B.C. biotech in the spotlight at global investor summit amid COVID-19

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B.C. among world leaders in COVID-19 vaccine research
B.C. among world leaders in COVID-19 vaccine research – Oct 31, 2020

The best and brightest of British Columbia’s emerging life sciences sector will be on display next week, as investors from around the world gather virtually to hear their pitches.

The two-day event, organized by non-profit LifeSciences BC, will feature 33 up-and-coming companies, with up to 70 investors dialing in from Asia, Europe and the U.S.

While the summit is an annual event, it takes on new prominence this year with the world’s medical sector laser focused on developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

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LifeSciences BC CEO Wendy Hurlburt said B.C.’s cutting-edge life sciences research ecosystem, which includes BC Cancer, the B.C. Centre for Disease control and the University of British Columbia, has allowed a province of just five million people to compete globally in the sector.

“The reason that the light has shone on us even more during COVID is because we were at the ready of years and years of research that was well positioned to tackle many of the issues that have arisen out of COVID,” she said.

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“We see a lot of people coming in in the early stages of their career, and we’re seeing a lot of success of people as they are developing and conducting really world class research that allows them to take that research and develop it into something that is commercially viable.”

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The sector, which includes companies developing digital health products, medical technology, diagnostics and early stage therapeutics, now employs about 20,000 people, according to Hurlburt.

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Some of its success stories, like Thrive Health, have already been active in the fight against COVID. The Vancouver-based company developed the provincial government’s online COVID-19 assessment tool and the federal government’s Canada COVID-19 app.

Others, like biotech firms Acuitas Therapeutics and Precision NanoSystems, are deeply involved in the quest for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The latter of those two companies has partnered with the federal government to develop a “made in Canada” vaccine, said co-founder and CEO James Taylor.

“This is a program to develop an RNA-based COVID-19 vaccine here in Vancouver, and to bring it through phase-2 clinical trials,” he told Global News.

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Precision Nanosystems hopes to be through Phase-2 clinical trials of the vaccine within 18 months. It’s also working with scientists and companies around the world.

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“The global efforts to create a vaccine are highly collaborative,” he said.

According to Hurlburt, B.C. medical research and technology is already involved in some way in between 20 and 25 COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

Hurlburt said next week’s summit will be the largest LifeSciences BC has ever held, with an estimated 300 people registered.

One California investor has already asked to connect with six of the companies making presentation, she added.

“We should be really, really proud of our province that we have really punched above our weight during COVID,” she said.

-With files from Nadia Stewart

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