It’s been a period of fast-paced change for Profound Medical, the company behind prostate cancer treatment TULSA-PRO™. Between moving to a new facility in Mississauga and preparing for phase 2 trials, the dust hasn’t even settled yet – literally.
“We’re directly adjacent to the Mississauga transit way that’s currently being constructed,” says CEO Steve Plymale with a laugh. “So we have a little dust in the air.”
The background is punctuated with an occasional buzz or whir as the new Mississauga facility undergoes renovations. After struggling to make ends meet with 40 employees crammed into a 10,000 square foot facility in Toronto, a little temporary background noise is certainly nothing to complain about.
“We came to Mississauga and found the exact facility that we needed,” says Plymale of the 38,000 sq foot building. “It’s absolutely a sweet spot of where we need in terms of accessibility, amenities and cost.”
Since its conception in 2008, Profound Medical has had to become accustomed to change. Born from technology developed at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto and seed capital from Genesis Capital, Profound began with a workforce of only six people.
“At that time, Sunnybrook Research was doing contract research and the company was in its very early stages of prototyping the technology [TULSA-PRO™],” says Plymale.
Designed to treat those diagnosed with prostate cancer, TULSA-PRO™ uses Magnetic Resonance (MR) and ultrasound energy to ablate cancerous and noncancerous tissue in a single session.
“Fast forwarding to 2009, I joined Profound as a board member on the Board of Directors,” says Plymale. “It was on a very steep hill of regulatory pathway and was going to require a very long, challenging, expensive regulatory pathway for approval.”
By this time, the Board of Directors had decided to hire a new CEO to guide the process – something easier said than done.
“In the States, we could not find someone who would come to Canada, and in Canada we couldn’t find anyone with relevant experience,” Plymale recalls. “After every interview, the board would look at me and say, ‘You should have a look at this. You’ve done this before.’”
Yet, Plymale explains, the idea of switching jobs wasn’t yet on the table. At the time, he was running the Canadian division of Xltek, a company specializing in neurodiagnostic equipment.
“I was very happy with my job,” he says. “I was growing a company from 25 million to 70 million and doing acquisitions, and other fun things.”
But then, he says, he went to Sunnybrook and saw TULSA-PRO™ in action.
“With millimeter precision they did exactly what they said they were going to do,” he recalls. “So I drank the Kool-Aid and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
What followed was a whirlwind of clinical trials and development. The results of the phase one study showed an 8 per cent erectile dysfunction rate, zero issues on urinary incontinence and zero issues on bowel problems.
Encouraged by the results, Plymale has overseen new partnerships that will continue to shape the way prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated. In 2015, Profound partnered with Philips and then with Siemans in 2016.
“The MR manufacturers are very enthusiastic about shifting away from surgery, which can take as long as 5 hours and can cost as high as 35 000 dollars and can be very complicated with lots of side effects,” Plymale explains. “They believe that this will be a new way of using an MR scanner, which up until now has been used primarily as a diagnostic tool to see images.”
The new imaging technology is allowing Profound to image the process and track the procedure in real time.
“It’s a groundbreaking technique and one that is reliant on the use of an MR scanner,” he says. “Having those strategic partnerships will accelerate our growth because they are upgrading scanners and selling new scanners. We have very strong partnerships – they’re our biggest fans, and we’re very grateful to have their support.”
Although the current technology can be applied to other organs such as the breast, liver and brain, Profound Medical is keeping its focus on prostate cancer.
“We’ve had formal declarations of interest from other companies, but we’re staying focused,” Plymale says. “Prostate is a huge market for us, a very palpable market, and we expect the company will benefit from a lot of growth by pursuing oncology as our first order of business.”
As for what’s next, Plymale says the company will continue forward with its growth.
“We’ve gone from six people to over 50 people, and we’re trying to keep that track of growth for the next 16 to 24 months, where we expect to double the population,” he predicts.
“When we started in 2011, we brought out device down to Boston to be manufactured, and we were at par with the US dollar. We’re now at a 30 per cent premium and we have a huge space here that we can accommodate repatriation of our manufacturing from the States.”
While Profound will continue to use the US as a second source for manufacturing out of prudence, Plymale believes it’s time to bring the work back to Canada.
“Our growth plan includes taking advantage of funding from different levels of government to repatriate manufacturing jobs back into Canada, and that’s our strategy for 2016,” he says.
The plan is expected to bring 50 new jobs to Mississauga.
“This is a great place to do business,” Plymale emphasizes. “It’s very cost effective, we’ve got a comfortable regulatory compliance environment, we have the talent, and we think that this will be a great place to bring back the manufacturing capacity of our company.”