Arthritis detection kit JOINTstat™ a direct result of University of Alberta research
It’s a fine feeling for a medical researcher to see the transformation of his or her research into a convenient and affordable product that will improve thousands of lives.
But it must be even finer to realize the initial product is just a beginning, that more research, building on previous discoveries, might not only improve, but actually cure the disease.
Dr. Walter Maksymowych, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Alberta, is one of Canada’s top rheumatoid arthritis researchers. With Dr. Aziz Ghahary (now at the University of British Columbia) he discovered a “bio-marker” (a blood protein known as 14-3-3n) that, when present in the blood stream, is an undisputable indicator of rheumatoid arthritis.
The discovery has led to a readily available rheumatoid arthritis diagnostic kit known as JOINTstat ™. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune, inflammatory condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The earlier it can be diagnosed, the better the chances for more successful management of the condition.
Dr. Maksymowych’s on-going research increasingly points to the blood protein 14-3-3n as being not only a bio-marker indicating the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, but an actual cause of joint inflammation.
“Scientists can develop an antibody to combat any molecule. In today’s advanced therapeutic world, that’s very routine,” he says. “Animal studies are showing if we can clear the 14-3-3n protein in its very early stages, we could cure rheumatoid arthritis. That’s the Holy Grail – a very early diagnosis that can pin-point the disease in its earliest stages and cure it, if caught early enough.”
It’s not quite that simple. Tobacco use can create a chemical reaction, modifying the 14-3-3n protein. There’s not just one simple 14-3-3n protein to study, but four: The 14-3-3n itself, the antibodies that fight the 14-3-3n protein, the 14-3-3n protein modified by smoking, and the antibodies that fight the modified 14-3-3-n. “The checks and balances are rather complex,” Dr. Maksymowych says by way of understatement.
(A little known fact: Rheumatoid arthritis was unknown in Europe until the use of tobacco became widespread by the 18th century.)
Dr. Maksymowych sees a series of stages of scientific discovery as more becomes known about 14-3-3n, its modifications and the antibodies produced in reaction to its presence.
1. In the immediate future, the creation of more accurate arthritis diagnostics beyond the current JOINTstat, using the 14-3-3n as a “biomarker platform.”
2. As researchers learn more about the 14-3-3n antibodies, more information can be gleaned about the future path that rheumatoid arthritis inflammation might take. “We will know if the arthritis, for instance, will be mild or severe.” Dr. Maksymowych says.
3. By measuring all the 14-3-3n substances and antibodies, doctors will be able to prescribe more personalized arthritis treatments that will not be so hit-and-miss as at present. “Forty percent of treatments prescribed for arthritis don’t work, because the diagnostic tools are not (yet) precise enough. Canadians spend over $1 billion on arthritis treatment – that number could be halved with more precise diagnostics leading to less guess work.”
As contemplated in this report, the ability to cure arthritis through targeted antibodies is slowly becoming a possibility, as long as the disease is detected very, very early.
“We haven’t even realized 20% of the potential of the 14-3-3n blood protein,” says Dr. Maksymowych. “Once we understand the full spectrum of how the protein, its modifications and its antibodies can be used, we could make huge leaps in the management of rheumatoid arthritis.”
The actual business details of creating the JOINTstat commercial diagnostic kit from Dr. Maksymowych and Dr. Ghahary’s 14-3-3-n research was done primarily by the University of British Columbia’s Industry Liaison Office.
TEC Edmonton’s Technology Management team ensured that the University of Alberta’s intellectual property interests were assigned to UBC and then to the spin-off company Augurex Life Sciences Corporation, created for the purpose of commercializing and selling JOINTstat.
The partnership promotes expertise and supporting health innovation at the regional level. NanoSpeed was created to commercialize new technology developed in Edmonton, leading to “lab on a chip” Vitamin D deficiency analysis that is far less expensive and faster than most of its competitors.
NanoSpeed’s 25-OH Vitamin D deficiency test kit is sold world-wide, under such brands as QDx™ and Test4D™. It is not, however, yet available in North America.
NanoSpeed has used TEC Edmonton’s services for many years, developing the business side of its operation.
