Harnessing the economic potential of stem cells Ontario institute fosters the province’s regenerative medicine sector

by • June 3, 2019 • Feature, Feature-Home, Health, OpinionsComments Off on Harnessing the economic potential of stem cells Ontario institute fosters the province’s regenerative medicine sector126

As the regenerative medicine sector in Ontario continues to flourish, there is increased interest from investors and industry in the work being done by Ontario’s robust research community.  

The Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) has been a key driver in catalyzing and strengthening these relationships to accelerate the translational pathway for advancing cell therapies into the clinic, and making technologies more attractive to investors. “This field promises to provide novel and innovative treatments for patients living with many devastating diseases by not just treating the symptoms, but the disease itself,” explains OIRM’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Sandra Donaldson. “In addition, regenerative therapies present a tremendous opportunity for economic growth through company creation and manufacturing facilities to support scale-up and scale-out of these therapies into the local and global marketplace.”  

Founded in 2014 with support from the Government of Ontario, OIRM has developed a successful partnering model in which the Institute plays a pivotal role in bringing the right partners together to support and advance promising technologies. This includes identifying other funding opportunities and collaborating with industry and academic institutions, both locally and internationally, to ensure long-term sustainability of projects and reduce the investment risk for each partner. These activities ensure investigators can access the knowledge and resources required to advance their technology but also prepare potential therapies for global adoption and increased visibility for commercial investment. These partnerships have allowed OIRM to generate over $140 million in matched and leveraged funding since 2015.  

OIRM has invested just over $11 million in 48 research projects since 2015, including 11 clinically driven research teams (OIRM Disease Teams) focused on developing novel therapies in areas such as muscular dystrophy, heart disease and vision loss. These projects have led to the development of four new companies, including one of the largest series A investments ($225 million) in a biotech within Canada with the creation of BlueRock Therapeutics in 2016.  

Funding from the Institute has also resulted in new therapies moving into clinical trials in patients. In 2015, OIRM supported its first clinical trial investigating the safety of immunomodulatory cell therapy using stem cells in patients with septic shock. This Phase I study successfully concluded in 2017 and demonstrated the therapy was safe and well tolerated. With OIRM’s continued support this study will advance into a Phase II multi-centre study later this year.  

OIRM’s Disease Team funding program has also supported two projects which are expected to enter clinical testing in 2019-2020. These studies involve the repurposing of an off-patent drug, metformin, to stimulate neural repair in children and adolescents with multiple sclerosis, and a study using stem cells derived from discarded burn tissue to bioengineer skin and promote wound healing following massive burn injury.  

“Ontario boasts a robust and thriving stem cell and regenerative medicine ecosystem and is globally recognized as a powerhouse of fundamental research and discovery in this field,” says Donaldson. “The OIRM community is now over 260 members strong and represents a multidisciplinary network of researchers who are driving discovery and making Ontario a globally-recognized leader in this space.” 

Learn more about OIRM and its work at OIRM.ca

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