Transforming Discovery into Opportunity

Joint article by CDRD & global collaboration group published in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery

Posted on: April 11th, 2016 by jwhite

The first output of the translational science collaboration group comprising EATRIS, TI Australia, NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) USA, MRC-Technology UK, and CDRD Canada, has been published in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery entitled “Putting Translational Science on the Global Stage.”

nature reviewsThe joint piece highlights the challenges and opportunities in the field, and champions closer international collaboration. Read the article here: http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v15/n4/full/nrd.2016.33.html.

CDRD helps fuel emerging companies that are ready to rocket!

Posted on: March 17th, 2016 by jwhite

The annual Ready to Rocket awards were recently handed out to BC technology companies that are best positioned to capitalize on the technology sector trends resulting in faster expected growth than their peers. From clean tech to life sciences to information and communications, start-up companies are thriving in BC’s growing technology sectors.

Amongst the life sciences companies, there are a few noteworthy recipients that CDRD has helped enable as part of our active role driving the re-invigoration of the life sciences industry overall. Included on the 2016 Ready to Rocket Life Sciences and Life Sciences Emerging Rocket lists, are four direct CDRD spin-off companies including:

  • Kairos Therapeutics – Launched in 2013 as a direct outcome of the formation of the CDRD Biologics Division, Kairos is optimally positioned to be a key player in bringing this new class of drugs to cancer patients. The company is now focused on developing the next-generation antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) platform based on inventions discovered, developed and validated in-house at CDRD. Earlier this year, Kairos also announced an equity investment and optional merger agreement with BC-based Zymeworks – which was subsequently named as LifeSciences BC’s 2016 Life Sciences Company of the Year.
  • Sitka Biopharma – CDRD worked with UBC researchers Dr. Helen Burt, Dr. Don Brooks and Dr. Martin Gleave (Vancouver Prostate Centre) on their initial idea of developing a new treatment for bladder cancer patients. The concept was broadened to become a Mucoadhesive Drug Delivery Platform with the potential to develop multiple treatments using other drugs, in other cancers. CDRD brought drug development expertise and managed the project in collaboration with the UBC researchers (validated lead candidate; demonstrated proof-of-concept in a proven animal model; new patents filed; clear business case and clinical/partnering strategies; network of clinical experts, potential investors and corporate partners).
  • Precision NanoSystems – Incubated in its early days at CDRD, Precision creates innovative solutions for the discovery, development and manufacture of novel nanoparticles for use as medicines and in medical research. The company recently attracted a $13.4M Series A investment led by US-based venture capital firms, and was also named LifeSciences BC’s 2016 Growth Stage Medtech Company of the Year.
  • Zucara Therapeutics – Zucara, a spin-off company by CDRD and MaRS Innovation, is advancing a novel technology that is showing promise as a long-term therapeutic approach to prevent hypoglycemia in diabetes patients who are insulin-dependent. The formation of Zucara is an excellent example of a number of partners working together to commercialize an innovative and much needed therapeutic. By building on existing complementary strengths and sharing risk and reward – rather than duplicating efforts – we have been able to successfully advance this technology from the academic lab towards the clinic.

In addition, CDRD has carried out key drug development work with three other companies named to the 2016 Ready to Rocket list: Augurex Life Sciences Corp, Imstar Therapeutics, and MSI Methylation Sciences. In total, over one-third of all the life science companies included in the 2016 List have received support, mentorship and/or expertise from CDRD.

Norma Biln, CEO, Augurex Life Sciences Corp. commented, “While Augurex is a commercial-stage diagnostics company, the protein that we are measuring through the JOINTstat™ blood test (14-3-3η) is also a drug target for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Because of the biologics expertise that resided at CDRD though John Babcook’s team at the time, Augurex decided to do some preliminary work to validate our “druggable target” observations. The work-up that the CDRD team did helped direct several of our next steps and identify some pitfalls to avoid as we moved our anti-14-3-3η therapeutic programs forward. The team was flexible, collaborative and a pleasure to work with.”

Ready to Rocket is a unique business recognition list that profiles technology companies with the greatest potential for revenue growth. Each year, based on analysis of trends that will drive growth in the information technology sector, Rocket Builders identifies the top private companies that are best positioned to capitalize on the trends for growth. Thealzel Lee, Senior Partner at Rocket Builders, said that “2015 has seen significant investments in BC’s life science companies, and advances in progress has increased revenue and headcount. The major trends influencing this sector include evolving regulatory issues, the need for efficiency in healthcare delivery, and the ongoing convergence with IT technologies.”

CDRD’s work with small to medium enterprises (SMEs) is not limited to the companies mentioned above. In addition to being a technology Incubator, creating our own spin-off companies based on promising academic research from across the country, CDRD is also a company accelerator, supporting scale-up companies such as: viDA Therapeutics, Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals, and Cyon Therapeutics.

