June 18, 2019

From idea to impact: An expanding solution to a common surgical problem

Zaid Atto, Founder and CEO at Xpan Inc.
Zaid Atto, Founder and CEO at Xpan Inc.

Toronto-based entrepreneur Zaid Atto receives FACIT’s Ernsting Entrepreneurship Award to further develop his new device for safer and less invasive surgeries

Ten years to the day after he and his family landed in Canada from Iraq, Zaid Atto stood in front of a panel of judges and pitched his idea. He had developed a new surgical device – a port that could allow for safer and more efficient minimally invasive surgeries – but he needed commercialization support and resources to move it into the next stage of development.

Surgeons use ports, also known as trocars, to make a tunnel into the body for laparoscopic surgeries. Complications with ports include accidental organ perforation, hernias and potentially death from incorrect insertions. Adding to the risk of complications, sometimes surgeons have to switch an inserted port for one with a larger diameter during the procedure to accommodate larger surgical instruments, or reinsert a port that slipped out of the abdomen accidentally. Through interviewing surgeons and shadowing dozens of surgeries, Atto recognized these concerns and saw an opportunity to address an unmet need and help both patients and surgeons.

Traditional ports are fixed in size and may slip out of a patient’s abdomen during surgery. (Photo: Magnus1313 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0])

After graduating with a biomedical engineering degree from the University of Toronto, Atto and his team at Xpan Inc. developed an expandable port that reduces the risk of complications associated with port insertion and alleviates the need to remove and reinsert ports. The team has consulted stakeholders and device manufacturers throughout the development of their device and have received support and validation from surgeons with multiple minimally-invasive surgical specialties.

“We saw that our device could assist surgeons across many subspecialties, especially those who have to exchange ports often, like in surgeries for colorectal cancer, pediatric surgeries or emergency procedures” says Atto. “Our port, however, is not limited to cancer surgeries. It’s a device that can make a difference for all laparoscopic surgeons and the five million patients who undergo minimally invasive surgery every year in North America.”

Earlier this year Atto pitched his technology at the FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes pitch competition. In addition to creating exposure for novel oncology innovations and providing training support for entrepreneurs, FACIT’s annual pitch competition celebrates a culture of commercialization in Ontario. Atto was one of six finalists who were pre-selected by the FACIT team to deliver pitches. Impressing the judges with an innovation developed based on a clearly-identified market need, Atto was ultimately awarded the $50,000 Ernsting Entrepreneurship Award. Xpan Inc. plans to use this funding to complete proof-of-concept animal studies and prepare for regulatory submission.

“By partnering with FACIT, we hope to bring our device one step closer to patients,” says Atto. “This means one step closer to safer and more efficient surgeries for all of us who may need these surgeries in the future.”

Read more about this story in FACIT’s most recent announcement of investments.

February 7, 2019

Op-ed in The Globe and Mail hails innovation strategy that resulted in record-breaking investment by Celgene

Rima Al-awar showing the structure of WDR5 at podium.

In a contribution to The Globe and Mail titled “For Innovation, open science means business”, E. Richard Gold and Max Morgan point to the recent investment by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Celgene into a potential treatment for leukemia developed by OICR researchers, as an example of how Canada can successfully commercialize its scientific discoveries. The authors note that the uniquely Canadian approach employed by FACIT and OICR working together will, unlike other strategies, keep the intellectual property (IP) in Canada longer and see research and development, clinical trials and other outcomes, benefit Canada and Ontario.

Gold and Morgan point out that it was an open science collaboration between OICR and the University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) that allowed for the initial scientific discovery behind the new potential drug to take place rapidly, since traditional concerns around IP weren’t a factor. This approach allowed FACIT and OICR to move towards targeted drug development much earlier than possible under other models, enabling them to create a patented drug candidate. Gold and Morgan call on Canadian governments to replicate the open science to IP model, which Celgene’s investment shows is a viable path to commercialization in Canada. 

E. Richard Gold is James McGill professor, McGill Faculty of Law; senior fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation; former technology lawyer. Max Morgan is chief policy officer and senior counsel, SGC; corporate secretary and legal consultant, M4K Pharma Inc. OICR has provided funding to M4K Pharma Inc. through its Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline initiative. SGC and OICR are long-term partners.

