Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners joins with biotech giant Amgen to fund disruptive technologies

Mark Mann
September 11, 2019

A few days after celebrating its 10th anniversary and changing its name to Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners (TIAP), the commercialization organization formerly known as MaRS Innovation announced a new collaboration with the biotechnology company Amgen. The aim of the collaboration is to identify and jointly fund disruptive technologies derived from discovery research conducted in Toronto and managed by TIAP.

Amgen is an American biotech giant with annual revenue of USD $23.75 billion and a market cap of USD $118.6 billion. The human therapeutics company develops biomedical devices and therapies with a focus on areas of high unmet medical need. The company’s two most important blockbuster drugs are Epogen, which helps the body create red blood cells and raise hemoglobin levels, and Neupogen, which triggers the proliferation of blood cells. Both are used especially after blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatment.

History of a partnership

Founded in 1980, Amgen — whose name stands for “applied molecular genetics” — is a top R&D spender in Canada, investing approximately CAD $70 million annually into research, according to the company’s website. Amgen launched Amgen Canada in 1991, with operations in Mississauga, Ontario and a research facility in Burnaby, British Columbia. The company also conducts clinical trials with Canadian academic research institutions and hospitals.

Throughout the 90s, Amgen invested heavily in biomedical research in Toronto, particularly in the laboratories of the University Hospital Network, where it established the Amgen Institute. That approach shifted in the early 00s when Amgen brought its research investment in-house, creating their own capacity for discovery research and terminating the Amgen Institute.

In the years after MaRS Innovation was founded in 2000, Amgen’s business development group began visiting once or twice a year to review the portfolio in search of licensing opportunities. Although no deals were struck, MaRS established a positive relationship with Philip Tagari, Amgen’s vice president of therapeutic discovery. Tagari ultimately sought to broaden the relationship into the new strategic partnership with TIAP, marking a partial return to Amgen’s former strategy of relying on external R&D.

Curating promising research

TIAP’s role is to save Amgen some of the trouble of shopping around for good opportunities for development. “We do the initial vetting. [Amgen] gives us guidance in terms of where they want to put the emphasis,” explained Rafi Hofstein, president and CEO of TIAP, in a phone call with RE$EARCH MONEY.

To surface promising research, TIAP relies on its LAB150 partnership with German contract research organization Evotec, a drug discovery company that helps accelerate projects through the discovery stage to a more translational stage. “Once we tick the boxes at the pre-clinical stage and it fits into Amgen’s strategy, they will start developing the drug,” says Hofstein.

“Amgen views TIAP as an efficient and curated mechanism that delivers early access to technology opportunities, particularly in the realm of novel bio-therapeutics, chemistry and machine learning,” Tagari stated in the press release.

Pharmaceutical investment under threat

The announcement of the partnership comes less than a month after the Canadian government  announced a major reform to Canada’s drug price regime, with new regulations to lower prescription drug costs that will also cut earnings by drugmakers like Amgen.

Francesco Di Marco, vice president and general manager of Amgen Canada, commented on these changes in the press release, stating, “We are delighted to contribute to supporting the life sciences ecosystem in Ontario but we are concerned that the new federal regulations will compromise future R&D investment for the better health of Canadian patients."


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