It's being heralded as a breakthrough for health care innovation in Canada.
A lucrative licensing deal announced earlier this year will unite research from Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on a wound-healing molecule with Sanofi-Aventis, a global pharmaceutical company.
"It's a great example of what we've been missing here in this country and this city," says Mark Lievonen, president of Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., the Toronto-based vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group. The deal will see the drug company develop and commercialize Sunnybrook's research.
"We have great academic research and lots of work being done, but we have very difficult challenges in actually bringing deals to market," Mr. Lievonen said. "It's important to recognize and celebrate the success it really is."
Historically, Canadian hospitals and other groups have shied away from commercialization, Mr. Lievonen explains. But people are growing excited about innovation and the positive effect it could have on the economy. "Hospitals and universities see the need to do it and more and more people are jumping on this bandwagon of innovation and looking for ways to achieve this kind of success," he says.
The compound, called vasculotide, is used to treat chronic wounds. It is provided intravenously, and in animal studies it helped accelerate wound healing, in addition to creating better, deeper healing. Diabetic wounds tend to reopen.
The first challenge in brokering these kinds of agreements is to get somebody's attention, says Mr. Lievonen.
"Quite frankly, it's more difficult to get big-pharma involved than the other way around," he says. "Once you do and once you get support, then things can move very quickly." He gives credit to MaRS Innovation - a non-profit group dedicated to bringing research from Ontario academic institutions together with business - for brokering the Sanofi/Sunnybrook arrangement.
Developing new medicines and vaccines can save governments money, simply by reducing strain on hospitals for emergency visits. That could be the case with Sunnybrook's wound-healing discovery, which could benefit the 3 million Canadians with diabetes. About 15 per cent of diabetes patients develop foot ulcers that are difficult to heal. The result is sometimes partial foot or leg amputation.
Sanofi Pasteur has a 98 year history of creating vaccines. Its staff of 1,100 manufacture and distribute more than 50 million doses of vaccine to 90 countries around the world every year.
"We foster a culture of innovation through our vision - that no one suffers or dies from a vaccine-preventable disease," says Mr. Lievonen. "It drives our research and development portfolio, our manufacturing and everything we do, because it's not just about supplying vaccines; it's also about making them available to the markets where they need to be."