DynaLIFE dX is the supplier of routine hospital and community medical lab testing services for Northern Alberta to Alberta Health Services.
TEC Edmonton’s Technology Management team offers expert advice on intellectual property matters which often lead to new patents, licensing agreements and company spin-offs.
Biological Skeletal System Monitoring
US Patent 9,161,709 (Biological Skeletal System Monitoring) issued October 20th, 2015 covers a new method and system to assess injuries, pathologies and fitness of the back and spine. The patent has been licensed by TEC Edmonton to University of Alberta spinoff VibeDx Diagnostic Corp., founded by VibeDx inventor Dr. Greg Kawchuk and local entrepreneur/former TEC Edmonton Executive in Residence Cameron Schuler. VibeDx, located in the TEC Centre at Enterprise Square, is currently conducting clinical trials.
Geckos stick, even when it’s wet. University of Alberta researchers have developed a technique to more efficiently and cost effectively manufacture a dry, reusable adhesive that leaves no residue. The microstructures created have been inspired by the fibrillar structures found on the feet of geckos and certain spiders. The fibres’ customizable shape and configuration allows optimization of adhesion direction or strength to suit the application.
An interesting side benefit of this manufacturing technique? Microfluidic channels can be integrated directly into the adhesive surface. This opens additional possibilities for companies that want to develop lab-on-a-chip applications.
Predicting Muscle Fatigue
University of Alberta researchers have developed a real-time software system to predict muscle fatigue and potential injury under working situations. Initially designed as a predictive feedback device for wheelchair users, the system may be used to help workers avoid unnecessary muscle strain and optimize movement patterns. And while the system can benefit rehabilitation, occupational health and safety / fitness training, it also has potential applications in the manufacturing environment.
This technology provides long-term forecasts of when muscles will fatigue from repetitive or semi-repetitive data, whether pre-recorded or real-time force, direct metabolic or in vivo biofeedback data.
Edmonton, AB – January 21, 2016 – DynaLIFE Dx and TEC Edmonton are pleased to announce a two-year partnership designed to encourage the growth of new, innovative Edmonton companies, especially in the health sector.DynaLIFE Dx will be sponsoring a new health-company stream in the annual TEC VenturePrize Business Plan Competition. All participating health-based start-ups will have access to educational workshops, mentorship and expert feedback. The winning health products company will be awarded a $25,000 cash prize, the runner-up $10,000.
DynaLIFE Dx, the Northern Alberta diagnostic laboratory services company with over 1,200 employees, will also collaborate on space in the planned TEC Edmonton expansion in the downtown Enterprise Square building. .
DynaLIFE Dx was lead sponsor of last November’s TEC Edmonton Health Summit and has actively supported the TEC Health Accelerator, a five-year program within the TEC Edmonton Business Development division assisting in the creation of at least 50 new Edmonton health product companies by 2020.
“Supporting the growth of new, dynamic health-oriented companies is very much how DynaLIFE Dx invests in the community,” says CEO Jason Pincock. “TEC Edmonton has introduced us to companies like Metabolomic Technologies Inc. and NanoSpeed. We have been able to assist them in determining the commercial feasibility and application of their technologies. Our staff enjoy working with entrepreneurs in the commercializing of their products. In the process, we all gain new skill sets and discover innovative approaches to health challenges.
“TEC Edmonton’s clients gain outstanding benefit from connections to larger companies because they provide clear visibility into real market needs. Sponsorship from DynaLIFE Dx provides this benefit, and helps further grow Edmonton’s dynamic life sciences sector. We’re very pleased to have DynaLIFE Dx as a partner,” adds Chris Lumb, TEC Edmonton’s CEO.
DynaLIFEDx is a major Canadian medical laboratory offering a complete range of diagnostic testing services. With its main testing facility located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, DynaLIFE Dx has provided high quality laboratory services across Canada for more than 50 years.
ABOUT TEC EDMONTON
TEC Edmonton helps technology entrepreneurs accelerate their growth. In addition to being the commercialization agent for University of Alberta technologies, TEC Edmonton operates Greater Edmonton’s largest accelerator for early stage technology companies, including both university spinoffs and companies from the broader community.
