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Dec 2016
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A major boost for Canada’s stem cell sector: Bayer/Versant Ventures invest $225 million

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The announcement by Bayer AG and Versant Ventures that they will invest $225 million U.S. to create a Toronto-based cell-therapy company shows the massive opportunities to be realized in the next wave of stem cell R&D and illustrates how visibility and support for the sector is soaring.

“We think we’re on the cutting edge of the next generation of stem-cell therapies,” said Brad Bolzon, Managing Director of Versant Ventures in a report by the Globe and Mail.

According to Bayer’s press release, the new company, called BlueRock Therapeutics, will advance breakthrough treatments based on latest stem cell technology with an initial focus on finding treatments for cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, two areas where Canadian research is particularly strong.  The investment, one of the largest-ever first-round financings for a biotech company, gives BlueRock Therapeutics at least four years to get a number of programs into the clinic.

It comes in the wake of several developments including the Stem Cell Network’s announcement of $9 million in funding for projects to turn research into new treatments and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund’s $114-million grant to the University of Toronto’s Medicine by Design program.  As well, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine announced earlier this year that it will receive $20 million in federal funds, matched by GE Healthcare, to develop cell manufacturing capacity in Canada.

“All of these announcements align with the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy’s goals of mobilizing private capital and attracting investment,” said James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.  “They are strong indications that Canada is well positioned to lead in the next wave of stem cell advances.  That’s why we’re seeking a commitment from the Liberal Government to make stem cell research and development a national priority.”

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy is designed to deliver 10 new therapies to the clinic within 10 years, create 12,000 jobs and position Canada as a global leader in the field.  It calls on the Government to provide one-third of the total investment, about $50 million annually over 10 years for a total of $500 million, to be doubled by $1 billion in private and philanthropic investments.

An indication of the economic power of stem cell R&D is exemplified by BC’s STEMCELL Technologies Inc., which, with 900 workers and $150 million in annual revenues, has become Canada’s largest biotech by selling high-quality “Made in Canada” stem cell products worldwide.

“We have a huge opportunity in front of us, an opportunity we don’t want to miss,” said Mr.  Price.  “Visibility and support for the sector has never been stronger.  We just need to take the next big step forward with the Strategy.”

 

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