An example of how CDRD’s expertise has been utilized with viDA Therapeutics: CDRD is working with viDA’s team to develop their patented lead drug candidate, VTI-1002, advance it to a commercial stage, and in doing so, position the company for further private sector investment and/or strategic partnership. The drug compound is a highly-specific and potent inhibitor of an enzyme, Granzyme B (Gzm B), which has been found in elevated levels in patients with autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases including lupus, abdominal aortic aneurysm, chronic skin ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

CDRD synthesized and provided GzmB inhibitor drug compounds that were used by viDA as part of validating the GzmB as a target for their therapeutic strategy. viDA’s novel treatment will be initially delivered by a topical cream, and the two partners are now collaborating to develop a clinical-grade formulation to support further efficacy studies and eventual human trials.

viDA’s President and CEO, Alistair Duncan said, “There is an immediate unmet clinical need to develop an effective therapy. Working with CDRD has helped to accelerate the development of our technology in addition to generating additional funding from industry. This has allowed us to hire more staff and investigate other uses beyond DLE – essentially building viDA’s core value and strategic positioning.”

For more information on how CDRD may support your company, contact Dr. Jason Crawford, Vice President, Scientific Operations at jcrawford@cdrd.ca.

Innovation, Commercialization and Spin-off Success

Posted on: February 29th, 2016 by jwhite

There has been a particular flurry of newsworthy activity within The Centre for Drug Research and Development of late — headlined by the innovative partnership between our spin-off Kairos Therapeutics and local leader Zymeworks Inc. — so I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a brief update to our stakeholders and partners.

I also wated to hlighlight the need to continue to create and nurture a comprehensive health sciences ecosystem that is well-supported and aligned through strategic collaboration, private and public sector investments and public policy.

As getting new drugs and other therapeutic products to market becomes more and more difficult, and the associated costs and risks become increasingly greater, the various players (from academic institutions and granting agencies to translational research organizations, incubators, and accelerators to foundations, government and industry) must support one another in effectively de-risking new technologies, leveraging resources, and filling the gaps in the development continuum.

It is only through such a complete, dynamic and fully-optimized matrix will British Columbia and Canada be not only the generators of world-class health research they are today, but also the generators of world-class innovation from the translation of that research.

The stories below are just a snapshot of the recent activities at CDRD that bring us closer to that vision. Stay tuned to more announcements in the coming weeks and months.

I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank all our stakeholders and partners for your ongoing support of CDRD, and contributions to our collective success. Together, we are enabling a vibrant and fully optimized global health sciences ecosystem that integrates and supports innovative research, commercialization and care.

With warm regards,
Karimah Es Sabar
President and CEO

 

CDRD Welcomes New Minister of Science, Dr. Kirsty Duncan; Parliamentary Secretary Mr. Terry Beech; and Chair of the BC Liberal Caucus The Honourable Dr. Hedy Fry

As our new Federal Government moves toward building a renewed Innovation Strategy for Canada, it is imperative that research and innovation leaders extend their expertise and support, and work alongside government to take collective action to enable Canada to re-take its rightful place amongst global innovation leaders.

In this context, CDRD was very pleased to host The Honourable Dr. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science; Parliamentary Secretary Terry Beech; and The Honourable Dr. Hedy Fry earlier in February.

Led by our Co-Scientific Director, Dr. Kelly McNagny and VP of Scientific Operations, Dr. Jason Crawford, the group toured our labs and saw a glimpse of the disruptive translational work CDRD is conducting in anti-microbial resistance amongst other pressing therapeutic areas.


Zymeworks and Kairos Therapeutics Enter into Strategic Partnership and Optional Merger Agreement

CDRD recently shared exciting news from our spin-off company, Kairos Therapeutics which represented a tremendous milestone for both CDRD and Kairos — and fantastic news for the British Columbia and Canadian life sciences community.

In January, Zymeworks and Kairos Therapeutics Inc., both privately-held biotech companies headquartered in Vancouver, announced a new strategic partnership agreement.

Zymeworks, a leader in the development of bi-specific and multi-specific antibodies, made an undisclosed equity investment in Kairos (a CDRD spin-off company) which specializes in the discovery and development of antibody drug conjugates (ADCs).

Under the terms of this agreement, Zymeworks and Kairos also have the option to merge to further integrate their respective platforms, resources and pipelines.

We are excited to have been able to enter into this partnership with such a strong local company as Zymeworks, and look forward to taking this partnership to the next level, and realizing the tremendous potential it holds for the local industry and most importantly, for patients.

We also offer our sincere congratulations to Zymeworks which was subsequently awarded LifeSciences BC’s 2016 Company of the Year Award.

See more: www.cdrd.ca/news/zymeworks-kairos


Zucara Therapeutics Inc. developing drug to prevent hypoglycemic episodes

Just days after the Kairos announcement, CDRD announced our next exciting spin-off company Zucara Therapeutics which was created in partnership with MaRS Innovation based on decades of diabetes research by renowned University of Toronto (U of T) professor, Dr. Mladen Vranic.

Zucara aims to develop a long-term therapeutic approach to prevent hypoglycemia in people with diabetes who are insulin-dependent. In pre-clinical models the company’s lead candidate shows great promise in restoring the body’s natural regulation of low blood sugar and reducing the severity or frequency of hypoglycemia.

Details at: www.cdrd.ca/news/zucara


MS Society of Canada and CDRD to Accelerate Promising New Therapeutics for Progressive MS

The MS Society of Canada and CDRD announced the launch of two new innovative drug development programs in the fight against multiple sclerosis (MS) as part of their ongoing strategic partnership.

