CVCA Awards

AWARD SPOTLIGHT: Lumira Ventures winner of the 2020 VC Private Capital Regional Impact Award for Western Canada for Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc.

CVCA Awards 2020 VC Regional Impact
Congratulations to Lumira Ventures for winning the 2020 VC Private Capital Regional Impact Award for Western Canada for Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc. 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.

When Victoria-based Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc.announced positive Phase 3 trial results late last year for its drug that prevents kidney failure in lupus patients, investors cheered.

The company’s stock nearly doubled in one day, surpassing a US$1B market cap on the Nasdaq. The shares then went beyond the $2B mark in early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began to weigh on global markets.

Aurinia’s stock is still flying high as the company builds and prepares for the U.S. launch of the drug, called voclosporin, as the first Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment for lupus nephritis. Aurinia is on track to file the complete new drug application to the FDA by the end of the second quarter.

Aurinia is one of the few Canadian companies that has reached Phase 3 trials on its own.

Aurinia is the classic case of a really good drug that needed to find the right funding, the right patient population, with the right management team — and that’s what brought us to where we are today,” says Peter Greenleaf, who took over the CEO job in April 2019.

The Phase 3 results were the major accomplishment of the company in 2019 and the most important accomplishment since 2013,” says Dr. Benjamin Rovinski, managing director of Lumira Ventures, a Toronto-based VC firm and leader in the Canadian life science investment community. Lumira was the first institutional investor in Aurinia in 2013, when the company was created through a reverse merger with Edmonton-based Isotechnika Pharma Inc.

Aurinia and Lumira have been awarded the CVCA’s VC Regional Impact Award for Western Canada. Aurinia has more than 50 employees in Victoria with an increasingly diverse board of directors.

Lumira’s initial investment helped Aurinia advance voclosporin and, in turn, attract additional investors along the way. It also helped the company land a listing on the Nasdaq in 2014, alongside its existing Toronto Stock Exchange listing.

The Nasdaq listing was important to the company to be able to attract new investors,” says Rovinski, who is also a member of Aurinia’s board.

Dr. Richard Glickman, Aurinia’s co-founder (alongside Michael Martin and Neil Solomons), was also a driving force behind the company’s growth. Glickman stepped down from his roles as chairman and CEO last year, as part of a succession plan announced in late 2018, to make way for Greenleaf. The move was also part of the company’s transition to a commercial-stage company.

Greenleaf is based in the U.S. but says Aurinia’s headquarters and talent base will remain in B.C.

Rob Huizinga, Aurinia’s executive vice president, corporate development, says the company also helps to strengthen the life sciences corridor in B.C. by bringing on high-quality scientists and researchers. It also partners with universities and centres of expertise in advancing life sciences.

The company’s U.S. commercial operation is being set up in Rockville, Maryland, to help sell the drug, if it received FDA approval. If all goes according to plan, Greenland hopes the drug will be launched in the U.S. market as early as the first quarter of 2021.

Greenleaf says the CVCA award is recognition of the hard work the founders and employees have done to move the drug from concept to actualization.

It’s an incredible thing to be one of the more successful stories in biotech not just in B.C. but in Canada,” Greenleaf says.