Why the CEO of STEMCELL Technologies supports the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan
While most of us struggle to accomplish one thing in life, Dr. Allen Eaves has conquered three. A successful research scientist (he advanced the understanding of chronic myelogenous leukemia) and a clinician who made a significant impact on patient care (he founded one of the first and largest bone marrow transplant programs in Canada), Dr. Eaves now runs STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in British Columbia.
These days, Dr. Eaves sees himself primarily as “a businessman … and a philanthropist.” When he turned 65 in 2006, he had to retire from the University of British Columbia, where he was a professor, and the Vancouver General Hospital, where he had served as Head of Hematology, and from the internationally renowned Terry Fox Lab that he founded in 1981.
“I decided then to move over to STEMCELL and devote myself to growing the company.”
He started his company in 1993, raising the $1 million needed by mortgaging the family home and taking out a Western Economic Diversification loan. What began as an eight-person operation now employs 600 people, most of whom work in Vancouver, manufacturing high-quality cell and tissue culturing media and tools used by researchers around the world.
“Our tagline is ‘Scientists Helping Scientists’ and that’s very genuine,” says Dr. Eaves. “If a competitor has a better product, we will tell the scientists they should go with it. But we also feed that information back to our R&D group and come up with an even better product.”
The helpful approach is working: Dr. Eaves expects STEMCELL to hit $100 million in revenues this year. Much of that money will be ploughed back into research and development — the company has a 100-person research department. But Dr. Eaves also invests a significant portion of his profits in stem cell research. He is a major supporter of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation as both a member of the Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member.
Beyond finding treatments for devastating and currently incurable diseases, stem cell-based therapies could help solve the problem of an overloaded health care system, says Dr. Eaves. And he uses the practical example of hip replacements: “Why can’t we figure out how to recoat and fix up arthritic joints so we don’t have to replace them? We should be able to resurface them with stem cell-derived cartilage. That would be simpler and could be done earlier in degenerative arthritis. And then we wouldn’t have to replace people’s hips. That’s the sort of practical thing you would like to see happen. That’s what we need to be thinking about.”
He also believes that to succeed in the coming revolution, Canada needs the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which aligns the scientists doing the research with the industry leaders who can commercialize it and with governments supplying necessary funding to make it happen. “You need the whole spectrum of activities,” he says.
“Stem cell technology is going to revolutionize medicine; that’s the reality. Medicine will be delivered by cells and we will be using cells to repair the body. There is this huge potential out there.”