Following a rigorous international search and subsequent peer review by experts in MS and translational research, projects with Dr. Veronique Miron (University of Edinburgh) and Dr. David Granville (University of British Columbia & viDA Therapeutics) were selected to be developed in collaboration with CDRD’s drug development team.

The collaboration between CDRD and the MS Society represents an opportunity for investigators at the cutting-edge of MS research to move their technologies more quickly through preclinical development and facilitate use by people living with progressive MS.

More info at: www.cdrd.ca/news/ms-society-of-canada-cdrd/


CDRD Spin-off Companies Selected to Present at Dose of the Valley

Two of CDRD spin-off companies, Zucara Therapeutics and Sepset Biosciences, were chosen to present at “Dose of the Valley” in San Francisco on February 9 & 10, 2016. Dose of the Valley, created by the Consulate General of Canada in San Francisco, brought together prominent investors, biopharma companies, and Canadian life science companies.

Zucara and Sepset were among only 20 companies invited to pitch their innovative technologies, receive mentorship and to network with potential collaborators and investors. Both companies received valuable advice and are currently in discussions with numerous potential investors and partners.

Read more: www.cdrd.ca/news/cdrd-at-dose-of-the-valley/


Developing a Blood Test for Concussion

CDRD and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) have teamed up to develop a fast, effective and portable test for traumatic brain injuries, commonly known as concussions. The test is based on protein biomarkers research by Dr. Changiz Taghibiglou, at the U of S College of Medicine. Early studies indicate that high levels of one of these biomarkers, cellular prion protein (PrPC), show up in the blood soon after a concussion.

More info: www.cdrd.ca/news/cdrd-blood-test-for-concussion/


CDRD Immunotherapy Initiative Bearing Fruit

Last quarter, CDRD launched a new spin-off company, Immcure Therapeutics Inc. which aims to find innovative cancer therapies through immunotherapy – a powerful therapeutic approach that uses the human body’s immune system to treat disease by inducing or suppressing an immune response. It was founded by our former Senior VP of Drug Development, Dr. Gregorio Aversa who left his role to become Immcure’s founding President.

Earlier in 2015, Western Economic Diversification provided support to CDRD to launch its Immunotherapy Initiative. This enabled the organization to collaborate with academic and private sector partners to develop new technologies, and potentially identify new targets for immunotherapy. The creation of Immcure is a direct result of this support, and is a significant step forward in advancing this very promising class of therapeutics.

For more information about CDRD’s Immunotherapy Initiative, please contact Dr. Chris Bond, Head Biologics: cbond@cdrd.ca.

View full Immcure announcement details: cdrd.ca/news/immcure/


Meet Fahimeh, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in CDRD’s Drug Development Training Program

Dr. Fahimeh Shidmoossavee is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in CDRD’s Medicinal Chemistry Division. Fahimeh obtained her PhD (2008-2013) in Bio-Organic Chemistry from Simon Fraser University (SFU) where she conducted several projects with an interdisciplinary focus on the use of complex organic synthesis, enzymology and spectroscopic techniques to study therapeutically important enzymes with a view to develop and test potential therapeutic agents.

As a CDRD Post-Doctoral Fellow, Fahimeh intends to broaden her drug development skills in a collaborative environment where biologists, biochemists, and chemists are working together to get new therapies to patients in a safer, more effective manner.

To date, we have had over 160 trainees work with us, and seen 94% of our Post-Doc alumni go on to secure full-time employment in their chosen field. You can meet more of our trainees here: alumni profiles.

For more information about CDRD’s Training Program contact Sweta Rajan, Training Program Manager: srajan@cdrd.ca.


Accolades…

To CDRD spin-off company Precision NanoSystems for winning the LifeSciences BC Growth Stage Medtech Company of the Year Award and the recent BC Export Award for Emerging Exporter. The company also completed a $13.4 million private Series A financing deal in 2015.

To our President and CEO, Karimah Es Sabar for winning an Influential Women In Business Award from Business in Vancouver.

CDRD’s Co-Scientific Director finds Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a stem cell disease

Posted on: November 16th, 2015 by jwhite

 

“For nearly 20 years, we’ve thought that the muscle weakness observed in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is primarily due to problems in their muscle fibres, but our research shows that it is also due to intrinsic defects in the function of their muscle stem cells,” said Dr. Michael Rudnicki, senior author of the study. “This completely changes our understanding of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and could eventually lead to far more effective treatments.”

Dr. Rudnicki is the Director of the Regenerative Medicine Program at The Ottawa Hospital, a professor at the University of Ottawa and co-Scientific Director at the Centre for Drug Research and Development in Vancouver. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Genetics.

The study, published in Nature Medicine on November 16, 2015, is the first to show that Duchenne muscular dystrophy directly affects muscle stem cells.

A Summer of Change and New Autumn Beginnings

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by jwhite

I would like to take this opportunity to share with our many partners and stakeholders a synopsis of some of CDRD’s highlights from the past few months, while also thanking you all for your ongoing support as we work to bolster a vibrant Canadian health sciences ecosystem.

