Applied and translational genomics research is sparking entrepreneurship and leading to commercialization, but it wasn’t always this way. Genome BC’s first five years saw around 90% of resources dedicated to discovery research alone. The progression from ‘discovery’ to include a balanced portfolio of ‘applied’ and ‘translational’ research is the result of deliberate decisions that have coincided with the natural evolution of the science. This foresight, based on progress made in laboratories, has led to the realization of genomic tools and applications that we see today.
In 2002, a BC Technology Development platform funded by Genome BC and Genome Canada, provided engineering support and world-class prototyping facilities to the local life sciences research community. These resources were aimed at advancing innovative biomedical devices towards commercialization.
One of the major successes coming out of the platform is Boreal Genomics, a spin-off company started in 2007 by co-director and UBC researcher Dr. Andre Marziali and colleagues. In 2004 Dr. Marziali co-invented a patented technology to purify nucleic acids. This technology formed the basis of Boreal to further commercialize high-performance instruments for DNA and RNA purification.
The Strategic Opportunities Fund for Industry (SOFi), launched in 2008, continued to move genomics along the discovery continuum through the encouragement of collaborative relationships between academia and industry. Contextual Genomics was one example of this program’s success. Its flagship product “Find-It™” profiles patient tumours to match the most effective treatment options. Find-It™ is now commercially available to patients, through their oncologists, across Canada.
Genome BC’s Proof of Concept Program (POC), launched in 2011, provided a proof of concept that also helped bridge the gap between discovery and translation. The program assisted in moving discoveries into application through end user partnerships and validation—adding credibility to the potential of genomic applications for industry.
The POC and SOFi programs demonstrated that the most successful applied outcomes come from collaborations between researchers and industry. Through the identification of genomic solutions to industrial challenges—engineers, clinicians, software programmers, entrepreneurs and other highly skilled people work together towards common goals.
Recognizing that investment in life science innovation has a long time horizon, each of Genome BC’s five year strategic plans has progressively dedicated more resources to research aimed at providing solutions through practical applications across key sectors. Today, almost 72% of resources are directed towards applied and translational projects through collaboration with industry.
Bringing industry and academia together has enhanced the innovation chain. As applied and translational research continues to provide useful and beneficial outcomes, the most logical next step is to consider how any commercial opportunity presented can be realized. One way is to encourage and build capacity for entrepreneurship.
Programs such as HyperGrowth:Life, developed by Genome BC and the BC Tech Association, are designed to advance companies in the health-tech and life sciences industries by providing unprecedented access to senior leaders and resources, who help companies land their first deals, develop scalable go-to-market plans, and achieve sustained growth.
Another way to nurture the commercialization of genomic tools is by supporting entrepreneurship in the academic environment through programs like e@UBC and SFU Innovates. These programs breed a culture of innovation by providing resources and support to accelerate and mobilize ideas that will produce meaningful social and economic impact in BC, Canada, and the world.
However, an entrepreneurial mindset alone is not enough to bring a great idea to commercial success. Securing investment is always a challenging hurdle and making the leap from seed capital to series A funding or other significant financing events can be a wider chasm than a startup can make. Great ideas can fall to the wayside as a result. Genome BC’s Industry Innovation Program (I2) is a unique program that helps companies make financial transitions at pivotal times during the early stages of commercial development.
The goal of I2 is successful commercialization, industry growth, jobs, and economic impact for the Province of BC. The fund provides support to qualifying companies looking to scale up operations and to boost their competitiveness during a critical time in their evolution. I2 funding is repayable four years after disbursement; or when the company achieves product/service revenues, revenues from licensing the technology, or the company achieves a significant financial milestone.
Genomics has the potential to offer profound societal and economic benefits. BC has the scientific, technical and engineering talent, infrastructure and a strong entrepreneurial base to create new jobs in life sciences and drive the knowledge based economy. Critical to this is an ecosystem where innovation can flourish and hard work can be rewarded.