month between life sciences specialist CDRD and TRIUMF, Canada’s biggest particle accelerator and its commercialization arm, TRIUMF Innovations. All are located on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver.

By creating novel radiopharmaceuticals and partnering with organizations such as BC Cancer and the clinical community, the CDRD/TRIUMF partnership aims to “create a unique global competitive advantage” that will attract significant investment by bridging the gap between promising TAT discoveries in academia, and the translation of that research into the market and the clinic.

“There’s definitely much more interest in the area both from the research and commercialization perspective … There’s new excitement about radioisotopes for therapeutics for unmet need for late stage metastasized cancer,” says Kathryn Hayashi, president and CEO of TRIUMF Innovations. “Certainly the big deals that we saw last year with Novartis, and Fusion Pharmaceuticals raising a major round this year, are adding fuel into this space.”

In 2018, Novartis shelled out US$3.9 billion for France-based Advanced Accelerator Applications, a leader in developing, producing and commercializing nuclear medicine theradiagnostics. Closer to home McMaster University spin-off, Fusion Pharmaceuticals, secured a US $105-million private placement to develop cancer therapy products, including a delivery system to precisely deliver radiation to targeted cancer cells.

Both CDRD and TRIUMF recently received new funding tranches from the federal government and have invested in new facilities. For CDRD, it’s a 12,000-sq-m laboratory while TRIUMF recently broke ground on a new life sciences facility.

The Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI), was announced last November by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and officially launched with a ground breaking in late April. IAMI will boost TRIUMF’s development and production of medical treatments ranging from imaging for cardiovascular and neurological diseases to new targeted treatments for late-stage cancers.

“This is our first collaboration with TRIUMF. We’ve been working for some time now exploring a number of different opportunities to be able to work collaboratively and given our mutual interest in the targeted alpha therapy space and the potential around that,” says Dr. Lana Janes, CDRD’s venture partner leading the organization’s participation in the project. “We thought this was a perfect fit for us, to be able to work together given our complementary skill sets and given that this area of TAT is actually a multi-disciplinary approach that needs multiple skill sets from the innovation sectors.”

Supply of medical isotopes is key

The two organizations are currently assembling project plans, building talent teams, and drawing on their formidable research and technical staffs, adds Janes.

“We have a number of advances that have been made that have really led to what we call the renaissance of radiopharmaceuticals. We think this is a really highly promising, outstanding therapeutic opportunity, she says. “TAT is a niche in the global oncology market and that’s primarily due to limited supply of those medical isotopes or medical emitting particles. TRIUMF is working on developing new ways to increase the amount of availability of those medical isotopes and also, they have great experience in not only manufacturing those but also to help attach them to the right missiles directed to the cancer cells.”

CDRD and TRIUMF have extensive commercialization expertise and experience, both having successfully licensed technologies and created spin-off companies. Hayashi says she’s confident the collaboration with CDRD will generate exploitable technologies, though the market approach for each will be case specific.

“Each technology is different and you need to find the right commercialization path for each,” she says. “Some technologies are more appropriate for licensing and some are more appropriate for a company, so we try to explore a variety of ways and find the right commercialization vehicle.”

Adding to the collaboration is the participation of other research organizations in the region and the research talent resident within the clinical community.

“We’re located in British Columbia surrounded by world-class clinicians who are experienced in the cancer field in the radiopharmaceutical space. We’ve been working with and collaborate with Dr Francois Bénard who’s the vice president of research and distinguished scientist at the BC Cancer Agency,” says Janes. “The fact that all these pieces are here together in BC – given the world class health care system and the focus on advancing new oncology treatments and expertise in biologics and TRUIMF’s expertise in medical isotopes – we think it’s the perfect confluence to really give off that competitive advantage and centre for excellence in the development of these kinds of therapies.”


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