Symposium examines the path to breakthrough medicines

Canada has the research expertise to develop drugs and vaccines to address pressing medical needs, but delivering on the promise will require new models of collaboration between scientists, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, business and policy makers according to speakers at an upcoming symposium hosted by The Gairdner Foundation and York University.

The symposium, Entrepreneurship & Commercialization in Biomedical Science, on Thursday, May 14, marks the 50th anniversary of both York University and The Gairdner Foundation.

The Gairdner Foundation recognizes the world’s leading medical research scientists through its prestigious annual awards program for biomedical science. The symposium, which is hosted by York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and Schulich School of Business, will bring together scientist entrepreneurs, Canadian venture capital firms, the biomedical industry and policy-makers.

The following keynote presentations will explore entrepreneurship and biomedical science from an number of viewpoints. For a full program, click here.

From 1:15 to 2:45pm, two keynote presenters will consider the central theme of the symposium.

Corey Goodman (right), founder of two biotechnology companies, 1997 Gairdner Laureate in neuroscience, and president of Pfizer Inc.’s Biotherapeutics & Bioinnovation Center in San Francisco, will deliver a presentation titled, "Academia, Biotech and Pharma: Navigating the Interface to Build a New Model for Drug Discovery and Development". In his presentation, Goodman will consider the root causes of why there are so few new drugs coming to market. He will speak to these questions: If the tools and technologies and targets for drug discovery are greater than ever, then why are there so few new drugs? Why have the costs for developing new medicines gone up so dramatically and why are so many drug candidates failing in the clinic?

Going forward, and especially with the capital markets broken, academia, biotech and pharma will have to collaborate in new ways, says Goodman. "One answer is that we need new models for drug discovery and development that build bridges from academia to biotech to pharma, harnessing the best from all three worlds." Goodman will look at what is broken in the system and how to fix it. He will consider how to translate discoveries from biomedical research into drug candidates and beyond into the clinic. 

Following Goodman’s presentation, Michael Hayden (left), director of the Center for Molecular Medicine & Therapeutics, University of British Columbia, and Canada’s Health Researcher of the Year for Biomedical & Clinical Research (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 2008), will present "From Genetic Disorders in a Few to Drugs for Many".

Hayden is a genetic disease researcher whose group has identified 10 disease-causing genes. In his presentation, he will consider the conundrum associated with bringing new drugs into clinical practice. Despite increases in investment, there has been no parallel greater success in bringing new drugs into clinical practice, says Hayden, in part because there is inadequate validation of targets selected for drug development. Mutations in human genes in a few people may lead to findings that are relevant for development of drugs to help many people, with common conditions such as lipid disorders, cancer, osteoporosis, anemia, obesity, diabetes and pain.

After these keynote presentations, from 3:15 to 5pm, there will be a case-study panel on the development, commercialization and health policy implications of vaccines, followed by discussion moderated by Mark Lievonen, president of Sanofi Pasteur Limited and a member of York’s Board of Governors. The panellists will be Alan Bernstein, Susan M. Smith and E. Richard Gold, along with Goodman and Hayden.

Bernstein is executive director of Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise of New York City, president emeritus of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Gairdner Wightman Award Laureate, 2008. He will speak about the need for a coordinated global effort to address scientific needs in HIV vaccine research and development, to mobilize new investments and facilitate the prioritization of funding and resource commitments to the vaccine research, as well as stimulate and incentivize public-private partnerships to discover, develop and manufacture an AIDS vaccine.

He will be followed by Smith, founder and former president & CEO of RBC Ventures and a member of the board of Toronto’s MaRS innovation centre. Smith will speak about how Canada has made strong progress in positioning itself as a potential leader in biotech and medical research and in its commercialization efforts but faces two clear threats – the global financial calamity together with the lack of clear federal government support for research.

Gold, a McGill University law professor and founding director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy, will follow Smith. He will talk about developing new vaccines, particularly those aimed at meeting health needs in developing countries and how this will require new attitudes and deployment of patent and data protection rights. Gold will explore the challenges to current models of using patents, along with promising ways to overcome them.

While there is no registration fee for this symposium, advance registration is required. For more information, contact the York University U50 Office at 416-736-2100 ext 22762. To register for the symposium click here.