Toronto Biotechnology Initiative Mentorship


After being a member of the Toronto Biotechnology Initiative (TBI) for several years, I recently joined the newly founded Mentorship Committee to help develop a program for TBI that bring mentors and proteges together to promote skill and knowledge development.

A short bit on TBI:

The Biotechnology Initiative represents and promotes life sciences technologies and encourages their commercial success in Ontario through Government advocacy, stakeholder engagement, mentoring and education and promotion of Ontario’s world-class science and industry.

With over 300 members, TBI supports a wide range of sectors: academic and research institutions; government; companies from the biopharmaceutical industry, agriculture biotechnology sector, agricultural/ petrol bioproducts, medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical multinationals, contract research/manufacturing, financial, legal, human resources and consultants.

To those of you that are interested, we will be starting a 6-month pilot program soon. Feel free to get in contact with me if you wish to be either a mentor or a protege for this period. After the pilot, we will open up the program to new TBI members, who may join TBI for the benefits gained from this mentorship program and from being a part of the TBI community.

I will keep everyone in the loop with regards to key dates.

OCE Discovery 2009


Ontario Centre’s of Excellence (OCE) is putting on their annual event called Discovery 09 on May 11-12, 2009.

The event is expected to draw an impressive crowd of over 2000 people and over 200 booths. The event will be divided among three major Zones: Green Tech, Health & Digital. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore a huge showcase of promising ideas across numerous research, academic and industrial sectors as well as connect with the leaders, dreamers and doers who are driving Ontario’s innovation revolution.

I recently confirmed a speaking engagement on a panel that will be held on May 12th called “Building a Digital company for 2010.” Should be fun.

If you have a startup and you’re looking to go international, this is the place to be. You’ll have the opportunity to meet with 80 Canadian trade ministers representing 26 Canadian trade countries from around the world. Rick Segal talks about the value of these Canadian trade ministers in his blog, The Post Money Value.

I hope to see you all out there!

Notes from Cleantech Panel Discussions at BioFinance


As mentioned in my prior post, there was a first at BioFinance this year – a panel on Cleantech, and a number of Cleantech presenting companies.

The discussion began with the question: Is cleantech the future of life science? (maybe for investors looking for quicker and more reliable returns on investment?! take a look where the dollars are going! The Cleantech sector is now outperforming other sectors, it is the best sector in US stock market and was up 46% last year.

Deloitte is compiling the “Green 15”, from 150 candidates who have submitted profiles this year. Interestingly, some companies seem to be waivering between life sciences and cleantech – they just can’t decide where they are or where they should be. After all, if they call themselves a life science company, investors approach cautiously … but that’s just me being cynical.

Susan McLean, a Senior Manager of Business Development at the TSX, gave an interesting overview of the sector. The TSX had 94 cleantech issues in 2007, and it is growing. In fact, there was a tripling of activity from 2005 to 2007, progressing well in 2008; there were 2.5 billion shares traded in 2007. It is looking at pure-play companies and integrated companies. Some sub-sectors of listed companies include solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, fuel cell, waste to energy, and others. Now, for the best part – companies even at the $50 million value are getting analyst coverage – something unseen for many “small” companies on US exchanges.

Another panelist was a well-recognized member of Bay Street, Steven Winokur from Canaccord Adams. A few high-level points came out of his talk. He recognized Cleantech to be the best performing sector. There are a number of biotech applications in Cleantech that he mentioned:

  • Agriculture: genetic crop technologies, organic fertilizers, water/waste remediation
  • Nanotechnology for desalinization
  • Biofuels – lignol, syntec biofuel
  • Green Building – a noted possibility

Canaccord Adams puts out a newsletter with quality research reports each month, and they are a highly recommended read by Duncan Stewart, from Deloitte.

BioFinance Conference in Toronto


I have certainly been neglecting my blogging recently! I have been busy focusing on completing my masters degree, and delivering good results at my internship with GSK. Either way, sorry to dissappoint my readers who used to come by here much more often!

This week I will be attending BioFinance, a conference known to bring together early-stage life science and medical devices companies. In fact, I will be volunteering at the partnership desk, so I will get to work with a number of the companies during my time slot there.

This year will mark the 3rd BioFinance conference that I have attended – I must say that heading out to these types of events really helps to grasp the state of the financial markets and the state of entrepreneurial ventures in the Canadian marketplace, particularly in the biotechnology/pharmaceutical sector. It is also the first time that I have ever seen a focus on Cleantech; there is a luncheon with a Cleantech panel and then a number of Cleantech company presentations on the Thursday afternoon. I will try my best to report back on some interesting leads there.

