What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Cancer. We have big ambitions to develop personalized and potent treatments in areas of high unmet medical need.
We feel we have a unique opportunity to achieve this lofty goal based upon our team’s expertise and Fusion’s platform technology.
People are generally familiar with external beam radiation, which has been a mainstay of cancer therapy for decades. Here, a tumor is bathed in a beam of radiation delivered from a machine. Despite the success of external beam radiation treatment, its use is limited to treating a finite number of tumors and not all cancers respond. We asked the question, what if we could bring the radiation directly to cancer cells?
Radiopharmaceuticals, which are injected intravenously, take radiation therapy to the next level by delivering radiation directly to cancer cells. Fusion focuses on actinium-based alpha-emitting radiopharmaceuticals, which are designed to cause substantial physical damage to cancer cells, including multiple double-stranded DNA breaks that are lethal to the tumor. When combined with a targeting molecule, such as an antibody or small molecule, alpha particles are “smart bombs” for cancer cells.
Not only do radiopharmaceuticals offer a way to irradicate multiple cancers simultaneously, we can also see where they go in patients. A benefit of radiopharmaceuticals is that imaging can be used to assess the uptake of the drug into tumors and to determine radiation doses to key organs, helping to identify patients most likely to respond to therapy. This personalized approach to medicine is designed to ensure the right drug is given to the right patient.
Our field of radiopharmaceuticals is experiencing a resurgence of interest right now, driven by the opportunity to harness the power of radiation to kill cancer cells. In addition, technology advancements allow this new generation to overcome prior challenges of radiopharmaceuticals, and recent positive clinical data is leading to a surge in investments and product launches. Having spent 25+ years in the field, it’s been rewarding for me to see these therapies becoming one of the primary pillars of modern cancer treatment.
How has Fusion benefitted from the Canadian biotech environment?
The Canadian biotech environment is rapidly growing and has significant untapped potential. We have benefitted from Canada’s investments in basic research, Ontario’s commitment to translational research and various funding agencies making major investments in research infrastructure. We have also benefitted from access to top-tier talent, particularly in science. Our Hamilton headquarters is adjacent to the campus of McMaster University. Since we spun out of the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), which was founded at McMaster, where I’ve been a professor for over 20 years, we have had a close relationship with the University since our inception. With these origins in academia, we have benefitted from attracting employees who focus on innovation, transformational R&D and who are advancing innovations in cancer therapy.
We are also re-investing in the Canadian biotech landscape. We recently entered a partnership with McMaster University, supported by MITACS. Through internships for graduate, undergraduate and post-doctoral fellows, our partnership with McMaster will explore projects related to radiopharmaceutical R&D. In addition to advancing our research, the partnership will foster a pipeline of scientists with the skills that Fusion will need to grow.
Looking back in history, Canada has had a leadership role in radiopharmaceuticals. Leveraging that work which goes back to the 1950s, in 2008, I founded the CPDC, a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization Research under the Canadian federal government’s Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program. With support of the CECR program, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), McMaster and multiple commercial partners, CPDC established technology to discover, develop and manufacture radiopharmaceuticals to the benefit of patients the world-over. Fusion spun out of the CPDC to advance certain technologies developed there, and we continue to partner with them in manufacturing our radiopharmaceuticals. We also partner with Vancouver-based TRIUMF to develop, produce and procure the supply of actinium-225, used in the creation of our radiopharmaceutical therapies. These resources, along with great Canadian venture capital firms like Genesys Capital, are examples of how the Canadian biotech environment has supported Fusion’s launch and growth, particularly in our niche area of radiopharmaceuticals.
With the well-known challenges facing the industry (including access to capital and talent), what unique abilities have you discovered about yourselves?
Fusion has shown itself to be an incredibly adaptable organisation with a strong and positive work culture. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we faced a particular challenge: how to continue our ambitious business growth plans, which included hiring a significant number of new employees, completing a major financing, and executing transformative business development transactions in a new virtual world. We succeeded in all cases. In the past two years, we grew by approximately 60 employees. We also completed major deals with large pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca and Ipsen. Finally, we executed a successful initial public offering in June 2020, raising $212 million (USD) through the height of the pandemic when we were all still trying to figure out how to operate in the “new normal.”
I attribute this success to a couple of factors: 1) the innovative nature of the business we are in that supports creative thinking in the face of challenges; and 2) the phenotype of employees that are drawn to Fusion. I’ve been incredibly proud of how the employees at Fusion came together to work through the challenges presented by COVID and how they have embraced the challenges and opportunities of working on innovative cancer medicines. We have built a close-knit culture of collaboration and science driven innovation. In a time when many people have felt isolated, we leaned on social connections at Fusion and our common mission as the foundation for a positive work environment.
What drives the Fusion team every day?
Innovation, data and scientific curiosity drive our work to develop novel treatments to benefit cancer patients. This is not just a corporate perspective but one that is inspired by the individual motivations of Fusion employees. As a science-driven organization, we believe that data and knowledge are powerful tools that can be used to improve healthcare and our communities.
At the end of the day, for me it boils down to the fact that collectively we have an opportunity to bring forward truly innovative science to tackle a problem that touches almost every human being globally. What could be more motivating than the potential to have such an important impact on people?