Lab Canada

Major private-academic partnership in biotech venture

Toronto, ON – A new biotech company, Northern Biologics, has been officially unveiled by biotechnology incubator Blueline Bioscience in partnership with the University of Toronto (U of T) and University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (UHN). The company will focus on the development of antibody-based therapies.

To be based in the MaRS Discovery District, Northern Biologics is the first spin-out company from Blueline Biosciences, which is in turn backed by Versant Ventures.

In a statement, the UHN says the launch is one of the biggest biotech deals in Canada. It adds that Northern Biologics has licensed research from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre senior scientists Drs. Benjamin Neel, Bradly Wouters and Robert Rottapel and University of Toronto researchers Drs. Sachdev Sidhu and Jason Moffat to pursue drug leads and a novel antibody generation platform focused on advancing antibody-based treatments for cancer and fibrosis.

Stefan Larson, entrepreneur-in-residence with Versant Ventures, will serve as the company’s CEO, and Jeanne Magram, former site head for Pfizer’s Center for Therapeutic Innovations in New York, has joined Northern Biologics as chief scientific officer.

“Northern Biologics is a great example of the kind of exciting and innovative early-stage company we can build when world-class science comes together with entrepreneurial and seasoned venture capital investors,” said Larson, who notes that close collaboration between venture capital and academic institutions is still rare in Canada. “We are now in a position to rapidly advance several potential new antibody therapies toward the clinic.”

Antibodies are the fastest growing area of therapeutics and represent many of the biggest blockbuster drugs on the market today.

“Antibodies and other medical products from biological sources play an expanding, revolutionary role as alternatives to small molecule drugs by treating disease in a more targeted way and reducing side effects,” said Peter Lewis, interim vice president of research and innovation at U of T. “Northern Biologics is a prime example of the way in which cross-collaboration works to advance and ultimately commercialize the innovative science that is happening in Canadian laboratories.”

The two most significant priorities for Northern Biologics over the next one to two years will be recruitment of its scientific team and rapid advancement of its first drug candidates in preparation for human clinical trials. The company is already in active recruitment and expects to have a team of at least 20 people in place by the end of 2015.

“The more people we can have working on targeted therapies, the more quickly we will be able to have a significant impact on patient outcomes,” noted Christopher Paige, vice president of research at UHN. “Patients expect us to be working in partnership, and Northern Biologics is a prime example of collaborative success.”