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From State-of-the-Art to Standard of Care

November 26, 2012

By Alisa Kim

On November 19, 2012, scientists, clinicians, research staff and students gathered in Sunnybrook's McLaughlin lecture theatre for the Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) Schulich Heart Program seventh annual research day.

Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at Sunnybrook, welcomed the attendees and commended them for achieving clinical impact through their research. Next, Dr. Bradley Strauss, chief of the Schulich Heart Program at Sunnybrook and a senior scientist in biological sciences at SRI, noted that this year's event would feature a new session on commercialization and innovation.

"I think this should be a focus as we move forward. It's something in which I think we can lead the way in the country," said Strauss, who has translated some of his research into a therapy. He invented collagenase, an enzyme used to soften the plaque that blocks arteries, to enable interventional cardiologists to do angioplasty to restore blood flow.

Dr. Benjamin Chow, a cardiologist from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, gave a keynote lecture in the session about cardiovascular imaging. He discussed the strengths and limitations of computed tomography as a diagnostic tool, and suggested future research for evaluating this imaging modality.

The second session was on outcomes and electrophysiology. Dr. Douglas Lee, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, gave the next keynote address. He outlined the challenges in determining which patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are at risk of sudden cardiac death. Lee noted that while the use of biomarkers and advanced imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging are new approaches to understanding this risk better, these strategies may add to the cost of caring for patients with ICDs.

The final session contained six talks, including two keynote lectures, and was organized to help researchers take their innovations to the marketplace. The first keynote speaker was Cheryl Reicin, a life sciences lawyer whose practice focuses on biotechnology and medical device companies. Reicin advises companies on growth strategies, financings, mergers and acquisitions, and licensing deals. She was involved in the 2010 sale of Sentinelle Medical Inc., a company spun off from research developed at SRI. She encouraged people interested in commercializing their work to know their goals, interests, risk profile and commitment before embarking on this path.

Dr. Tony Cruz, chairman and CEO of Transition Therapeutics Inc., gave the last keynote address. He recounted his experiences as an academic and entrepreneur, and noted there is greater rigour in evaluating technologies now. He also said that since funding from venture capitalists has declined significantly, industry is a major player in the biotechnology and medical device sectors. To form private sector partnerships, researchers must understand what the needs of industry are, and how they can meet those needs, Cruz said. He advised researchers to be prepared to withstand market volatility and to evaluate correctly the worth of their technologies.

Following were talks by Strauss, Dr. Brian Courtney and Dr. Perry Radau on their experiences with commercialization.

Strauss described how he developed collagenase and formed his company, Matrizyme Pharma.

Courtney, a clinician-scientist at SRI, spoke about his invention, a 3-D intracardiac echocardiography catheter. The device enables doctors to navigate inside the heart by providing high-resolution 3-D images in real time.

Radau is the technical director of the Imaging Research Centre for Cardiac Intervention at SRI. He shared what he learned from licensing his medical imaging software to a start-up company. Some advantages of licensing products to a start-up company, rather than a multinational company, are having greater access to the company's decision-makers and facing less competition, Radau said.

Dr. Graham Wright, director of the Schulich Heart Research Program at SRI, wrapped up the event by thanking all for their participation. He emphasized the importance of commercialization and noted that a seminar series on it will be rolled out. "[Commercialization] is not apart from the process of translational research; it's a critical part of it—going beyond getting an idea published, and moving it toward clinical practice."