TEC provides client services in four broad areas: Business development, funding and finance, technology commercialization and entrepreneur development.
TEC’s ~128 active clients are an outstanding group of companies. Since 2011, TEC clients have generated $472M in revenue, raised $232M in financing and funding, invested $142M in R&D, grown employment by 25% per year and now employ over 1750 people in the region. In addition, TEC has assisted in the creation of 22 spinoffs from the University in the last five years.
In 2015, TEC Edmonton was identified by the Swedish University Business Incubator (UBI) Index as the 4th best university business incubator in North America, and was also named Canadian “Incubator of the Year” at the 2014 Startup Canada Awards.
In its recent 2015-16 budget, the government of Alberta put some serious financial meat on the bones of diversifying Alberta’s economy and encouraging the development of knowledge-based entrepreneurial enterprise.
Most significant was the allocation of an additional $1.5 billion in capital reserves to provincial government lender ATB Financial – enabling the government-owned financial institution to potentially lend up to an additional $10 billion to small and medium-sized Alberta businesses.
Close behind was a directive to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) that the investment agency allocate 3% of its Heritage Trust Fund investments, about $500 million dollars, to invest in Alberta-based companies. AIMCo is a provincial crown corporation mandated to manage and invest some $90 billion (made up of the $18-billion Alberta Heritage Fund plus other government-related funds) in order to maximize returns.
Finally, the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC) was allocated another $50 million by the new provincial government (over the next two fiscal years) to continue to “prime the pump” of venture-capital (VC) investment in Alberta firms. The AEC is a “funder of funds”. It makes investments in private, high-risk high-reward venture-capital (VC) firms, which in turn invest both the AEC money and their other partners’ cash in innovative, potentially fast-growth companies in both Alberta and elsewhere.
These are broad strokes indeed. These government initiatives will increase investments, grants and loans to innovative small and medium-sized Alberta businesses. Such are the companies that TEC Edmonton serves.
Thanks to the additional $1.5 billion capital reserve, ATB Financial Executive VP (Business and Agriculture) Wellington Holbrook says ATB Financial plans to lend an additional $4 billion to $5 billion to small and medium-sized Alberta businesses. Currently ATB Financial has some $7 billion invested in loans to small-and-medium-sized companies within Alberta’s boundaries.
AIMCo spokesperson Denes Nemeth says AIMCo has not yet announced how it will implement the 3% directive. AIMCo’s previous mandate from the Alberta government was simply to maximize the return on its investments to its clients, with no specific direction on where such investments should be made.
In 2009, the Alberta government gave the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC) $100 million to invest in venture capital (VC) funds willing to consider investments in Alberta-based companies with growth potential.
By investing in VC funds, rather than in companies directly, the idea was to leverage the government money to create access to a larger pool of capital beyond the $100 million. The VC funds would be required to raise at least two-thirds of their capital from sources other than the AEC. For every $1 the AEC invested in a VC company, the firm would invest another $3 from other investors. .
The aim has also been to let the experts – the VC managers, not the AEC or the government of Alberta – make the investment decisions, and to provide the companies in which they invest with all kinds of financial, operational and sector expertise.
According to AEC CEO Kristina Williams, AEC has invested $70 million and allocated the remaining $30 million from its initial $100 million. The venture-capital funds in which the AEC invested have, in turn, invested close to $300 million in 27 Alberta companies. Every $1 AEC has invested, Williams says, has resulted in $4 of investments into Alberta companies.
Alberta’s new government agrees with the overall AEC investment approach and strategy as a way to encourage investment in worthwhile Alberta companies. The government is not only bringing another $50 million to the AEC table. It has also directed AEC to re-invest any profits from the first $100 million back into Alberta-oriented VC firms.
“Access to capital for worthwhile companies has always been a challenge,” says TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb. “The tax and investment policies of provincial governments are one of the significant drivers of risk investment. We are pleased to see the new Alberta government recognize the importance of innovation-based economic diversification, and the importance of access to capital for high-potential innovative companies in Alberta.”
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