This summer marked some significant changes in the operational structure of CDRD and our commercialization vehicle, CDRD Ventures Inc. (CVI), with the two arms of the organization being fully-integrated at both the Board and Management levels.

We really see this as a positive step forward in our evolution as it puts us in the best position possible to deliver on our mandate. The overall goal here is to continue to build the enterprise into a world-leading translational centre, and we are confident that this is the next step in getting us there.

What these changes mean for our stakeholders is that you will see one seamless operation under the banner of CDRD. So, whether you are a PI looking to advance your discovery or an early-stage biotech company needing technology development and/or commercial support, you have a single portal into our in-house expertise and infrastructure as well as our extended international network of partners throughout academia and industry.

I would like to emphasize that commercialization is CDRD’s single focus. We are in fact ramping up these efforts and many of our projects are now maturing and ready for prime time, so watch for news on some game-changing transactions coming soon.

I am very proud to be leading this integrated organization, and personally want to thank you and all our stakeholders and partners for your ongoing support of CDRD, and contributions to our collective success. The entire Board and Management team look forward to continuing to work together. Together, we will  enable a vibrant and fully optimized global health sciences ecosystem integrating and supporting innovative research, commercialization and care.

With best regards,
Karimah Es Sabar, President and CEO

Sanofi Biogenius awards

Posted on: April 27th, 2015 by jwhite

Congrats to Nathan Kuehne for winning the CDRD’s Commercialization Prize at the Sanofi Biogenius Regional Awards. Nathan’s impressive project “Phenylalanine Self-Diagnostic Test for Phenylketonuria Patients” was also awarded 2nd overall in the regional competition.

Abstract: This project developed an at-home test for patients suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is a genetic condition where patients cannot metabolize phenylalanine, leading to a buildup of this compound in their tissues, causing neurological defects. At-home monitoring can help patients monitor their phenylalanine intake, thus reducing the negative effects. A urine sample is filtered to isolate the biomarking phenylalanine, followed with the synthesis of gold nanoparticles, initiating a colour-change. A 3D-printed device was then developed to simplify the filtration process, requiring minimal user-interaction and expediting the results. A visible colour change indicates the presence of harmful levels of phenylalanine.

Persevere and turn a challenge into an opportunity

Posted on: March 25th, 2015 by jwhite

Karimah Es Sabar, CDRD’s President and CEO was the keynote speaker at the Canadian High School Model United Nations event held in Vancouver in March. She delivered an inspiring and motivational talk to 150 delegates from across Canada. For our latest posting, please see the transcript of her speech.

 

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to have been asked speak to you today. I know what an important and valuable program Model UN is, as my own son is currently participating in a similar session in New York so I have been hearing all week about the amazing activities he’s been doing – and I’m quite sure he’s very pleased to be in New York as opposed to Vancouver so he doesn’t have to hear me talk today.

I thought I would begin by just giving you a flavor of my own personal and career path, not because I’m such a fascinating person, but because I think that my journey and the lessons I have learned along the way may be reflective of some key themes explored through Model UN; and may hopefully resonate with the professional and personal journeys you are all taking as our future leaders.

Having been born in Kenya and educated through high school primarily in British boarding school, I was exposed early to a wide diversity of people from broad ethnic as well as socio-economic backgrounds. And with them, I saw both great poverty and great wealth, along with racial struggles and injustices, and I saw the opportunities that were available to those fortunate enough to be born in certain classes, and the lack thereof to those born in others.

But what I did not see were a lot of differences at the core of those people, in what drove and motivated them, in what they truly needed to be happy. And that was very simply to be seen, to be heard, to matter, to give, to connect with others, and love.

So this was really the foundation on which my journey was built….on an appreciation for diversity, but also for the underlying commonalities we all share.

Following high school, I undertook a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry/Chemistry at the University of Salford in the UK, and then completed a Masters in Neurochemistry at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London. I did so not because of any particular career ambitions, but simply because I have always had a natural curiosity for the world around me, for how it works, and thus for science. So although I didn’t know where this education was going to lead me, I knew I would never be bored as long as I continued to find avenues to nurture that curiosity, and let that be my primary driver.

And as I was finishing my Master’s Degree, I found that I needed to turn that curiosity somewhere new as I decided that I could not spend another day at the lab bench. In particular, I couldn’t spend another moment with the albino rats that I was working with – and certainly could not  spend another moment removing their retinas which is what I was tasked with doing as part of my research. So as a result, I began pursuing a career on the business side of science, joining a multi-national pharmaceutical company as I was attracted to the numerous and varied avenues that were open via this path, while it offered the chance to help develop and share innovative products that the world needed. It was an amazing place to start ones career, as I was really able to be exposed to and learn so many different roles within the company and the industry more broadly.

I found myself particularly drawn to the marketing and business development functions, and in particular, international marketing. Working in this capacity at sanofi-pasteur, the world’s largest vaccine company at the time, gave me an opportunity to expand my global perspective, as the job had me working in over 60 countries on five continents – which again gave me another window into the world’s poorest and richest people – those with everything at their disposal, and those with nothing.

