Dr. Michael May
President & CEO, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine
Cell and gene therapies are the future of medicine, and Canada has an opportunity to be a global player in this space, but only with strategic public-private partnerships and continued investment.
By harnessing the power of stem cells, biomaterials, and molecules, we can treat, manage, and potentially cure some of the most devastating diseases. Regenerative medicine, including cell and gene therapies, is the hottest sector in the life sciences, with record investment globally. With no winners currently in the race to be the centre of global cell and gene therapy manufacturing, this is Canada’s opportunity.
“We need to be quick and strategic about exploiting this gap,” says Michael May, President and CEO of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), a centre of excellence dedicated to commercializing regenerative medicine-based technologies and cell and gene therapies. “Most health care products in Canada are imported, but we have a chance to innovate and create therapies here that will enhance patient outcomes and create economic development.”
This Canadian advantage that May talks about leverages our legacy of scientific excellence — stem cells were discovered in Toronto in the 1960s — and a growing industry of cell and gene therapy companies. There is an assumption, according to May, that if you build the right ecosystem — company creation, technology development, and a trained and skilled workforce — everything will fall into place.
Strategic partnership key to success
The foundation of this ecosystem is already in place through partnerships with post-secondary institutions, the building of an industry consortium to leverage the ideas coming from academia, and driving tech development and products that people can invest in. CCRM is now working on the third stage, which is focused on bringing together venture capital that will support promising startups and to scale up manufacturing capacity.
Achieving success requires thoughtful collaboration. In 2016, CCRM created a partnership with GE Healthcare, now Cytiva, and the Government of Canada to establish a facility in Toronto, where bright minds and state-of-the-art equipment come together. The Centre for Advanced Therapeutic Cell Technologies is helping to move cell and gene therapy closer to the promise of large-scale and cost-effective treatment for patients by focusing on advanced manufacturing technologies and processes.
May stresses that partnerships are not one-offs but need to be strategically linked. Examples include CCRM partnering with the University Health Network in Toronto to build a Good Manufacturing Practices facility to manufacture cells and viral vectors for phase one and two clinical trials. CCRM is a co-founder of the Innovation Economy Council, led by the MaRS Discovery District, which offers evidence-based analysis and insights to inform the public conversation on the future of Canada’s innovation economy post-COVID-19.
New biomanufacturing campus to support domestic innovation and manufacturing
Relying on our history of scientific excellence isn’t enough; what’s holding us back is our lack of capacity to manufacture cell and gene therapies for phase-three clinical trials and the scale needed for commercialization. This is the reason why CCRM is bringing together industry, academic, and investment partners to create a biomanufacturing campus in southern Ontario for commercial manufacturing of cell therapies.
“We can achieve significant efficiencies by integrating the training, manufacturing, logistics, and supply chain, along with space for innovation incubators,” says May. “By working together, we can build more critical mass to support venture capital, which in turn will lead to made-in-Canada products that can be manufactured and used domestically, but also exported globally. This will provide the ecosystem and resources to scale and keep companies in Canada.”
The impact for Canadians if we don’t act now, according to May, is that we’ll be last in line for novel therapies, and young entrepreneurs (that Canada has trained) and innovation will go elsewhere.