“A dream team of industry experts were hand-selected from the Canadian Mentoring Service (CMS) based on our company’s need to build product strategy based on input from prospective pharmaceutical partners and investors.”Katharine Sepp, Co-founder and CEO of Oxalys Pharmaceuticals
Boston is a super-hub of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. There is arguably no other place with the same concentration of talent, research infrastructure, funders, and companies working to develop the medicines of tomorrow. In this thriving ecosystem, all the major multi-national pharmas are there, alongside hundreds of other smaller companies and emerging startups. Our Toronto-based company, Oxalys Pharmaceuticals, tapped into this super-hub through the CTA@Boston.
Oxalys is developing drugs for neurodegenerative disease. We are a startup that spun out of MIT in 2011. Our first product will treat Huntington’s disease (HD), a genetic neurodegenerative disorder with complex symptoms involving psychiatric changes, cognitive decline, and loss of motor ability. Our drug is anticipated to be life changing for patients, but there is a long and challenging path from its first discovery in the lab to its clinical use. To create a winning strategy to efficiently develop our HD drug, we needed to consult with experts specializing in the same domains. Boston is an ideal place to find such talent, and the CTA@Boston facilitated this during our recent four-month residency.
While at the CTA@Boston, our Trade Commissioner set us up with and introduced us to a mini advisory board, formed by industry experts who are members of the Canadian Entrepreneurs of New England (CENE). Our CENE mentors were chosen to reflect our company’s need to build product development strategy based on input from prospective pharma partners and investors. This turned out to be an advisory ‘dream team’, composed of a venture capitalist, a Senior VP of Research at a large pharma, and a Founding Director of a company specializing in translational medicine for rare diseases. Even better, each of the team members had experience with companies focusing on HD, either on the investment or research end. There was absolutely no way we could have obtained this kind of direct expertise back in Toronto.
Our handpicked mentor team, brought together by the Canadian Mentoring Service, which was created by the Consulate General and the CENE and is managed by the Trade Commissioner Service, helped us to build a winning product development strategy that de-risks the program from the perspective of potential pharma partners, regulatory bodies, and investors. This will bring our product development to its next major milestone, at which point it will be seen as attractive to strategic partners for co-development. The mentors also instructed us on how to pitch our program to gain the funding required to meet the milestone. They have in essence, helped to fully prepare us to succeed in the ‘valley of death’ that spans early academic drug discovery and industrial translational medicine.
Being immersed in the Boston hub was ideal for making key network connections. Most of our active networking was through organized events, typically sponsored by large pharma companies, contract research organizations, law firms, investment groups, and by the CTA@Boston team. Bostonians are especially impressive networkers and the local pharma/biotech community is vibrant, supportive, and ambitious. They have incredible passion for innovation and a strong ‘can-do’ spirit which is refreshing. We found many people and companies that we would like to contract with as our drug development progresses through its various stages. They specialize in many domains, including drug manufacture, FDA regulations, drug safety testing, clinical trial management, all the way up to product branding and sales.
Beyond finding talent and refining strategic plans, we needed to find the funding required for advancing our drug development to its next key milestone. Finding the right people and organizations are critical. Fortunately, the Boston hub has numerous potential sources of funding for neurodegeneration pharma – a domain that is deemed too risky by virtually all Canadian investors. We are especially thankful to the highly professional and energetic CTA@Boston team for facilitating introductions to truly prospective funders. We are now pursuing three strong lead for funding our next milestone, which is a pretty big luxury in today’s harsh biotech funding landscape. Each of these leads has been in some way, propelled by our interaction with the Boston trade commissioners and the CTA@Boston.
It has been said that it takes the equivalent of a small town to develop a new medicine, because there are so many domains of expertise required. Our future success hinges on our ability to build top-notch development strategy, find the best partners and collaborators, and raise the necessary capital. The CTA@Boston boosted our company in all these domains, and we are so thankful for the opportunity and the support. We were so fortunate to take advantage of this program early, and hope it continues to stimulate the success of many more Canadian biotech companies in developing the therapies of the future.