This was especially provocative for me since working in healthcare, I knew that we were introducing innovative new products that would save the lives of many – while at the same time knowing that as many people would likely never be able to access those same medicines simply because of the place or the station to which they had been born. Again we shared common needs as humans, but very different opportunities to have them fulfilled.

From a business perspective however, this role offered a number of valuable lessons – firstly about learning as much as you can about the various different functions within a company, and secondly how to negotiate a deal or partnership. I learned that successful partnerships are born out of a shared desire to alleviate common or complementary challenges, and they must always bring comparable levels of value to all parties, as they are ultimately about the sharing of both the risk and the reward.

And most vitally, I learned that strong and respectful personal relationships are the single most important thing in not only life’s partnerships, but also in business’.

It is therefore important to seek out like-minded individuals and organizations when building any type of relationship. Organizational mindsets and cultures as well as individual personalities can have a significant impact on the ultimate success of any partnership. Do not underestimate the role of personal relationships.

And take the time up-front to ensure that expectations, objectives, roles, responsibilities, resources, desired outcomes are all clear. Partnerships after all, are about the marriage, not the wedding. They require continual and ongoing care, attention, and nurturing.

Unfortunately, the death of my father forced me to leave my job, and return back to Kenya in order to be with my family and to also tend to his various business interests. At that time, there were limited career opportunities for me there, so I opted to create my own. I realized that there was a lack of professional pharmaceutical marketing and distribution services, so I again put on my entrepreneur hat, and eventually, my little start-up company became a leading organization, and set new standards in the marketing and distribution of biopharmaceutical products in the region.

So, I was ultimately able to turn a challenge into an opportunity, and in doing so, learned a whole new series of lessons along the way – namely, to never let your circumstances or environment limit your opportunities, be creative in seeing the opportunities around you, be better than your competitors – position yourself as the Gold Standard, and persevere, persevere, persevere until you are successful.

But unfortunately, yet another tragedy hit my family as we were the victims of an armed burglary in our home, and were held hostage at gunpoint for several hours. Fortunately, our family all escaped unharmed, but we knew that Kenya was no longer somewhere we could call home, somewhere that we could raise our family and feel safe.

We had several options available to us in regards to where to re-locate, and could have easily returned once more to the UK, gone to the US or to my husband’s native Morocco. But instead, we looked to Canada. We did so because of the values instilled in Canadian culture – how it respected and in fact celebrated diversity, and as a nation, did its best to treat everyone the same, and ensure that the same opportunities were afforded to all. It was a meritocratic society.

Canada’s 14th Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Lester B. Pearson summed it up most eloquently when he said, “We live together in confidence and cohesion; with more faith and pride in ourselves and less self-doubt and hesitation; strong in the conviction that the destiny of Canada is to unite, not divide; sharing in cooperation, not in separation or in conflict; respecting our past and welcoming our future.”

And I was elated for Canada to welcome my future, and that of my family.

Professionally, I knew that I would have opportunities to bring my global experience and perspectives to Canadian organizations, and I ultimately took on the role of President of LifeSciences BC, the not-for-profit industry association that represents the province’s biotech industry and research organizations. This was a somewhat unexpected albeit highly rewarding turn in my career, as I had come from the business world. I didn’t know anything about running a non-profit organization – or so I thought.

But what I found was that those same fundamental principles I had learned previously, that people and relationships were the most important things, and that the key in fostering those relationships is to focus on our common drivers, once again applied, and thus formed the foundation of my work with the organization.

This job therein highlighted the importance of being open to unique opportunities when they present themselves, of stretching one’s skill-set base and knowledge of industry-wide issues, and of broadening one’s network beyond your immediate area – you never know when those relationships will prove valuable. Ultimately, those relationships led me to my current organization, The Centre for Drug Research and Development – CDRD, where I suitably was initially responsible for building its business division, managing the relationship between science and business, and for establishing the external partnerships required for CDRD’s success.

I was also drawn to the organization as I saw huge potential for it to become a new world leader in translating academic health research into new medicines. The vision of CDRD is to transform the culture of scientific innovation and commercialization impacting human health. We do so by forming a bridge between the many players required to bring a new drug to patients today – from academic researchers to industry, government and foundations. We do this because the world has changed, and as resources are becoming increasingly limited, we know the only way to achieve our vision is to collaborate rather than compete, to share resources, leverage investment, and mitigate risk.

Once again, I therefore found myself operating under a paradigm that exemplifies the fact that our world is driven first and foremost by relationships, and that the foundation of a strong relationship is a clear and unwavering focus on our collective commonalities rather than our differences.

These values are in fact entrenched not only in CDRD’s mandate, but also in its history. It had its genesis back in 2004, when a group of community-minded scientists and business people came together to try to find a way to address the commercialization gap between academia and industry – a critical issue that was hindering the development of new therapies for patients in Canada and globally.

CDRD’s founding members were a group of scientists who not only had a deep appreciation of the major role academia plays in uncovering fundamental mechanisms of disease and new therapeutic targets, but also had considerable commercial experience in developing their own academic discoveries into drugs, or founding and running biotechnology companies. Thanks in great part to the passion, commitment and leadership these people so generously gave to their common goal, it was ultimately translated into the design of a wholly new model for the translation of research, and the successful establishment of CDRD.

