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The Edmonton region’s pharmaceutical industry – it’s an opportunity right now

| Sherri Bouslama |
Entos Pharmaceuticals Lab in Edmonton Alberta Canada
Entos Pharmaceuticals (CNW Group/Entos Pharmaceuticals)

The Edmonton region has all the ingredients needed to attract investment into pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) and manufacturing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on the ongoing issue of global drug shortages as governments around the world struggle to secure supplies of critical medicines, impacting patient care. The critical need for stable and secure manufacturing and supply chains for these critical goods is clear. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has all the ingredients needed to grow its existing pharmaceutical industry and attract international investment in this area.

Propofol in particular, has seen a lot of shortages during the pandemic, and is a critical drug in the treatment of patients requiring the use of a ventilator. Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API), a not-for-profit institute aligned with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has been co-ordinating labs across the Edmonton region to manufacture the drugs needed to put people on a ventilator.

API recently passed an important milestone in securing the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s place as a global player in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. Their Drug Development and Innovation Centre has received a notice of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance for a Drug Establishment Licence, an important international manufacturing standard that is required to be able to produce pharmaceuticals that can be sold internationally. This news will dramatically enhance the region’s ability to attract investment into pharmaceutical manufacturing.

“We’ve now got everything in hand to expedite the launch. The Edmonton region is home to a large concentration of chemical companies, world-class expertise, accessible health datasets from 4.5 million people and a university that is ranked 3rd globally in AI research,” says API CEO, Andrew MacIsaac. “We’re well positioned to be an emerging hub for pharmaceutical R&D and production from our planned facility once it is funded.”

Chemical companies in the region such as Gilead, General Intermediates of Canada and Rane Pharmaceutical, already manufacture smaller batches of drugs that are used in clinical trials. They produce a lot of the ingredients needed for GMP certified facilities. Gilead’s Edmonton facility, a large multinational that continues to invest in the region by growing its capacity, has been critical in producing Remdesivir. By establishing a GMP facility in the region, API is helping to secure the missing link that would complete the entire supply chain of pharmaceutical manufacturing in the region.

Entos Pharmaceuticals is one example of a regional company that is working with API to ensure secure supply of inputs for its vaccine production and the ability to expand its Edmonton facilities. API has now begun local GMP production of inputs for Entos’ clinical trial manufacturing of Covigenix, its COVID-19 DNA vaccine.

“We’re thrilled to be working with API on this.” said John Lewis, CEO, Entos Pharmaceuticals. “Combined with our Fusogenix genetic medicines platform, we are developing a robust, cost effective pathway to produce millions of doses of our COVID-19 DNA vaccine as well as future vaccines and therapeutics.”

The Edmonton region has the infrastructure needed to support this industry. The Edmonton International Airport (EIA) is the first airport in Canada to successfully secure CEIV certification for pharmaceutical handling through the International Air Transportation Association. This means we have the expertise and capabilities needed to get drugs and vaccines to international markets.

“Alberta has always had very high potential for the production of pharmaceuticals,” said Glenn Weagle, executive vice president of technology and innovation, General Intermediates of Canada. “We’re a testament to that. The access to skilled chemists, inputs, good access to global markets, and the low cost of doing business have kept us here for over 40 years.”

Expertise in health and life sciences is a core component of the region’s thriving economy. The high concentration of top-notch facilities, research institutions, and government-backed initiatives are attracting some of the world’s leading researchers.

Dr. Michael Houghton is an example of the calibre of talent that the region has been able to attract. He was recruited by the University of Alberta to head up the commercialization arm of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology in 2013. Dr. Houghton was already a superstar in the field for his work in identifying the hepatitis C virus. The Canadian government awarded Houghton and his laboratory $10 million over seven years and he chose to come to the Edmonton region to continue his quest for a vaccine. Just last month he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on hepatitis C.

Dr. James Shapiro and some members of his team (photo supplied by Alberta Diabetes Institute)

Or consider our legacy in diabetes research. Scientists at the Alberta Diabetes Institute have been at the forefront of solving this global health challenge for over a century and they are at the cusp of discovering a cure right here in the Edmonton region.

“There’s an opportunity to attract investment into the research that is happening, manufacture these drug discoveries here and reap significant and lasting rewards across our economy,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “All the ingredients needed to grow this industry are already in our region. Now’s the time and we want you here.”

Learn more about the opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector.

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