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B.C. biotechs will now be able to do Phase 1 trials in B.C.

Mount Saint Joseph Hospital to get Phase 1 clinical trials unit to test new drugs
New six-bed unit at St. Joseph Hospital will allow B.C. companies to test new drugs here in B.C.

A new six-bed unit dedicated to conducting Phase 1 clinical trials for new drugs will be set up at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, with the help of funding from the B.C. government.

At a press conference today, the B.C. government announced $4.2 million for the new six-bed clinical trial unit, and $2.4 million for the University of BC for the recruitment of a new research chairperson who will lead the new clinical trials unit and UBC’s new clinical pharmacology program.

Phase 1 clinical trials involve small cohorts of patients who volunteer to have new drugs tested on them. These Phase 1 trials are mainly to test new drugs for safety and to determine things like proper dosage levels. Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials involve much larger groups of patients. Life sciences companies can spend well over $100 million taking new drugs through clinical trials.

B.C. has a thriving life sciences sector that has been developing new therapeutics and drugs. But these drugs are typically tested outside of B.C. or outside of Canada, simply due to a lack of expertise and capacity.

“This will help local life science sector companies to keep their teams and intellectual property here in beautiful British Columbia,” said Brenda Bailey, minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. “And UBC’s clinical pharmacology research chair and program will build capacity and strengthen B.C.’s talent pipeline.”

B.C. is also investing in creating new wet lab space and biomanufacturing capacity.

About four per cent of clinical trials happen in Canada, said Fiona Dalton, CEO Providence Health Care, which operates  Mount Saint Joseph Hospital.

“That’s really great, but however Canada and B.C. have traditionally lacked Phase 1 capacity, which is really vital step of an early trial to determine whether to continue or terminate development of potential therapeutics," Dalton said. “And because of this gap, this has led to a substantial loss of economic activity, training opportunity and patient benefits in Canada.”

Dalton added the next step will be to expand to Phase 1 through 3 clinical trials unit.

Gail Murphy, vice-president of Research and Innovation at UBC, noted that B.C. research universities are responsible for spinning out several successful biotech companies.

“Expanding clinical trial capacity and expertise will allow university researchers and local companies -- like AbCellera, Acuitas Therapeutics and Precision Nanosystems, all of which came out of UBC research labs – to grow and develop their technologies create new blockbuster drugs here in B.C.," Murphy said.

“This is going to be transformative for B.C.’s life sciences eco-system and for the health of patients in British Columbia. And most importantly, it means British Columbians will have access to life-saving medical treatments sooner.”

“With this new investment, more end-to-end development of medicines discovered in B.C. can take place on home soil,” said Anne Stevens, vice president of AbCellera (Nasdaq:ABCL).

“This will also help to speed the integration of these medicines into our health care system, ensuring that B.C. patients benefit sooner from innovation discovered here and around the world.”

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