Behind every triumphant headline announcing a new breakthrough medicine, there’s an often untold story of years or even decades of basic research in the lab, and mad scrambles for funding to perform animal model studies and early stage human clinical trials that attract industry investment to move into larger trials. Layer onto that burden the need to navigate a complex regulatory environment, and the mountain to success becomes an even steeper climb.
Validating and commercializing new stem cell-based products and other high-tech breakthroughs is so complex and costly, in fact, that many big ideas are said to die in the “valley of death” between early and late-stage research. Thankfully, one of Canada’s hidden gems of cell-based technology commercialization offers a bright ray of hope for researchers and start-up companies on a quest to develop novel therapies for serious diseases.
C3i Center Inc. is a unique Canadian organization that accelerates the development of cancer immunotherapies and cellular therapies by providing a one-stop-shop for commercialization across the continuum of product development. Originally funded by the Canadian government in 2015 as a Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research (then called the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer Immunotherapy), C3i merges research expertise with business savvy and word-class technology to move potential products through the valley of death to where they can attract enough private-sector investment to succeed. C3i’s primary operations are in Montréal, with a satellite office shared with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) in the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto (click here to read more about our partnership with OIRM).
“Commercializing a cell therapy is very different from the way small-molecule pharmaceuticals are brought to the market,” says C3i’s Vice-President, Business Development and Operations Louisa Petropoulos. “There’s a lot of infrastructure and knowledge needed to move these products forward, and we’ve already learned what it takes to do it efficiently. Our aim is to maximize the chances that a company has for success, and we can do that in several ways.”
C3i’s turn-key approach involves five separate business units designed to provide young companies with support with molecular and cytometry diagnostics, cell production in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices, research, clinical trial design and execution, and financing and product development. Smaller companies with limited financing can often exchange equity for C3i support ahead of successful proof-of-concept trials or until full financing is secured, whichever comes first.
C3i’s model has propelled two Canadian biotech startups into the headlines over the past few years – ExCellThera, a Montreal-based company focused on developing cell and immune cell treatments for blood cancers, and Hamilton, Ontario-based Triumvira Immunologics, Inc., which develops novel T cell cancer therapies. Several more companies are currently working with the Center.
“With C3i’s support, these companies have managed to stay in Canada, and it’s incredibly important for us to build expertise and strength in the Canadian landscape so we benefit from the health and economic advantages these therapies will provide,” Petropoulos explains. “The COVID vaccine situation has taught us all too well the value of being able develop and keep our innovations so we have access to the next generation of therapeutics.”