Canadian academic institutions and research organizations are congratulating Turnstone Biologics on a new partnership with AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, to develop cancer-fighting viruses (also called oncolytic viral immunotherapies).
Turnstone was founded in Ottawa based on research led by professors Brian Lichty of McMaster University, John Bell of The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa, and David Stojdl of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and uOttawa). The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and BioCanRx have also played a key role in advancing the technology.
Turnstone was recently recognized as one of the top 15 biotech start-ups in the world, and in 2016, Turnstone secured US$41 million in venture capital (VC) funding, which is believed to be the second largest biotech VC deal in Canada that year.
As of October 2017, Turnstone had 25 employees in Ottawa, Hamilton and New York. It expects to approximately double its employees by the end of next year.
Turnstone's most advanced product is called Ad-MG1-MAGEA3. It is produced in McMaster Immunology Research Centre and The Ottawa Hospital's Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre. Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 is currently being tested in clinical trials at several hospitals across Canada including the Juravinski Cancer Centre of Hamilton Health Sciences. People who are interested in participating in these trials can read these frequently asked questions.
"Our technology has strong preclinical and Phase 1 data, and AbbVie entered into this collaboration based on its data and promise," said Lichty, an associate professor of pathology and molecular medicine. "This partnership will allow us to rapidly move additional therapies into clinical trials, with the goal of helping patients."
Paul O'Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, congratulated the Turnstone partners.
"Commercialization of discoveries in our academic laboratories is an important move forward to a healthy society, both economically and physically," he said.
"We are extremely thrilled by the work of Dr. Lichty and other McMaster scientists, and the collaboration on this project with CHEO, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, other supporters and now, Turnstone. This significant investment being made in Turnstone is much appreciated."
Ontario Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, Reza Moridi added: "Ontario is proud of its commitment to cancer research and innovation. Congratulations to Ontario's Turnstone Biologics research team.
"This global collaboration means patients are closer to receiving ground-breaking cancer-fighting discoveries developed in Ontario. It means another Ontario start-up is scaling up and creating jobs in Ontario."
Financial terms of the AbbVie and Turnstone agreement were not disclosed.
While public funding is crucial for cancer research discoveries, private investment is almost always necessary to advance the development of new therapies, as this can cost more than US$2.5 billion.
Turnstone was co-founded by FACIT, The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research's commercialization partner, which provided initial management, seed financing, intellectual property consolidation and hiring of initial employees including the CEO.
Numerous organizations have supported the research team, including the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Angels of Hope, BioCanRx, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CHEO Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Research Institute.