Investing in Canada’s Life Sciences: An Innovative Model

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Caroline FortierToday’s guest post comes from Caroline Fortier, CEO of five project-focused companies (PFCs) financed by the TVM Life Science Ventures VII fund. PFCs work to develop a single early-stage pharmaceutical molecule to proof-of-concept.

The life sciences have always fascinated me. For a long time, I thought I’d be a pediatrician, but it didn’t happen that way. Instead of medicine, I went into microbiology, and I have worked in the biopharmaceutical industry for over 20 years. I started my career in sales and product management at Burroughs Welcome, and since then have held several senior positions in pharmaceutical companies, as well as biotechnology companies both small and large.

In December 2013, I embarked on a new journey as CEO of a PFC, GLWL Research, Inc. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of being the CEO of several other PFCs: PRCL Research, Inc., AurKa Pharma Inc., Esperas Pharma Inc. and Kaneq Bioscience Ltd. I am proud to say that we have cultivated a truly special environment at these companies, investing as much as possible in the Canadian life sciences sector (with a focus in Montreal), whether through contracting with CROs (contract research organizations) or working with clinical sites.

PFCs are the creation of the TVM Life Science Ventures VII fund, a venture capital fund with a mission to create value through focused and effective research and development of new medical discoveries. This Fund is a collaborative effort between TVM Capital Life Science, Canadian institutional investors, other international investors, and Lilly. The Fund has founded and provided the necessary capital investment to nine (9) PFCs, in addition to making investments in later-stage companies. Through these numerous investments, TVM Life Science Ventures VII is funding and spurring innovation.

PFCs are all single-molecule (asset) companies. These assets are in-licensed from Lilly or other biopharmaceutical companies. When a PFC is created, the development plan and budget are established and the funding is provided to advance the molecule to proof-of-concept. This means we conduct the early-phase research that helps move scientific discoveries from labs into clinical trials. This is one of the first steps in pioneering innovative new medicines for Canadians. In the past, pharmaceutical companies conducted most of this research internally. By partnering with fast, lean, external companies like PFCs, pharma companies are able to advance a molecule to proof-of-concept faster, and drive innovation in the process.

While our external teams are small, we are configured to innovate. Our structure only works because we can rely on our strong relationships with the Chorus team (which is Lilly’s arm’s-length early-phase development accelerator). They are our partners; we are on the same team and as such they share their insights and experiences and contribute to the success of PFCs. It’s a collaborative and empowering relationship, and one that I am proud to foster and be a part of.

I have seen a lot of change in the life sciences economy over the last five years. Biotech and pharma companies used to operate separately. Fast forward to today, and Montreal has a life sciences hub where we’re seeing a lot of community and strength. Symbiotic relationships between biotech and pharma are leading to non-traditional forms of investment, innovation, and research and development.

Investment and relationships like this promote local startups and emerging biotech firms, which in turn has led to new, local preclinical and clinical research organizations. The tight-knit relationships we enjoy with these local partners play a key role in our success.

The Canadian and provincial governments have made significant investments in health infrastructure, including several superhospitals across the country. These newer, world-class facilities are amazing resources, and empower us to work with several Canadian centers in our Phase 1 research. This is also an important benefit for patients in Canada who can get access to early stage novel medicines for diseases like cancer, Prader-Willi syndrome, psoriasis, etc.

We are able to collaborate with knowledgeable physicians, skilled study-nurse coordinators, and world-class hospitals to advance potential treatments for patients – right here in Canada. In doing so, we create value for Canadians. The governments have made substantial investments in the health sector. Now it’s up to us to continue to make full use of these resources and provide access to early clinical trials and innovative medicines to Canadians.

Over the past 20 years, it’s been truly exciting to watch Montreal’s life science economy evolve. Thanks to this strong environment, Canada is currently a leading country for clinical research and trials. I believe that the life science industry has an incredible opportunity to leverage our health and life sciences infrastructure, world-renowned researchers, and thriving contract research organizations, biotech and pharma communities in the years to come.

I look forward to this vital work, and how PFCs can contribute to Montreal’s bright future. By continuing to collaborate, we can advance the future of life sciences research in Canada.