Established scientific institutions like UBC and the British Columbia Cancer Agency attract life science companies to British Columbia. Others come to conduct clinical trials on the region's diverse ethnic population. "Clinical trials cost 35% less to run than in the U.S.," says Es Sabar.
The provincial government strongly promotes biotechnology and offers tax incentives, while partnering forums, such as BioPartnering North America, create access to capital. Several Discovery Parks provide incubator space and room for companies to expand. The quality of life and low cost of housing relative to California draws others to British Columbia. "We're now seen as a serious cluster for biotechnology," says Es Sabar.
Founded in 1993 as a spinoff of the University of British Columbia, Migenix (www. migenix.com) in Vancouver develops therapies for infectious and degenerative diseases. In collaboration with Cadence Pharmaceuticals (San Diego), Migenix started a Phase III trial in the U.S. of its lead compound CPI-226 to prevent catheter-related infections.
"Bacteria and fungi on the skin migrate to the catheter insertion site, colonize the plastic sheath, creep down the catheter, and can break off and cause bloodstream infections," says Jonathan Burke, director of industrial relations at Migenix. CPI-226 is a cationic antimicrobial peptide with broad-spectrum activity against bacteria and fungi.
A previous Phase III trial of 1,250 catherized patients showed that CPI-226 reduces bacteria and fungi on the skin and prevents the colonization of catheters. Another candidate, MX-3253, is being tested as a monotherapy for hepatitis C in Phase II studies, and later MX-3253 will be combined with ribavirin and peg-interferon, the standard therapy for hepatitis C. "We have a diversified pipeline of infectious disease agents," says Burke.
Protiva Bio (www.protivabio. com) in Burnaby created the SNALP technology (stable nucleic acid lipid particles) to deliver siRNA and other nucleic acid molecules. SNALPs consist of a lipid bilayer of cationic and fusogenic lipids to enable cellular uptake and endosomal release of siRNA. A coating of polyethylene glycol shields and stabilizes the particles.
"We're unique in Canada because no one else is in the siRNA space," says Ian MacLachlan, Ph.D., CSO. The company's goal is to develop siRNA therapeutics for cancer, infectious diseases, and metabolic conditions, which will "knock down the expression of endogenous or viral transcipts," says Dr. MacLachlan.
Vancouver's Forbes Medi-Tech (www.forbesmedi.com) recently started a Phase II clinical trial in the U.S. of its cholesterol-lowering drug FMVP4. The new drug is derived from a natural plant sterol and inhibits the absorption of cholesterol. Only one other marketed drug, Zetia (Merck), falls into this class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, also known as transport inhibitors.
"It's a tremendous marketing opportunity," says Darren Seed, manager of industrial relations, since Zetia earned $1 billion during its first year of sales. Forbes Medi-Tech also manufactures an over-the-counter product called Reducol, which makers of dietary supplements use as an ingredient to lower cholesterol.
Cardiome Pharma (www.cardiome.com) in Vancouver developed a novel first-in-class drug, RSD1235, for the treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of heart arrhythmia. When RSD1235 was given intravenously to 237 patients with acute AF, 52% regained normal heart rhythms, compared to 4% given a placebo, according to the results of a Phase III trial.
An oral form is being tested to prevent AF in susceptible patients. RSD1235 specifically blocks select potassium channels in the upper heart or atrium and does not affect potassium channels or conductivity in the ventricles. This specific action reduces side effects and, according to the company, makes it safer than current therapies, which disturb rhythms throughout the heart.
Researchers at Cardiome "built the drug from scratch using rational drug design to make it better and safer," says Alan Ezrin, Ph.D., CSO.
Founded in 1999, Perceptronix Medical (www.perceptronix.com) is a spin-off of the British Columbia Cancer Agency. The company's scientists discover new tools to detect and diagnose cancer. The lead product, the ClearSign Test, is a non-invasive test for lung cancer that screens sputum. Like the PAP test for cervical cancer, the ClearSign Test "is not definitive, but suggests further investigation," says David Garner, Ph.D., president and CEO of Perceptronix.
The test detects early shifts in DNA within populations of cells related to lung cancer. Prospective clinical trials show that it detects the major types of lung cancer. The company plans to market the ClearSign Test in Canada and Europe early in 2006.
Perceptronix also is developing automated, quantitative systems for pathology (ClearPath) and cytology (ClearCyte) procedures, in which cell morphology and tissue architecture are measured and compared to a database of reference images.