CHICAGO – It was certainly an interesting week for Canada's biotechnology industry, with two big pharmas using the BIO 2013 International Convention to make announcements about their investments in the nation's research and development.
Merck Canada Inc., of Kirkland, Quebec, revealed that it will be providing C$4 million (US$3.9 million) through two collaborative partnerships.
Thomas Cannell, president and managing director of Merck Canada, said the first is an investment in a public-private partnership in the Quebec-Ontario corridor involving the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer – Commercialization of Research (IRICoR) and MaRS Innovation of Toronto. The second project, which will receive C$2 million will support a Quebec-British Columbia partnership between IRICoR and the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), of Vancouver, whose mandate is to de-risk discoveries stemming from publicly funded health research in the province.
The CDRD is one of the founding members of the Global Alliance of Leading Drug Discovery and Development – a new collaboration among six of the world's largest translational research centers designed to strengthen discovery efforts at academic and not-for-profit drug development institutes, ultimately improving the rate at which early stage technologies are advanced into commercial therapeutics. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 4, 2013.)
"The funding [for these partnerships] is designed to help take basic research and development in Canada all the way through to potential commercialization," Cannell added.
In 2010, Merck committed to inject C$100 million over five years into biopharmaceutical R&D in Quebec.
The company's contributions to date total about $65 million. That amount includes a C$12.5 million investment to fund basic and translational research at the McGill University Health Centre Research Institute, the CHUM Research Centre and the Montreal Heart Institute Research Centre (MHI), and their mission of promoting the development of scientific advancements that will improve health care. In addition, a C$35 million investment was provided to launch the Merck Lumira Biosciences Fund in collaboration with Lumira Capital, Teralys Capital and other partners, to provide investment capital for early stage life science innovation in Quebec. (See BioWorld Insight, June 11, 2012.)
"The corridor initiatives are part of our new approach to R&D, which is about building collaborative research relationships. Private-public partnerships, in particular, will provide a fertile environment for innovation to grow and to quickly reach the commercialization stage," Cannell concluded.
IRICoR was created just over four years ago to accelerate the process of drug discovery at the University of Montreal, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer and at other university research units in the province of Quebec.
In early April, IRICoR coordinated an agreement between Pharmascience Inc. and the University of Montreal that could result in a new use for an old drug – ribavirin – as a treatment for patients with certain types of acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer which today has very few treatment options and only a 10 percent five-year survival rate.
In addition to its partnership announcement with IRICoR last week, MaRS Innovation, a center of excellence for commercialization and research, reported the formation of a strategic partnership with Pfizer Inc. Under that arrangement, they will jointly identify investment opportunities emerging from well-validated scientific research discoveries within MaRS Innovation's 16-member institutions.
"There's growing consensus that transferring technologies from the lab bench into the market requires public-private partnerships," noted Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO of MaRS Innovation.
Pfizer will provide funding over a three-year period to support promising individual projects based on due diligence, which will be leveraged with financial support from MaRS Innovation.
Also at BIO 2013, Pfizer said it was investing C$500,000 into the Alberta-Pfizer Translational Research Collaboration. With an additional investment of $250,000 from the Alberta government, the collaboration fund now totals $3.25 million.