These people were pioneers at the time. They had no roadmap in front of them, no blueprint or model to follow as no such organization had ever been built. But they had a lot of passion and belief in what we were trying to achieve – in solving the problem at hand. And as challenging and trying as some of those times were, they always knew that what they were trying to do was right for the community, right for all involved; and the founders certainly always kept this vision at the forefront – kept firmly focused on doing what was right not for any one of them individually – or for any of their individual organizations, but what was best for research, for development, for patients, and for Canada and the world.

They in fact had the community-minded spirit to somehow agree that CDRD would not be owned by any one institution, thus allowing it to effectively serve a broad base of stakeholders; and focus on advancing the great discoveries from an array of investigators, no matter where they conduct their research.

And to build on my theme of globalization, while CDRD started out as a regional initiative here in British Columbia, we quickly extended our reach nationally and now internationally as our network of partners continues to grow around the world.

In this light, I was also proud to have led the establishment of The Global Alliance of Leading Drug Discovery and Development Centres, bringing together six of the world’s top translational research organizations, and breaking down borders to share best practices, collaborate on mutually beneficial projects, capitalize on international funding opportunities, and bring new resources and innovations to bear in trying to develop new drugs. We turned competition between our organizations into a greater purpose while still achieving our objectives individually.

And in our industry, this greater purpose is serving patients who will ultimately receive the treatments which we strive to develop. The most important person in this whole industry must of course always be the patient –somebody’s mother, father, son or daughter – those are the relationships that at the end of the business day, are always the most important to preserve.

So to offer some concluding professional thoughts and advice before I switch gears a little bit, I would tell you…

Work with and spend time with smarter people.  Know when to talk, what questions to ask, and when to just sit back and listen.

Be open to doing anything and learning everything – never be a prima donna.

Build relationships with individuals that want to see you succeed.  We live in a very competitive world but one that also has considerable opportunity if you look for it – or better yet, create it.  Have an entrepreneurial mindset, and pursue opportunities you are passionate about. Don’t wait for someone else to describe what you want. Have the vision and courage to define it yourself and go after it.

We are limited only by the limitations we place upon ourselves. If you believe you can do anything, then so will everyone else. Think big, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid of failing (OR succeeding), and you will be successful. Not to generalize, but I think that we as Canadians tend to be content with a certain level of success, of growth, of aspiration. But for whatever reason, we seem to be culturally somewhat averse to being too successful, too ambitious.

As a result, we tend not to look enough beyond our own borders, at the possibilities that exist around the globe. So go global (and return) – everything is global!

So with that, I want to turn to my work outside of the business world, outside of the world of global healthcare…

In his Acceptance Remarks for an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Evora in 2006, His Highness the Aga Khan stated “the true purpose of scholarship and the gift of reason was to help build society and guide human aspirations,” which is of course very much in line with the ethos of Model UN, no?

In this light, I was extremely fortunate to spend several years as President of MOSAIC, an organization that enables the creation of a Canada that welcomes and empowers immigrants, refugees and newcomers; through leadership and service delivery, community building and advocacy; while exemplifying the values of excellence, innovation, respect, and integrity in its relationships with clients, funders, community partners staff and volunteers.

At MOSAIC, we worked to make British Columbia and Canada even more welcoming to the world, supporting new immigrants by whatever means we could, drawing upon and never forgetting our own experiences and history as immigrants ourselves. We must all remain committed to fostering the knowledge, strength and potential that each possesses within, encouraging those treasures of culture and heritage to surface, to produce harmony, understanding, and respect across the broad spectrum of our multi-cultural society, and to enrich the diversity of our lives and society as a whole.

MOSAIC believes, as per their Mission and Vision, in “empowering” clients to be active and contributing members of our society. What the organization has been most proud of is the enhancement of services to the most vulnerable sector of our population — seniors, mothers with children, and youth. You can imagine how isolating it can be to a new immigrant senior who arrives in Canada with limited English, particularly within the smaller communities. You can imagine how challenging it can be to a young mother with children without her usual community or family support, and in a new parenting environment. You can equally imagine a young refugee from any one of the corners of the world where there is conflict, without the familial and community guidance, which most of us and our children take for granted.

Franklin Roosevelt once said: “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”  Let us all then continue to be revolutionists, and never be daunted by the challenge of forging a new way forward. And let us never forget our own experiences and history as immigrants ourselves, always ensuring that the paths we build are open to all.

We are after all connected and interdependent. We really are a single humanity sharing one small globe. You as leaders of our future must then take a collective responsibility to ask the difficult questions, find the answers and mitigate with action. Ask, for example why so many of our youth are being disenfranchised, marginalized and growing up with hatred in their hearts, rather than joy and love for their fellow human beings, and instead of the hope for an exciting future ahead of them, getting into lives of drugs, crime and even terrorism.

These are indeed deep and far reaching discussions to be had, so ladies and gentleman, I believe that when one has the honour of delivering remarks such as this, it is incumbent upon one to use those few valuable minutes well. At the very least offer provoking thought, dialogue, debate and even, God Forbid, action! So as I close, since our world is blessed with many great thinkers and thoughts leaders that could inspire us, I won’t subject you to anymore of the nonsense that pops out of my ordinary mind!

