Start-ups founded by PRiME members attract major pharmaceutical partners and acquirers

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Published on Jun 1, 2020


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Start-up companies co-founded by PRiME faculty members, Sachdev Sidhu and Jason Moffat, have garnered the attention of major pharmaceutical partners, with several  acquisitions transpiring over the last month.

Earlier this week, Gilead Sciences purchased a stake in Pionyr Immunotherapeutics for $275M to access its Myeloid TuningTM approach to cancer immunotherapies. The technology, which is based on reprogramming of the tumour microenvironment to fine-tune natural immune responses in the body, was a collaboration involving Dr. Sachdev Sidhu (Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto) and Dr. Max Krummel (University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine) when the company was founded in 2015. Pionyr currently has two pre-clinical drugs expected to be filed for IND in the fall before beginning clinical trials. They are first-in-class antibodies that, in combination with checkpoint inhibitors, have shown significant reduction in tumour growth in mouse models.

On the same day, Empirica Therapeutics, was acquired by Bayer-backed Century Therapeutics.  Empirica was co-founded by Dr. Jason Moffat (Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto) and Dr. Sheila Singh (McMaster University) to develop new therapies for glioblastoma (GBM). The unique, patient-derived pre-clinical models of recurrent GBM that Empirica has used to validate novel brain cancer targets will be combined with Century Therapeutics’ induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived allogeneic cell therapy platform to advance new treatments. Empirica will now become Century Therapeutics Canada, a subsidiary company that will remain based in Hamilton, Ontario.

In May 2020, Northern Biologics Inc. – another Toronto-based company co-founded by Drs. Sidhu and Moffat together with collaborators from UHN – was acquired by Boehringer Ingelheim.  Versant Ventures was the founding investor that established Northern Biologics to discover and develop novel cancer antibody therapeutics.  The company’s lead asset is a first-in-class antibody targeting leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) currently in Phase I clinical trials.  Northern has two additional programs in preclinical development that will add to Boehringer Ingelheim’s cancer immunology portfolio. Further details about the transaction can be found here.

These successful ventures exemplify the innovative and ground-breaking research being conducted by investigators of the PRiME team that are making their way to having real impacts for patients. Recent events provide increasing momentum for the emerging Toronto and Canadian biotech ecosystem – also bolstered by the recent IPO of Repare Therapeutics and the impending IPO of Fusion Pharmaceuticals.  The level of recent activity in the local biotech sector is a testament to the strength of the research community in this area and the potential for future growth.