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Canadian advances in healthcare are fuelled by global investment

Caroline Fortier is CEO of five companies that are pursuing promising pharmaceutical research breakthroughs—all at the same time. It’s not a cautionary tale of executive overload, but a new paradigm of research efficiency. Each of these companies represents a single idea, identified as a discovery that offers further research potential, and each company is independently exploring the medical potential of a single molecule. Each of these project-focused companies (PFCs) has the operational efficiency only a small biotech operation can offer.

Three of the companies helmed by Fortier are investigating compounds originally discovered through of the research program at Eli Lilly and Company. These compounds are being explored for their potential to treat different kinds of cancers, and Prader Willi syndrome.

The majority of these companies are fully funded by TVM Life Science Ventures VII, which is a unique collaboration between TVM Capital Life Science and Lilly to finance and access innovation, while managing risk and sharing rewards. The Fonds de solidarité FTQ also co-invested in two of these companies. Each PFC assigns research tasks to Chorus, a full-service, autonomous R&D unit within Lilly that specializes in lean, proof-of-concept clinical development for a range of clients.

Fortier has developed a niche for managing these companies.

“As CEO, I have the responsibility to create the most value for shareholders of each PFC,” says Fortier. “With a lean management team composed only of a CEO and CFO, we’re very hands-on with each of these projects. I like to meet with the investigators and we work closely with Chorus to select the vendors who will become contract research organizations on the project.”

Fortier notes that the pharmaceutical research industry is part of a global marketplace.

Teams of knowledge-based workers are highly mobile, and research is fuelled by savvy worldwide investors who follow the leading edge of scientific discovery, which is usually found in the most highly developed knowledge economies.

It’s a self-reinforcing research ecosystem. Investors count on strong universities and hospitals to support the local knowledge economy. The resulting knowledge economy employs highly educated graduates and develops thought leaders. Thought leaders advance the science and draw more investment, which accelerates growth and the commercialization of the new process, or the discovery. The entire process not only builds powerful research clusters, but also bolsters the economy.

AurKa Pharma, one of the five PFCs, is a study in small biotech efficiency leveraging the Canadian research ecosystem. The company was founded in June 2016 around an anti-cancer molecule once known as Project Antarctica.

“It offered high potential, but also high risk,” says Fortier. “The previous compounds developed for this anti-cancer target were associated with high levels of toxicity. We created a business plan and Chorus assigned a development team to it. Our first goal was to manufacture the compound according to good manufacturing practice guidelines.”

By January 2017 all vendors had been selected and AurKa’s investigative protocol had been approved. By February, regulatory submissions had been completed. By April, patients were enrolled and Phase I clinical trials were set to begin in hospitals in Canada and Eastern Europe. Phase I studies finished six months ahead of schedule and AurKa is now in Phase II trials, looking at proofs-of-concept for two different indications — breast cancer and small-cell lung cancer.

“We’re six to nine months ahead of schedule and significantly under budget,” says Fortier.

Research has proven so promising that Lilly recently purchased AurKa from TVM allowing Lilly to conduct further research to determine if the compound can be beneficial to people living with various forms of cancer.

“The PFC model offers us the best of both worlds in achieving our research goals,” Fortier says. “We have the capability to be nimble, but without sacrificing the rigor and quality control you’d associate with big pharma.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division and Patient Diaries, on behalf of Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) and an IMC member company.

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