U of T researcher and JLABS draw U.S. drug delivery startup to Toronto

Shawn Glinter, the CEO of Nashville-based Pendant Biosciences, was born in Winnipeg and played hockey in college.

But it took a leading University of Toronto researcher – and last year’s launch of life sciences incubator JLABS @ Toronto – to rekindle his interest in Canada.

Though Pendant originally licensed its polymer-based drug delivery technology from Vanderbilt University, the path to commercializing it soon led Glinter and his team to Christine Allen, a professor in U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“I courted her for about a year before she finally said yes,” says Glinter.

Allen’s research focuses on new technologies for drug delivery. She’s one of only a handful of people in North America familiar with Pendant’s polymer technology, which promises to make drugs more efficient, longer lasting and opens the door to drug-impregnated implants and other medical devices.

My startup has six co-founders. Here’s how it works

Choosing co-founders to start a venture is one of the most important decisions an entrepreneur has to make. It’s common to see a founding team with two or three members, but at Therapia, an on-demand physiotherapy platform, we have chosen a team of six co-founders, all of whom have different backgrounds and skill-sets, which we believe gives us a strategic advantage. Here’s why:

Everyone has a different area of expertise

One of our greatest assets as a founding team is that we each have our own strengths, and more important, that the others respect those strengths. We were careful when building our team to ensure that each founder had a diverse and specialized background. Two of our founders are physiotherapists who bring a combined 30 years of rehab industry experience. They understand the unique problems that physiotherapists, patients and business owners experience. Two of us are medical practitioners, so we’re the ones prescribing courses of physiotherapy after surgery, and dealing with the ramifications of treatment that is cut short. We understand the value and challenges of physiotherapy from a referrers perspective so we can better tailor our platform to the medical community. We also have a technical co-founder who is the expert on the platform itself, and a finance-focused co-founder who handles financial projections and modeling.

Six founders with varied backgrounds mean that each person owns their area of the business, and decision-making becomes easier when you defer to the expert in that area. If a decision needs to be made related to physiotherapy, we know who to turn to for the final call; and the same is true of decisions related to tech, finance and medical.

U of T inventor-entrepreneur honoured with Governor General’s Innovation Award

The molecules he works with may be small, but Professor Paul Santerre is using them to solve some of the world’s biggest and most pressing medical challenges.

One of Santerre’s most successful inventions is Endexo™, a surface-modifying material that can be applied to medical tubing to prevent blood from sticking and clotting, one of the major reasons for catheter failure. His U of T startup Interface Biologics (IBI) has three distinct molecule-based technology platforms, which can be applied to hundreds of different products and are estimated to be worth billions. He is a leader in engineering smart scaffolds to repair heart tissue.

Today, Santerre is one of six awardees being honoured with the 2017 Governor General’s Innovation Award. He’ll will be recognized at a special ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 23.

One of the world’s leading biomaterials researchers, Santerre is a professor in the Faculty of Dentistry and the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. He is also a lead researcher at the Translational Biology and Engineering Program, part of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.

Tracking proteins using AI: U of T scientists develop deep learning algorithm

U of T researchers have developed a deep learning algorithm that can track proteins to help reveal what makes cells healthy and what goes wrong in disease.

From self-driving cars to computers that can diagnose cancer, artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping the world in ways that are hard to predict, but for cell biologists, the change could not have come soon enough. With new and fully automated microscopes, scientists collect reams of data faster than they can analyze it.

The protein-tracking algorithm, Dubbed DeepLoc, can recognize patterns in the cell made by proteins better and much faster than the human eye or previous computer vision-based approaches.

“We can learn so much by looking at images of cells. How does the protein look under normal conditions? Do they look different in cells that carry genetic mutations or when we expose cells to drugs or other chemical reagents?” says Benjamin Grys, a graduate student in molecular genetics who recently co-authored a paper on the research. “People have tried to manually assess what’s going on with their data, but that takes a lot of time.”

U of T’s Deep Genomics applies AI to accelerate drug development for genetic conditions

Genetic mutations are the cause of countless diseases and disorders, from cancer to autism to cystic fibrosis.

Now, startup company Deep Genomics is applying decades of research into machine learning and genomic science to develop genetic medicines – accelerating treatments that address the root causes of these conditions.

“If you have smoke billowing out of the tailpipe of your car, you don’t just put a filter on the tailpipe – you have to look under the hood and address the original problem,” says Brendan Frey, the co-founder and CEO of Deep Genomics, and a U of T engineering professor with cross-appointments in the department of computer science and the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. “That’s what we’re doing: applying our platform for the discovery-phase development of medicines that address genetic problems.”

Developing new drugs is expensive, slow and inefficient – when researchers identify a protein involved in a disease, pharmaceutical companies often use a ‘guess-and-test’ approach to see whether any of the known drug molecules in their arsenal is a match to the protein’s unique shape. Often, thousands of molecules need to be screened in order to generate a match.

Frey’s team at Deep Genomics is looking at the first biological step in the process: at the genes that contain the blueprints for proteins and instructions on how and when to produce them.

Marketing is key to building a successful startup: U of T’s Impact Centre

When Gimmy Chu co-founded smart lighting company Nanoleaf back in 2012, he initially conceived of the firm as one focused exclusively on technology development.

But he soon realized that he was actually in the business of selling consumer products: Nanoleaf’s debut offering was a dodecahedron-shaped LED bulb that was as stylish, as it was energy efficient.

The problem? Neither Chu nor fellow University of Toronto engineering graduates Tom Rodinger and Christian Yan knew the first thing about sales and marketing.

“I read Marketing for Dummies,” says Chu. “I needed to understand the fundamental principles of how to run that side of the business.”

While Chu and his team hit on a winner with their bulb design and “world’s most energy-efficient” tagline, other research-types aren’t always so savvy straight out of the gate. Some even say this may be holding back startups – particularly among researchers who launch companies based on their work.

Bright ideas: researchers, entrepreneurs, industry leaders at U of T conference exploring future of light

Most associate insomnia with the dark. But Amol Rao says we should pay more attention to our lights.

The U of T student, who will soon be graduating with a master’s degree in industrial engineering, cites a growing body of research that shows nighttime exposure to blue wavelength light – the type that illuminates our smartphones, tablets and laptops – messes with the body’s internal clock, tricking it into believing it’s the middle of the day.

“Light is like coffee,” explains Rao. “If you had a cup at 10 p.m., most people would expect it to have an effect on their sleep.”

The solution for those unwilling to unplug? Rao says lighting manufacturers will eventually shift the wavelengths of smart bulbs depending on the time of day. In the meantime, he suggests donning a pair of orange-tinted, blue-blocking sunglasses before bed – like the ones sold by Somnitude, a startup firm he founded with partner Daniel Giavedoni.

Somnitude will have its products on display this week at a U of T Mississauga conference held by U of T’s Smart Sustainable Lighting Network (SSLN), the country’s largest and most active cluster of lighting-focused researchers and industry participants. The group, part of the university’s Impact Centre business accelerator, works with lighting manufacturers and other partners to promote the development and adoption of sustainable lighting technologies in Canada.