National Post (Latest Edition)

Canadian advances in health care 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-ofconcept 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 knowledgeb­ased 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, it 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-ofconcept 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.”


 ?? CHRISTINNE MUSCHI / POSTMEDIA ?? Caroline Fortier presides over five companies all in pursuit of significan­t pharmaceut­ical research breakthrou­ghs .
CHRISTINNE MUSCHI / POSTMEDIA Caroline Fortier presides over five companies all in pursuit of significan­t pharmaceut­ical research breakthrou­ghs .
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