The Luncheon with the Cleantech Panel will include:
Moderator: Duncan Stewart, Deloitte and National Post
Panel: (1) Dr. Jürgen Scheffran, Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research University of Illinois; (2) John Cook, Investeco Financial Corporation; (3) Steven Winokur, Canaccord Adams; (4) Alex Kilgour, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP; and (5) Susan McLean, TSX Group Inc.

DNA Seen Through the Eyes of a Coder


With a background in computer programming and an undergraduate degree in molecular genetics, its interesting to see the comparisons at multiple levels – and it looks fairly accurate to me at quick glance. There are some other interesting things that could be covered such as methylation patterns and supercoiled DNA (from a genetics point of view), but hopefully the author will keep updating his page — check it out:
DNA seen through the eyes of a coder.

Remote Controlled Drugs


In recent news, there have been two great discoveries – similar in theory, but very different in appearance and use – for delivering drugs. Both use remote control mechanisms, the first invention describes how a remote control pill can release its contents once it reaches the area at which the drugs need to be delivered (see:Remote-control Nanoparticles Deliver Drugs Directly Into Tumors). The second discovery takes place at the nano-level – here, Remote-control Nanoparticles Deliver Drugs Directly Into Tumors; the drugs are released by an electromagnetic field once the nanoparticles get in the vicinity of the tumorigenic cells. This therapy works well for attacking primary tumor sites; however, this therapy won’t be very robust when trying to eliminate metastatic colonies, or rogue cells that may have broken off from originating tumors. I am still bullish on an approach to cancer therapy that includes the programming of one’s own immune system to identify tumorigenic cells and destroy them.

Bioengineering Gene Expression


A recent article at Sciencedaily called Bioengineers Devise ‘Dimmer Swith’ To Regulate Gene Expression In Mammal Cells discusses new technology being developed that combined a targeted DNA repressor protein, and a custom-designed RNAi strand. The repressor is thought to prevent most transcription, but in the event not all genes are repressed, the RNAi is thought to hunt out those transcripts, and destroy them.

Another chemical called Isopropyl-â-thiogalactopyranoside acts as a “dimmer” that can block the repressor protein. Thus by altering the amount of this chemical, repressor and RNAi, they can regulate a gene’s expression. Cool.

Cancer and the Immune System


Cancer is able to evade the immune system, and grow within our bodies in a number of ways. Tumours are able to accomplish this feat in hundreds, if not thousands of different ways.

Researchers at USC mentioned that you could then take these “immune signatures” generated by the immune response against a tumour — and target them with whichever drugs or therapy is best suited. This builds on personalized medicine, here’s why: lets say two tumours exist, A + B, where A is a breast tumour and B is a prostate tumour. Generally tumours A + B will have different biochemistry for reasons including: (1) different cell of origin; and (2) different prepotency for specific mutations thus causing cancers in the different cells. Traditionally, drugs have either tries to poison these cells, or hijack an intracellular process associated with a specific mutation found in one cancer. By looking at the immune response signature, you could generate immune-specific drugs that could target tumour illiciting similar immune signatures. Therefore, it could be found for one drug commonly used for tumour A to work perfectly in tumour B if the immune response signatures are in alignment.

In the article, the researchers generated signatures using real-time PCR on 14 pro-immunity genes, and 11 anti-immunity genes from 5 different mouse tumour models. This is merely a start to what seems to be the tip of the iceburg here. It will be excited to see future developments.

10 new genes linked to 7 diseases


The largest study ever conducted on genes and disease turned up 10 new genes that may predispose someone to 7 of the most highly acclaimed disease conditions. Diseases include type 1 and type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and bipolar disorder. More at: Biggest ever haul of genes linked to diseases.

Bacterial Cancer Therapeutics? Maybe.


A company called EnGeneIC in Sydney, Australia have created a targeted drug delivery platform based on “mini bacteria”, or as they call it, EnGeneIC Delivery Vehicles (EDVs). These vehicles look and behave like bacteria, including cell division — albeit, without chromosomes. I may need to dig a little deeper into the science of this one!

In any case, these EDVs have been shown to target tumorigenic tissue, being fed by blood vessels; 30% of an IV dosage reached the cancerous region within 2 hours. It has so far been proven safe in dogs with advanced non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as in pigs and monkeys.

The study also suggests that these EDVs can carry RNAi or siRNA-based products to their destination, as delivery of these nucleic acids has been proven difficult due to nuclease/enzymatic degredation before reaching its target.

Adapted from [NewScientist] from [Cancer Cell (vol 11, p431) “Bacterially Derived 400 nm Particles for Encapsulation and Cancer Cell Targeting of Chemotherapeutics”]

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