From the Globe and Mail (subscription required): For Innovation, open science means business

January 29, 2019

New potential treatment for leukemia discovered by OICR scientists draws major industry investment

Image for announcement

TORONTO (January 29, 2019) – A first-of-its-kind therapy for leukemia discovered by researchers in the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s (OICR) Drug Discovery Program, and under preclinical development, has attracted investment from Celgene Corporation that could exceed US$1 billion – which would make it the largest transaction to date for a preclinical asset discovered in Canada.

This investment will allow for clinical trials based in Ontario, and will further research and development of the drug and other cancer research innovations developed in the province. The commercialization of this technology was conducted by OICR’s strategic partner FACIT and demonstrates the realization of the two partners’ long-term vision of creating a sustainable pathway for therapeutic innovation in Ontario.

“The progress of this pre-clinical drug towards the clinic is an example of how OICR, working with its partners, is accelerating cancer research in Ontario and increasing investment so that new innovations can help patients as soon as possible,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “Today’s announcement shows how OICR and FACIT’s unique model for research and commercialization can generate long-term impact for the province of Ontario.”

The project is built on the observation that a protein known as MLL-1 plays an important role in promoting the development of leukemia. It does this through binding with a partner protein called WDR5. This new therapy works by disrupting the MLL-1/WDR5 protein-protein interaction, therefore inhibiting the cancer-promoting activity of the MLL-1 protein.

The possibility of targeting WDR5 to disrupt the cancer-driving activity of MLL-1 was first suggested by one of OICR’s partners, the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) at the University of Toronto, where researchers saw its potential and proposed a collaboration with OICR’s Drug Discovery (DD) program. OICR DD and SGC researchers worked together to develop an active and selective WDR5 “chemical probe” that could be used to test the anti-leukemia hypothesis. After OICR and SGC scientists demonstrated this probe could disrupt the interaction of WDR5 and MLL-1 in cells, they shared the compound with academic investigators in Ontario and around the world, who showed the probe could stop the growth of leukemia and other cancer cells.

Once the probe was in the public domain, the OICR DD group seized the opportunity to leverage its expertise to improve the drug-like properties and potency of the probe, while creating novel intellectual property, in order to fully realize its therapeutic and commercial potential. This subsequent development of the pre-clinical drug by OICR DD was made possible by their extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry and academia, a unique model that has helped to develop assets that are solid candidates for investment and further development by industry partners. OICR DD is one of the only industry-academic hybrid drug discovery teams in Ontario.

Continue reading – New potential treatment for leukemia discovered by OICR scientists draws major industry investment

August 2, 2018

Ontario centre attracts national attention for probe research, development and commercialization

Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization

The Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC) awarded $10.5 million to expand molecular imaging probe work in Ontario

Translating new scientific discoveries into products and moving those products to the market is a challenging process. This is especially the case for highly-regulated medical products such as radiopharmaceuticals – a special class of drugs that are used to accurately diagnose and treat diseases. Over the past decade, the CPDC in Hamilton has been bridging the gap between the innovation and commercialization of radiopharmaceuticals in Ontario and, in turn, reaping benefits for patients and the province’s economy.

Continue reading – Ontario centre attracts national attention for probe research, development and commercialization

June 27, 2018

Healthcare Software Start-Up Ziliomics Financed by FACIT

World-leading genomics cloud computing group builds clinical tool for cancer care in Ontario

TORONTO, ON (June 27, 2018) – Ziliomics Inc., a start-up created by FACIT, received seed financing from the Prospects Oncology Fund. Derived from a leading oncology bio-computing group and leveraging insights from the world’s largest cancer genomics projects, Ziliomics develops web-based, modular software platforms that help physicians make actionable treatment decisions for patients living with cancer. Together with FACIT’s interim executive management model, the capital advances the development of Heliotrope, Ziliomics’ lead software product, and positions the company for corporate partnerships and additional financing. Financing terms were not disclosed.

Continue reading – Healthcare Software Start-Up Ziliomics Financed by FACIT

April 12, 2018

Restorative Breast Cancer Solution Start-Up Wins the 2018 FACIT Pitch Competition

Biotechnology competition modeled after popular TV program Dragons’ Den

TORONTO, ON (April 12, 2018) – A panel of investor-judges has selected Ontario-based oncology researcher Soror Sharifpoor of Polumiros Inc. as the winner of the 2018 FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes competition. The $50,000 award is intended to support further development of their innovative cancer research. FACIT runs the annual competition as part of its broader mandate to support translating research into Ontario companies to impact the lives of patients with cancer.

