Proteorex Therapeutics Inc. recently showed the world that Canadian life science companies have what it takes to compete globally. Proteorex became the first Canadian company to win the grand prize at the first annual Johnson & Johnson Innovation Biotech Startup Day competition at BioPharm America™ 2015 – the world’s largest biopharma conference.
In fact, Proteorex Therapeutics was the only Canadian company to be shortlisted to present at this day-long session providing early-stage projects and young companies the opportunity to get on the global life science community’s radar.
Viewed as a long shot by some competitors, Proteorex ended up blowing away the competition with a winning pitch showcasing its innovative technology and services to support drug discovery.
Proteorex Therapeutics is developing cures for diseases by identifying and blocking faulty molecular networks inside and outside of cells with an innovative proprietary technology. Proteorex will target the emerging fields of personalized medicine, Epigenetics and rare diseases. The total market size is around $1 trillion.
Company Co-founder, Aman Iqbal is thrilled with the win. “Johnson & Johnson Innovation sees the potential in our approach to solving this problem and we are excited to work closely with the J&J mentor and utilize the lab space to further develop our technology and disrupt the space. This recognition should also enable us to leverage seed funding to achieve our goals,” said Iqbal.
Proteorex Therapeutics Inc. Co-founder, Aman Iqbal
Operating as a virtual lab since 2014, Proteorex will gain access to free lab space as the first tenants of the soon-to-be-launched Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS @ Toronto location and receive mentoring from a Johnson & Johnson Innovation team member.
The prize will also enable the company to tap into global investment contacts to help raise $1 million in capital. According to Iqbal, funding is a constant issue for Proteorex and other biotech startups in the Toronto region. “Therapeutics research is expensive and it takes a long time to see results, so it can be difficult to raise capital in our smaller, more risk averse investment community in Canada.”
Iqbal, who graduated from the University of Oxford with a PhD in Chemistry, is very passionate about using his deep scientific knowledge and sharp business acumen to solve some of the most challenging healthcare problems in the world.
Proteorex Therapeutics’ business model is founded on using its technology platform to find drugs to treat some rare cancers and work towards personalized cancer medicine via internal discovery and strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. Proteorex plans to generate a pipeline of first-in-class and best-in-class products.
Proteorex is spun out from Structural Genomics Consortium, leaders in the field of epigenetics research, which has two drug research programs to target a very rare type of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) termed r-All/AML. This disease affects infants under the age of one year, kids under 17 years and certain adult populations. Currently, there are no treatments in the market. Existing Leukemia drugs are either ineffective for this subtype or very toxic. Proteorex’s unique technology platform enabled researchers to find novel leads for these two r-MLL drug targets.
“Our approach will have a huge impact on exploring uncharted territories to discover cures for diseases with highest unmet need. We are coupling technological innovation with business model innovation to revolutionize the BioPharma industry.”
Iqbal attributes some of Proteorex’s success to being located in the Toronto region, which made it easy to build a network within a highly entrepreneurial community of biotech, biopharma and other companies. Proteorex has also benefited from access to a supportive and well connected ecosystem that includes innovation incubator, MaRS and its The Next 36 program, of which Proteorex is an alumnus, as well as experts at its world-leading universities and research hospitals.
Despite seeing other young companies move south of the border to grow, Iqbal sees amazing potential here in the Toronto region. “Toronto is witnessing an exciting resurgence of interest in the field of commercializing biomedical research,” he notes. He sees the announcement of JLabs opening in Toronto ahead of Europe as well as British Columbia firm Blueline Bio locating in Toronto as encouraging signs of even more innovation and activity in the coming decade. “Developments like these inspire others to look at Toronto from a different perspective. If we can make our mark here, I think we could be a really good example for others to follow.”
In Iqbal’s view, it is well worth making the investment in a not so long shot.