I have chosen to share with you some thoughts from a man that inspires me, The Aga Khan. I offer you a very small part of a speech from his book: “Where Hope Takes Root”.

This Speech was made at the The Governor General’s Leadership Forum in Gatineau, May 2004 – The speech is about Canada as a Global Leader. He said: “Ladies and Gentleman: There are compelling reasons, as I have tried to articulate, why Canada can and should take the lead in investing to safeguard and enhance pluralism. We inhabit an overcrowded planet with shrinking resources yet we share a common destiny. A weakness or pain in one corner has the tendency, rather rapidly to transmit itself across the globe. Instability is infectious. But so is hope. It is you…..the leaders of today and tomorrow…..to carry the torch of that hope and help to share the gift of Pluralism.”

Personally, my deepest hope is that the collective Canada will continue to take leadership in nurturing a robust pluralistic society – one which opens its arms with warmth and humanity to newcomers wherever they have come from and wherever they land. One that then enables and supports true integration and diversity. And one that is just, kind, and caring, based  on values of equality and meritocracy, and which offers the same opportunities to all who share our blessed shores around the world.

Thank you, and good evening.

CDRD proud to participate in first meeting of Global Translational Research Collaborators hosted by NIH’s National Centre for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

Posted on: January 19th, 2015 by jwhite

Addressing some of the key challenges in translational science, such as increasing the reproducibility of preclinical research and reducing the failure rate of drugs in development, requires a collaborative approach. On December 9th and 10th, NIH-NCATS hosted the first meeting of a new collaboration among leading translational science organizations including CDRD (the only Canadian organization at the meeting), the European Infrastructure for Translational Medicine and Therapeutic Innovation Australia. This “Translational Science on the Global Stage” event was a two-day meeting in Bethesda, Maryland.

The purpose of the gathering had two primary objectives: (1) become acquainted with the mission, structure and activities of each organization, and (2) explore how we could collectively address some of the most significant hurdles in bringing new medicines to more patients, more efficiently. Each organization presented snapshots of their efforts to overcome these barriers and shared best practices so that each could learn from each other’s experiences.

CDRD was represented by Dr. Gregorio Aversa, Senior Vice President, Drug Development and Dr. Michael Underhill, Co-Scientific Director and Division Chair, Target Validation. They shared how CDRD’s unique model specifically created to de-risk promising discoveries stemming from publicly-funded academic health research, is transforming research into commercially viable opportunities for the private sector. By providing specialized expertise and infrastructure, conducting critical proof-of-concept studies, CDRD is bridging the gap between academia and industry for the ultimate benefit of patients.

The collaborators recognized common experiences and challenges and will continue to work together on the fundamental principles to improve translational science on a global scale and will coordinate opportunities for collective organizational growth.

The Immunotherapy Advantage….

Posted on: October 6th, 2014 by cdrd No Comments

By: Dr. Kaley Wilson
Associate Director, Partnerships; CDRD

On Sept. 19th, CDRD and BCCA brought together leaders in the immunotherapy field to talk about how we advance this important field.

On Friday, September 19th, The Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) and Investigators from the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) brought the local academic immunotherapy community together with CDRD’s senior scientists to discuss how to bring British Columbia and Canada to the forefront of translating academic discovery in the area of immunotherapy into new therapies for patients. This Immunotherapy Symposium was a part of a larger initiative that CDRD is undertaking to enable and accelerate the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative treatments for human disease in the area of immunotherapy – a field in which Canada already has strong academic research, but little to no avenue to advance that research to new medicines for patients.

Immunotherapies are very different from the majority of traditional drugs, as they treat disease using the body’s own immune system. As such, they hold particular applicability and promise to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis and very recent clinical successes in the immunotherapy field have highlighted the potential of this approach for curative innovative therapies. The first cancer immunotherapies, antibodies targeting receptors that modulate the immune system are already showing great success in improving the lives of patients. For example, approaches such as combining ipilimumab (anti-CTLA4) and nivolumab (anti-PD1) antibodies, resulted in an objective response rate of 40% in a phase I clinical trial in patients with advanced melanoma. Among patients who received concurrent nivolumab and ipilimumab at the maximum tolerated dose of 1mg/kg, 53% had objective responses with tumour shrinkage of more than 80%. This highlights the potential of immunotherapy as a curative approach to cancer and other serious debilitating chronic diseases which are a large and growing burden on the Canadian and world healthcare systems. In a research report titled “Immunotherapy—The Beginning of the End for Cancer” issued by analysts at U.S. bank Citigroup in June of 2013, boldly predicts that the annual market for immunotherapies will exceed $35B, and become the backbone of treatment in up to 60% of cancers over the next decade.

