AWARD SPOTLIGHT: FACIT winner of 2020 VC Regional Impact Award for Ontario for Propellon’s blood cancer drug candidate

June 9, 2020 | By: CVCA
Congratulations to FACIT for winning the 2020 VC Private Capital Regional Impact Award for Ontario. The 2020 CVCA Awards, sponsored by HarbourVest Partners Canada, will be announced each day June 8 – June 12, 2020 on social media beginning at 11am ET.

Canada has a history of exporting its intellectual property in the healthcare sector at the earliest stage, due to a limited number of industry receptors and startups at home to attract capital and grow.

The seed funding gap led to the creation of FACIT by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) in 2014 to accelerate commercialization of oncology innovations from within the province.

“FACIT and OICR are building a path within Ontario for the development of intellectual property as we do these transactions,” says Dr. David O’Neill, president of FACIT, which has supported 57 projects and created 16 Ontario companies to date, with direct and leveraged funding of more than $850-million.

One of FACIT’s biggest success stories is the US$1B partnership announced last year between its Triphase Accelerator private drug development company and Celgene Corp, to advance an OICR-discovered blood cancer therapy (FACIT is a majority shareholder of Triphase).

The therapy was held by Propellon Therapeutics, a virtual company FACIT seed funded in 2016 and then transferred to its Triphase group to focus on developing a portfolio of WDR5-targeted anti-cancer therapeutics. Blood cancers like leukemia can result when WDR5-associated protein complexes are not appropriately regulated in the body.

Under the terms of the agreement, Celgene (which has since been bought by U.S. drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Company) has the option to acquire TRPH-395 from Triphase Accelerator. Celgene agreed to pay US$40M upfront and, upon exercise of the option, Celgene will pay up to US$940M in contingent development, regulatory and sales milestones. Additional payments for sales-based royalties are also possible under the historic agreement.

FACIT negotiated the deal to have a maximum impact on Ontario, including ensuring research and development jobs stay in the province and that clinical trials will be run in the province as well.

FACIT has been awarded the CVCA Venture Capital Regional Impact Award for Ontario for its deal involving Propellon’s blood cancer drug candidate.

In the announcement, Dr. O’Neill cited the quality of the team and commitment by Triphase Accelerator to engage Ontario researchers and clinical sites in its high content studies, which “made this partnership the most compelling path to impact patients and the local economy.”

And, while additional payments to the program are largely contingent on clinical success, Dr. O’Neill said the “significant financial commitment will enable re-investable returns by FACIT in the Ontario innovation economy.”

Dr. O’Neill says the partnership provides a local route — from discovery to development — while increasing access to future clinical trials for Canadian patients.

“This was the first transaction that linked all of these parts of innovation and translation that we’ve been building,” Dr. O’Neill says. “Some people might look at any licensing agreement (with Pharma) as selling out or not capturing the value, but we’ve captured far more value by doing the clinical development here in Ontario and the next time around we’re going to take that value and local development even further.”

O’Neill says FACIT turned down an offer from another U.S.-based biotech because it wouldn’t provide the same commitment to do clinical development in the province. “It was a rare opportunity to say, ‘no thanks,’ because there was a better biotechnology opportunity in Ontario,” he says.

Since its inception, FACIT has invested $37.2M of its Ontario-first capital into Ontario oncology innovations, with an additional $5.6M in grant-based funding provided to very early-stage innovative projects. These innovations have attracted more than $850M in follow-on investment (a leverage ratio of 1:20).

O’Neill says the CVCA’s regional impact award is an important recognition for the work being done in Ontario and makes a statement about the importance of thinking regionally.

“The CVCA award shines a light on what’s possible regarding the value of made-in-Ontario biotechnology to the local economy,” says O’Neill. “It also shows the importance of Ontario-first capital in addressing the seed gap and value to Ontario in taking an active role in managing its intellectual property .”

O’Neill hopes it will help others think about what’s possible for biotech in Ontario.


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