Now in its fifth year, the FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes competition is open to any Ontario-based oncology researcher (academics, research institutions, research hospitals and start-ups). Entrepreneurial scientists are invited to pitch innovative research ideas to a panel of four investors in a competition that is modeled after the popular CBC television program Dragons’ Den. The winners receive the $50,000 “Ernsting Entrepreneurship Award.” After follow-up technical evaluation of the underlying innovation, the money funds product development for one year.

Continue reading – Restorative Breast Cancer Solution Start-Up Wins the 2018 FACIT Pitch Competition

October 4, 2017

FACIT Portfolio Company Fusion Pharmaceuticals Closes US$46M Oversubscribed Series A

Addition of new investors builds on Ontario’s next-gen radiotherapies and cancer innovations

Continue reading – FACIT Portfolio Company Fusion Pharmaceuticals Closes US$46M Oversubscribed Series A

August 9, 2017

CIMTEC appoints Justin Leushner as new CEO

The Centre for Imaging Technology Commercialization (CIMTEC) has appointed Mr. Justin Leushner as Chief Executive Officer. CIMTEC was established to accelerate the development of medical imaging technology and commercialize new technologies. Leushner brings extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. Most recently he was the Vice President at the TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario, where he and his team worked with more that 300 companies in the region.

Continue reading – CIMTEC appoints Justin Leushner as new CEO

August 1, 2017

FACIT launches cross-border campaign to recruit clinical scientists and biotechnology industry executives


Initiative targets expats for growing oncology company portfolio in Ontario

TORONTO, ON (July 18, 2017) — FACIT, which commercializes innovative cancer treatments, has launched a recruitment campaign targeting individuals who possess strong clinical development, commercial and fundraising experience in the technology and life sciences sectors.  FACIT is expanding and updating its database of US-based industry advisors for roles ranging from investment diligence to full time management roles in Ontario-based biotech start-ups.  While Canadian biotechnology expatriates are the focus of this initiative, FACIT continues to attract worldwide leaders in oncology research to the province, a shared mandate well established by its strategic partner, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).

Continue reading – FACIT launches cross-border campaign to recruit clinical scientists and biotechnology industry executives

March 22, 2017

FACIT Launches The Prospects Oncology Fund

New evergreen fund to help Ontario discoveries reach seed-stage funding faster

Prospects Fund LogoTORONTO, March 21, 2017 /CNW/ – Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (“FACIT”) is pleased to announce the launch of The Prospects Oncology Fund (“Prospects Fund”), designed to advance early-stage Ontario cancer discoveries by supporting the proof-of-concept studies needed to attract seed-stage investment. Managed by FACIT, this is an evergreen fund to which capital is allocated annually.

Continue reading – FACIT Launches The Prospects Oncology Fund

July 4, 2016

FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes pitch competition helps Ontario ideas take flight

FACIT Falcons Winner

(from left to right) John Matheson, Medical Innovation Fellow, Western University, Mohammad Tavallaei, Medical Innovation Fellow, Western University, Jeff Courtney, CCO, FACIT, Nicholas Power Surgeon, London Health Sciences Centre, Asha Parekh Medical Innovation Fellow, Western University

Millions worldwide watch Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank where ambitious entrepreneurs try to convince deep-pocketed investors to provide funding for their innovative ideas. On June 1, 2016, a lucky group of cancer researchers from across Ontario had the opportunity to take part in a similar and perhaps ‘kinder’ pitch competition – the FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes event. The Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust (FACIT) holds the competition every year to learn about some of the most exciting ideas in oncology research, provide funding for the best pitch, and to enhance, support and celebrate a culture of commercialization within Ontario.

Continue reading – FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes pitch competition helps Ontario ideas take flight

March 16, 2016

FACIT invests in new CPDC spin-out company to aid development of potent radiotherapeutic

Fusion pharmaceuticalsIn December, the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust invested in Fusion Pharmaceuticals to assist in the development of FPX-01, a potent new alpha-emitting radiotherapeutic being developed in Hamilton, Ontario. Early testing has shown a great deal of promise: the drug has the cancer-cell killing power of existing, similar treatments, but balances this strength with far more precision, meaning fewer side effects for patients. Early results from a Phase I clinical trial have shown effectiveness in patients with solid tumours. FACIT’s investment will support the efforts to advance FPX-01 into Phase I/II clinical trials.

Continue reading – FACIT invests in new CPDC spin-out company to aid development of potent radiotherapeutic

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