Participants of the Immunotherapy Symposium, which included Investigators from UBC, SFU, UVic, BCCA, CFRI and the University of Cambridge, each provided a brief overview of their current research programs in the area of immunotherapy, followed by a roundtable discussion on areas for synergy / collaboration, strengths, weaknesses, competitive advantages and critical expertise and/or infrastructure lacking in the community to drive these discoveries forward and bring Canada to the forefront of translating its immunotherapy discoveries into new medicines. At the end of the discussion it was concluded that we have already established a strong foundation on which to build a competitive advantage for British Columbia and Canada in this cutting-edge area, however we now need to work collectively to secure the critical resources required to realize that advantage. Critical next steps identified included maintaining and expanding the network of immunotherapy researchers to also include local clinicians who can provide early thought and influence into discoveries as they are being made, and putting forth a concerted and coordinated effort to secure funding such that the critical infrastructure and the activities required for the development of these technologies (such as protection for intellectual property and support for pre-clinical studies and clinical trials) can be properly supported. As a part of its immunotherapy initiative, CDRD has thereby committed to working with the academic community to drive this forward and smaller, more focused discussions are in the process of taking place to address each of the issues identified.

For further information on this initiative, we welcome you to contact:

Dr. Gregorio Aversa
Senior Vice President, Drug Development
gaversa@cdrd.ca

Dr. Kaley Wilson
Associate Director, Partnerships
kwilson@cdrd.ca

Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada 2014: A Participant’s Blog

Posted on: July 10th, 2014 by admin123 No Comments

 

At CDRD, we value the importance of science education, outreach and promotion of young scientific innovation.  This year, we were proud to be national sponsors of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC).  Several of our scientists were pleased to have met with the participants and sat on the regional judging panel for the BC stage of the competition.  They were overwhelmed with the in-depth scientific knowledge that these young scientists displayed, as was our President and CEO, Karimah Es Sabar when she met the National Finalists in Ottawa in May.  Julien Sénécal, one of the top-five finalists took the time to write about his experience of SBCC 2014, and why such initiatives are so important in nurturing young scientists.  Well done to Julien and all participants in this year’s competition.  We look forward to SBCC 2015.  Enjoy!

By Julien Sénécal……

In the Fall of 2013, I was offered the opportunity to partake in the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, 2014 competition and to conduct my research at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research in the area of HIV.  Here is my story:

Initially, the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) was presented to me as a two weeks winter internship. It is only later that I discovered what was really entailed in the SBCC, and the great opportunity I had to conduct my research in a medical laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment, and work at the forefront of technology alongside expert scientists. Personally, I have a strong interest in science, and scientific research is a passion. To have the opportunity to develop a project and to realize it is in itself what motivated me to participate in the SBCC — not to mention the tremendous amount of knowledge gathered throughout the competition.

My mentor first introduced me to his Post-Doctoral Fellow who took the time to discuss the project and its development. Similarly, the laboratory team were very easy-going and welcomed me as a colleague. Firstly, I helped to establish a solid protocol to use our bacterial defense system, CRISPR/Cas9, to fight against HIV. In order to bring me up to speed, numerous lecture hours were required and it is partly what increased my knowledge of science and everything surrounding it.

It was demanding at some point to manage school and lab hours, but after all these hours, which now seem to have lasted only a few days, I was in front of the jury, proud to present my results. The judges were very comprehensive and asked many questions linked to the methods and possible amelioration. Even concerning things that I have not thought of, which gave me new perspectives on many parts of my research.

In the end, what really makes the SBCC such an amazing experience is the practical and theoretical know-how you gather throughout the whole competition. Learning about the projects of the other competitors is also a great experience. After all, everybody is there to share their love for scientific research and what makes it so great!

Something I think is important to mention in the whole process of the BioGENEius Challenge is that it would not be possible without the help of both regional and national sponsors. These sponsors allow students, such as me, the possibility to gather first-hand laboratory experience by endorsing the SBCC. It enables us to gain scientific knowledge by conducting research in a laboratory and reading scientific literature, thus increasing our passion for scientific research. As an example, it would not have been possible to have BioGENEius in Quebec without the endorsement of the Projet Seur. Sponsors such as The Centre for Drug Research and Development, who were a national sponsor this year, allow us to live a “once in a lifetime” experience and meet many other young scientists and also experienced scientists to start building our network. Thank you to all the regional and national sponsors, it means a lot to us to have your endorsement!

About Julien Sénécal:

I am an 18-year-old student. I graduated high school in 2013 where I attended a program enriched in science. I will graduate College in 2015 in the International Baccalaureate program at the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Having always been interested in science; microbiology and immunology to be precise, it is the path I will follow at University and do further graduate studies in the same field. All of which is to pursue a research career. Since my childhood, my parents, teachers, friends, etc. have all been there to help me with anything from school topics to personal interests, even learning with me at some point. This help and the keen interest maintained throughout high school lead to me graduating with the Governor General’s Academic Medal in hand.

Previously a guide at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in British Columbia, during the summer of 2012, I now work in a research laboratory on HIV. The opportunity began with the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC); an international biotechnology competition with regional and national qualifications. I ranked top 5 in Canada, which I believe is great, especially knowing I made it with only three months of research. Now pursuing a different research project at the same laboratory, I intend to participate in the SBCC next year.

Other than science, I have practiced guitar and have been a swimmer for many years. I love to help others, observed throughout all the volunteer hours done, and this has led to lifeguard certifications. Being a lifeguard allowed me to ensure a safe environment for swimmers, while also allowing me to swim at the same time. When I was two years old, my parents introduced me to the great substance we call water, and since then, they consider me a living fish when it comes to swimming.

 

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