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Biotech innovators see ‘growing opportunity’ in Alberta’s drug and vaccine industry

| Hiba Kamal-Choufi |

Alberta’s world-class talent and expertise, as well as its biotechnology infrastructure, will help the sector thrive through COVID-19 and beyond, a panel said this week.

Representatives of Entos Pharmaceuticals, Providence Therapeutics, and Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API)discussed the province’s strengths in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals during an online conversation hosted by Lynette Tremblay, vice-president of strategy for Edmonton Global, on March 22.

The industry is at a turning point, said API CEO Andrew MacIsaac.

“We do have phenomenal anchor companies within the region, and a lot of companies are showing a whole bunch of promise, such as Entos and Providence,” he said. “The next three to five years, what I think we will start to see is the development of a very mature and robust industry around drug development and life sciences much more broadly.”

Entos Pharmaceuticals has developed a DNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently awaiting approval from Health Canada to begin clinical trials.

“Companies like Entos and Providence have a very bright future with safe and effective vaccines,” said Dr. John Lewis, CEO of Entos. “The estimated worldwide market for COVID-19 vaccines is 73 billion by 2027, and if we build this industry in Alberta, we are looking at, from COVID alone, a huge market opportunity.”

The same infrastructure used for COVID-19 can be used to help with other programs, said Providence Therapeutics president Jared Davis, whose company recently started clinical trials for its Alberta-made COVID-19 vaccine.

“The infrastructure we are building, both manufacturing-wise as well as development programs, is going to allow us to go to other infectious disease, to go to gene medicine, gene therapies, to look at gene editing,” he said. “It’s all the same types of technology — DNA or mRna technologies that are used for those.”

 

Alberta and Canada have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this industry, said Lewis, whose company is also conducting multiple clinical trials that promise treatment options for cancer patients.

“The pandemic has really brought out this new platform technology, the genetic medicines, for instance, that Providence and Entos are working on that can rapidly respond to new virus threats, but also really usher a new area of genetic medicines for gene therapies,” said Lewis.

Last week, the provincial government announced that it is seeking proposals to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines in Alberta.

During the virtual discussion, panelists highlighted other key strengths of Alberta, like being a cost-effective province and a place where employees would stay with the company as it continues to grow.

MacIsaac also talked about the significance of creating industry partnerships, noting that API is working with companies like Entos and Providence to help them bring drugs beyond the clinical trial stage and into the market.

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