Archives for January 2018

Investing in the battle to overcome drug resistant fungal infections

With a $100,000 investment, Ontario Genomics is helping Toronto-based start-up company Bright Angel Therapeutics develop novel anti-fungal treatments.

Fungal diseases are a global public health problem. Data compiled by the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI) show that “over 300 million people are afflicted with a serious fungal infection and 25 million are at high risk of dying or losing their sight.”  Mortality due to fungal infections is primarily due to the development of resistance to the few available anti-fungal compounds.

Ontario Genomics’ Pre-commercial Business Development Fund (PBDF) investment will help Bright Angel Therapeutics develop new compounds that exploit a novel strategy to treat fungal infections. By targeting a stress response mechanism that enables fungi to become drug-resistant, this strategy will transform existing antifungals from ineffective to highly efficacious against all the leading fungal pathogens. Importantly, the stress response-targeting strategy being developed by Bright Angel enhances the efficacy of all 3 classes of current antifungal drugs. It is applicable to the leading causes of invasive fungal infection and thwarts the emergence of drug-resistance. This strategy will allow the company to tap into the existing very large antifungal market.

Bright Angel Therapeutics was founded by Drs. Leah Cowan and Luke Whitesell, now both at the University of Toronto, based on technology developed while they were at the Whitehead Institute, in collaboration with the late Dr. Susan Lindquist. With the assistance of MaRS Innovation, the company has partnered with Schrödinger Inc. to take advantage of Schrödinger’s world class molecular modeling and drug design expertise. MaRS Innovation will continue to provide start-up guidance.

“We are excited to support this Ontario-based therapeutics company and its promising strategies to develop important antifungal treatments,” said Ihor Boszko, Vice President of Business Development at Ontario Genomics. “The successful completion of the funded work, expected to take a year, will help to position the company for a seed financing event.”

“As a start-up, the early stage funding provided by the PBDF program from Ontario Genomics was instrumental in getting our company off the ground,” said Dr. Dominic Jaikaran, CEO Bright Angel Therapeutics.  “The funding allowed us to move forward in our collaboration with Schrödinger Inc. and start working toward our goal of tackling the problem of fungal drug-resistance.”

The GMO debate – what does the science say? Are we listening?

Food Evolution, a new documentary by Academy Award™-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, was screened in Toronto and Waterloo this week. The film explores the polarized debate on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and food, and how both pro- and anti-GMO camps claim science is on their side. The documentary, narrated by the accomplished astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, asks “How do we ensure that our food supply is safe, and that everyone has enough to eat? How do we feed the world while also protecting the planet? Has genetic engineering increased or decreased pesticide use? Are GMO foods bad for your health? And, most importantly, what data, evidence and sources are we using to approach these important questions?”

Ontario Genomics participated in the Toronto event, as did a strong showing of attendees on both sides of the debate. The film gives a thorough investigation into the many voices in this debate, with particular emphasis on the impact of the anti-GMO movement on areas of the world where food is not in abundance, where farmers want the choice to grow GMOs but are prevented from doing so by government-imposed bans influenced by a vocal anti-GMO movement. A surprising story to some was that of a genetically modified papaya developed in Hawaii that saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from ruin from a ringspot virus blight – and managed to avoid the state-wide ban on GMOs signed into law in 2013. And yet for others, GMOs are feared and avoided.

A Q&A session followed with the film’s director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, along with Carol T. Culhane, CEO of International Food Focus Ltd, Ian Affleck, Executive Director, Plant Biotechnology at CropLife Canada (Toronto), Greg Hannam, Ontario Grain Farmer (Woodrill Farms) and Motlatsi Musi, South African Farmer and author at Global Farmer Network; this was moderated by Kelly Hodgins, Program Coordinator, Feeding Nine Billion at the University of Guelph.

This Q&A session brought out the critical need for better communication – helping people understand and interpret scientific evidence, how to convey the risks and benefits of different approaches to feeding the world with the objective of building trust, how to have a better conversation between opposing sides.  It was clear from the discussion that the differences between the communities such as the organic vs. pro-GMO camps may not be as great as thought – safe, healthy food is the common driver.

South African farmer Motlatsi Musi is pro-GMO. He has been able to raise a family and send his son to university by farming with GMO corn. He is impatient now to receive GMO corn that can withstand drought, which is beginning to impact his corner of the world. He wants to have that choice.

Screenings of this film are planned across Canada. You can also arrange a local screening, or access the film through Amazon, iTunes, hulu, Google Play and YouTube.

Ontario-developed technology for screening variant libraries comes of age

Ranomics is a Toronto-based genomics company specializing in high-throughput mutagenesis and functional genomics screens, for the purpose of understanding genetic variations in human health. Leo Wan and Cathy Tie, who were both researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital at the time, founded the company in 2015. Both founders were distinguished scholars. Leo received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and was awarded the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Cathy is a Thiel Fellow and recent Forbes’ 30 under 30-award recipient. Soon after launching the company, Ranomics was accepted into the first cohort of Indie Bio and subsequently set up business operations at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS Toronto.

As part of their mission to understand the consequences of genetic variations in human health, Ranomics developed a propriety pipeline to create and characterize all possible variants of a human disease gene. This proprietary pipeline, which can be adapted for a wide range of other applications, is now available as part of Ranomics’ VariantFind™ platform. VariantFind™ provides ready to screen DNA variant libraries for any gene of interest, regardless of length, GC composition or complex sequences. The technology is more cost-effective compared to traditional gene synthesis with a faster turnaround time. VariantFind™ libraries seamlessly integrate into a wide selection of downstream workflows, including antibody optimization, drug target validation and enzyme, protein and organism engineering. Libraries are tailored specifically for partners and can include single site saturation libraries, combinatorial variant libraries or scanning mutagenesis libraries.

The OG business development team worked with Ranomics to identify new business vertical and market opportunities for their core DNA variant library building technology. The discussions led to the launch of VariantFind™, which has proven to be a highly valuable platform for the synthetic biology market. “With the help of OG business team, Ranomics has obtained 5x growth in revenue in the past 2 quarters” said Leo Wan, Chief Scientific Officer at Ranomics. With the assistance of the OG team, Ranomics continues to grow their VariantFind™ platform while continuing their on-going R&D programs in studying genetic variations in human health.

Find out more about Ranomics, or to arrange a meeting email the company at: You can also see Ranomics present at the upcoming national synthetic biology event: “Engineering Biology for Solution in Health, Food and the Environment” on March 6, 2018.