The capital city of the Canadian province of Ontario, Toronto, is home to the Discovery District, a commercial hub that sees biotech and healthcare innovations and companies at its prime. Having witnessed the largest growth in tech jobs in North America between 2015 and 2020, Toronto, like Vancouver, is a significant contributor towards Canada’s life science sector that has had investments worth over $12.5 billion pour in since 2019.
As the University of Toronto is one of the most reputed centers for life science research in the country, with spinouts like Deep Genomics having developed a portfolio of candidates, some of which are being evaluated as therapies for central nervous system (CNS)-related disorders, the city’s research and development sector is thriving.
Here are six of several biotech companies in Toronto that have raised funding in 2023, with a goal to disrupt the biotech ecosystem.
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Founded in 2016, AmacaThera specializes in delivering localized therapies through its hydrogel platform. Based in Toronto, the biotech company’s goal is to widen treatment delivery options for antibodies, small molecules, proteins and peptides.
As hydrogels provide a longer release window for therapeutics, the company’s hydrogel has applications ranging from post-surgical pain management to cancer and other conditions. The AmacaGel allows for sustained delivery of biologic medication. Its shear-thinning property allows it to be applied to incisions via a syringe. And its opioid-free formulation AMT-143 has been developed using the platform, for the sustained release of anesthetics. Unlike other hydrogels, it is easy to scale up, and the ingredients in the gel have received approval, proving its safety in combination with other compounds.
The company’s product for sustained post-surgical pain relief is currently in phase 1 clinical trials, and is the most advanced in its pipeline. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had dosed its first subjects in the trial to evaluate the safety of the hydrogel platform.
AmacaThera’s hydrogel is also being examined for the treatment of cancer, where a pre-filled syringe of anti-neoplastic agent for local management of solid tumors with reduced systemic toxicity has been developed, as well as an anti-infective agent to treat surgical site infections.
Over five investment rounds, the company has received $13 million. The latest round, which took place in January, was a grant fund from the Innovations for Vets QuickFire Challenge: Lung Cancer & Physical Trauma, a program initiated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation- JLABS.
A key player in Toronto’s alternative protein industry, biotech company Biofect Innovations aims to change the future of protein production. By employing microbes to cultivate proteins, traditional forms of fermentation are used to ferment the microbes in the right conditions, to produce adequate amounts of protein. This process is similar to brewing beer and in insulin production. The proteins are then purified and formulated to create protein ingredients for the food and drink industry.
Established in 2018, Biofect Innovations is funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, and has partnered with Creative Destruction Lab, Science Discovery Zone and Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, among others.
Currently centered on bringing its sugar substitute, a sweet-tasting protein that is supposedly sweeter than sugar, to the market, the company won $10,000 at the Agri-Tech Pitch Competition hosted by the University of Guelph, earlier this year. Additionally, Biofect Innovations secured funding from a grant financed by Ontario Genomics, having obtained a total funding of $150,000 over the years.
Radiotherapy is often used in cancer treatment to kill cancer cells using high-energy radiation. But this can also cause the destruction of healthy cells. Moreover, prolonged exposure to radiation from X-rays and CT scans can lead to DNA breaks and damage. This is due to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that oxidize proteins and lipids. To combat this, Cora Therapeutics launched its first product, Halo, an antioxidant supplement that aims to protect cells from damage that is caused by free radicals.
Sold at $59.99 per bottle, Halo is made of natural ingredients that are vegan, non-GMO and gluten-free. Some components include vitamins C, E and B12, folate, selenium and quercetin as well as non-medicinal ingredients such as colloidal silicon dioxide, microcrystalline cellulose, magnesium stearate and hypromellose.
Substances like quercetin, which is a plant pigment found in fruits like red apples, possess both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and selenium, found in the soil and in plants, is mainly stored in the skeletal muscle when consumed. Intake of selenium increases glutathione peroxidase – an enzyme that protects cells from oxidative damage – activity within our cells, which has been reduced because of exposure to oxidative stress.
Set up 12 years ago, the Toronto-based biotech obtained $1.8 million in a seed financing round in March, and the company looks to commercialize Halo – which is currently available in Canada – in the U.S. later this year.
With a goal to address challenges of CAR-T cell therapy, which is an approach that targets only a specific antigen, as well as tumor infiltrating lymphocyte therapies, CTRL Therapeutics is creating a technology that can extract circulating tumor-reactive lymphocytes (cTRLs) from the blood, in a non-invasive way.
cTRLs are proven to have greater efficacy than TILs, and can be leveraged to treat multiple solid tumors, unlike traditional TIL therapy. In a study published in Nature, it was observed that CD103 – a marker in cancer treatment – is highly expressed in cTRLs, and that these lymphocytes extracted from the blood could be beneficial in cell therapies.
In April this year, the company launched with a $10 million seed financing round that saw participation from investment firms like General Catalyst, FACIT and healthcare provider Intermountain Healthcare.
Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that is present in over 200 species of fungi, and found in certain kinds of mushrooms, popularly known as magic mushrooms. As psychedelics are capable of activating receptors in the brain that promote brain cell connections, they have been studied as therapies for treatment-resistant depression and various other mental health disorders. Toronto-based Psyence is focused on uncovering the potential of psilocybin in treating these disorders.
The company’s proprietary botanical drug candidate PEX010 is being evaluated as a psychotherapy for treating mental health issues experienced by patients in palliative care, particularly those undergoing cancer treatment. For the commercialization of PEX010, Psyence entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with Vancouver-based clinical-stage drug development company Filament Health. The candidate has obtained approval from Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to go ahead with phase 2 and 3 clinical trials. And in partnership with Melbourne-based contract research organization iNGENu, it will also conduct clinical trials in Australia soon.
Founded in 2019 in Toronto, the biotech company also specializes in the development of nutraceutical products, like its non-psilocybin containing functional mushroom product GOODMIND, which is designed to help the body adapt to stress.
Having raised $3 million in March this year, in a post-IPO equity round, Psyence has amassed a total of $4.6 million in over four funding rounds.
Toronto based biotech company Radiant Biotherapeutics’ Multabody platform, which is a multi-specific, multi-affinity technology, aims to deliver antibodies to treat various diseases like cancer, autoimmune conditions and infectious diseases.
In its pipeline that is based on the proprietary platform, the company has four drug candidates that are in various stages of development, which are being investigated as cancer therapies. Focused on creating a new class of biologics with enhanced potency, its most advanced candidate is in in vivo proof of concept stage. The company has also collaborated with researchers from the University of Toronto to specialize in indications such as COVID and HIV. Furthermore, the company is working with British multinational pharmaceutical GSK and American biotech Regeneron, on two undisclosed indications.
Set up in 2020, Radiant Biotherapeutics received $8 million in a seed funding round that took place in April. Investors included investment firms Alexandria, FACIT, Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners and SickKids Foundation, among others.