Signals Blog

L-R Michael May, CCRM; Ian Rogers, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute; Sam Wadsworth, Aspect Biosystems; and, Amyn Sayani, GSK

A key driver for advancements in regenerative medicine is partnerships. In recognition of this, every year CCRM hosts a networking reception that brings together our partners for an evening of discussion and knowledge sharing. This year’s industry networking reception was focused on the theme of increasing partnerships between industry and academia. I had the privilege of organizing this event for the first time, and I learned so much that I wanted to share it with Signals’ readers.

To get everyone thinking and talking about our theme, the evening began with a panel discussion moderated by CCRM’s President and CEO, Michael May. Our panelists included Ian Rogers, a research scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto; Sam Wadsworth, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Aspect Biosystems; and, Amyn Sayani, Director of R&D Alliances at GlaxoSmithKline Canada.

Here are few key take-aways from our panel discussion:

Amyn Sayani — Big Pharma Is Testing Novel Pathways to Reimbursement: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is using novel cell and gene therapies to test the market, and look at the benefits of novel models of reimbursement. To illustrate this, Dr. Sayani used the example of GSK’s latest product for the treatment of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) – a genetic disorder that effectively leaves patients with no immune system. GSK’s experimental therapy comes with the rather large price tag of $600,000 per treatment. In Europe, GSK has negotiated a pay-for-performance risk sharing agreement that will see the company pay for a patient’s treatment should it not work as expected. Big pharma is looking for a way to make very expensive cell and gene therapies attractive to payers. To achieve this, they have to experiment, just like a scientist does in the lab.

Ian Rogers — The Story of Canada’s First Cord Blood Bank: Umbilical cord blood contains stem cells that can be stored and used by patients in the future. The first cord blood bank in Canada was established by Dr. Robert Casper at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1996. His vision was to provide cord blood banking as a service to his patients. Dr. Rogers—one of Dr. Casper’s colleagues at Mount Sinai—was involved from the beginning as a co-founder, along with Dr. Peter Zandstra at the University of Toronto. The bank was successful and began to outgrow its original home. Dr. Rogers and his colleagues recognized that they had a good business opportunity, and that they would need more money to continue expanding. After three years of talking to venture capitalists, the partnership with Insception Lifebank was formed in 2004. Venture capital for biotech related business is not easy to find in Canada. Dr. Rogers explained that the only reason that venture capital firms were willing to look at this investment was because “we were already making money.” This very simple lesson is an important take home for anyone looking to raise funds for a new company.

Sam Wadsworth — Find Your Champion: the story of Aspect is one of a traditional academic spin out. Dr. Wadsworth was working on an academic tissue engineering project that led to a collaboration with a group of engineers at the University of British Columbia on a novel bioprinting technology. Dr. Wadsworth and his collaborators realized they had a commercializable technology and started the process of building a company. Over the last three years, Dr. Wadsworth has been through the challenges of fundraising as a first time entrepreneur and has learned some valuable lessons. One of those lessons is that successful partnership depends on timing and champions. He explains that “we have been talking to some of our potential partners for years. It takes that long for the wheels to move sometimes. A lot of my time is spent talking to these companies and finding the right champion who will support us.”

The audience was treated to an interesting and entertaining discussion that highlighted each of the panelist’s unique experience getting partnerships in place. In organizing this panel, my goal was to have a broad spectrum of perspectives from academia, the start-up space and big pharma. As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that while the panelists had very different backgrounds and stories, they all have the same objective: to find strategies and build partnerships that will help to develop the next generation of regenerative medicine technologies.

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Nicole Forgione

Nicole Forgione

Nicole Forgione manages key relationships with industry and proposals for government funding at CCRM. A strong grounding in academic research helps her to understand the science behind new technologies in cell and gene therapy that CCRM is working to commercialize. Dr. Forgione obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Toronto (U of T) in the Department of Zoology and continued graduate studies at U of T in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology, where she completed a PhD in developmental neurobiology under the supervision of Dr. Vince Tropepe. Dr. Forgione went on to pursue studies in translational science with Dr. Michael Fehlings at the Krembil Research Institute in Toronto. Her post-doctoral work focused on animal models of spinal cord injury and cell based therapy for spinal cord regeneration. Nicole’s interest in science communication started early, with an undergraduate double major in English and Biology from Wilfrid Laurier University. Now she focuses her writing on anything and everything related to regenerative medicine technology. Follow Nicole on Twitter @DrNForgione.