Canada is well known for biotech innovations, with expertise in genomics, cell therapies and liquid biopsy. Here is a list of private healthcare biotech companies that have attracted big cash in Canada in the past two years.
Canada has one of the top 10 biggest economies in the world. The developed country boasts rich forests, mineral industries and a bustling life sciences industry.
Canada’s biotech industry is historically made up of primarily small companies, with major hubs in cities including Toronto and Vancouver. Big investments have been entering biotech companies in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic, with a lot of capital flowing in from a range of countries including Canada’s bigger neighbor, the U.S.
We’ve crunched the numbers and listed five of the most exciting Canadian biotech companies to land venture capital cash in the last couple of years.
Adela was initially launched with the name DNAMx, and focuses on developing liquid biopsies that can detect deadly cancers early from a routine blood test.
Many liquid biopsies are in development, and some search for signs of cancer in the methylome — a fingerprint of chemical changes to DNA molecules. Adela claims to have a more efficient approach to screening the methylome than other approaches, and one that is more sensitive in people with hints of early-stage cancer.
In May 2022, Adela enrolled the first participant in an observational study to validate its cancer detection technology. The study is planned to enroll more than 5,000 people and will screen for common types of cancer in patients with cancer and healthy controls.
To finance its research, Adela raised $60 million in a Series A round in mid-2021. In addition to cancer, Adela one day aims to apply its technology to other disease areas.
Deep Genomics is working on RNA therapies, a form of technology that gained huge prominence with the rise of COVID-19 vaccines made from messenger RNA (mRNA).
The development of RNA therapies relies on the analysis of RNA biology data in disease. This data can be very complex, with potentially thousands of genetic factors involved in a single disease, and hundreds of potential targets for treatments.
Deep Genomics’ strategy is to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) to help the firm decode RNA biology and unearth the best targets for treating rare metabolic diseases and conditions in the central nervous system.
In 2021, Deep Genomics raised one of Canada’s biggest biotech Series C rounds, bagging $180 million. With the help of this cash, the firm aims to have 30 drugs in development, including in-house and partnered programs, and in the future, aims to tackle diseases with complex genetic underpinnings.
Inversago Pharma made the headlines in October 2022 when it closed a Series C round worth approximately $70 million ($95 million CAD). The company is using the round’s proceeds to fund the clinical development of a drug for diabetic kidney disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and complications of obesity and hypertriglyceridemia. A phase 2 trial is planned to begin in late 2022.
Inversago is developing drugs for metabolic diseases that block a protein called cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1). This protein is triggered by natural cannabinoids in the body, and influences processes including appetite and the control of blood sugar.
One early example of a CB1 blocker is rimonabant, which was approved for the treatment of obesity in the EU in 2006 but never in the U.S. However, the drug was withdrawn from the EU in 2008 as it risked causing serious psychiatric problems, including suicidal thoughts. Unfazed by this history, Inversago aims to produce novel CB1 blockers that are safer than earlier generations.
Notch is developing cancer cell therapies based on immune T cells.
Current cancer cell therapies typically require medical professionals to remove cells from patients, genetically engineer them and then reinfuse into the patient. It can take weeks to deliver the therapy to the patient: time that can be vital for the patient’s survival.
To overcome this limitation, Notch is developing a way to mass produce cell therapies from induced pluripotent stem cells sourced from healthy donors. Producing T cells for cell therapies in advance could mean that patients can receive a cell therapy much faster than therapies derived from the patient’s own tissue.
Notch’s lead program is aimed to treat blood cancer in partnership with Allogene Therapeutics, and is in preclinical development. Notch has other programs in solid tumors in addition to autoimmune diseases and other conditions.
To bankroll its drug development, Notch raised $85 million in a Series A round in early 2021. In September 2022, the firm published a report describing how it is able to mass-produce T cells from human stem cells in the lab more efficiently than by using traditional methods.
Headquarters: Vancouver, Canada, and Shanghai, China
Virogin has research activity happening globally, with centers in Canada, China and the U.S. The firm aims to tackle cancer by developing viral immunotherapies such as oncolytic viruses.
At present, cancer immunotherapies such as CAR-T have shown big potential for treating cancer. However, CAR-T therapies are limited to treating forms of blood cancer, and cancer immunotherapies often only help a fraction of patients.
In late 2021, Virogin raised $120 million in a Series D+ round to finance the clinical development of oncolytic viruses and mRNA technology. The firm genetically engineers a type of herpes virus to infect cancer cells and carry therapeutic payloads to the tumor site.
Virogin’s lead candidate is currently in phase 2 development. In November 2022, Virogin recruited the first cancer patient into a phase 1 trial testing its second oncolytic virus candidate.
Biotech companies in Canada thirst for talent
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s biotech industry has been receiving billions of dollars of investment. However, the country has been hampered by a lack of domestic skills and infrastructure, particularly when it comes to manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
For this reason, the country is on the lookout for executive talent in its budding biotech companies. The talent could come from its home population, or be poached from other biotech hubs including Europe and the U.S.