ARCHIVED - 15 years, 150+ patents and 1,500 employees later
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Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
June 20, 2008— Vancouver, British Columbia
Dr. Bill Hunter
The role of government in supporting private sector research through programs such as the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) falls well under the radar of most Canadians. Yet our lives are all touched by the results of such research in profound, and profitable, ways – through the development of everything from lightweight, portable satellite terminals used to gather news from remote locations to medical procedures performed in hospitals across the country, and in fact around the world, that help save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
One of the strongest proponents for the continuation and expansion of such programs is Vancouver-based Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
It has been 15 years since he and his partners founded Angiotech, but President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Bill Hunter is still quick to credit NRC-IRAP for helping to foster what has become, by any standard, a tremendous Canadian success story.
From its founding in 1992 while Hunter was still a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Angiotech aimed for strategic alliances with universities and industry to establish channels for the commercialization of its products. The seed for Angiotech's long relationship with NRC was planted in the company's second year of operation when Angiotech began working with Josef Mueller, an NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) who could help develop those alliances.
"We all came from scientific backgrounds, and lacked business and industrial expertise," says Hunter. "We knew which drugs and diseases we wanted to target, but we didn't have the 'how' part, the technical expertise. That was here Josef Mueller came in. He asked a lot of questions which helped us focus on the technical issues which really mattered. Joe also linked us to people at the NRC, in the private sector, and at the University to help us build our business."
Within five years Angiotech had developed medical technology focused on controlling chronic inflammation and angiogenesis, the abnormal growth of blood vessels associated with cancer tumours, arthritis and other chronic diseases that fuel their progress. In essence the technology was a unique method of delivering paclitaxel, an anti-cancer drug that effectively inhibits angiogenesis, to diseased sites. As a result of this breakthrough, Angiotech signed a $32 million licensing agreement.
The company next adapted paclitaxel and polymers to coronary stents. Stents are mesh tubes implanted in body passageways to hold them open. Prior to Angiotech's breakthrough, stents frequently failed because surrounding tissue grew over them. Subsequently, Angiotech partnered with Boston Scientific Corporation to create the paclitaxel-eluting coronary stent, TAXUS®, which was launched in the U.S. in 2004. It has now been implanted in over 4 million patients worldwide.
With that milestone, Angiotech was clearly no longer a start-up or even a small enterprise; it was a Canadian success story. In the process of achieving that success, Angiotech learned, as do most NRC clients, that the help provided by NRC-IRAP is about much, much more than simply money.
Each new NRC-IRAP client is assigned an ITA whose job it is to ask questions from both a scientific and business perspective about the proposed research. He or she then networks with experts elsewhere in the NRC, and within the private sector, who can help put a project on a firm foundation and help move it forward. Often, the NRC doesn't have to look too far.
"Angiotech is a staunch private sector supporter of NRC-IRAP," says Dr. Paul Barran, an NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor in Vancouver, and notes the efforts of David Hall, Angiotech's Chief Compliance Officer & Sr. VP, Government & Community Relations. "David has been Chairman of LifeSciences British Columbia (LSBC) for the last three years and a Director for four years. LSBC represents the biotechnology, medical device, and greater life sciences community of British Columbia. As Past Chair, David has a high profile among early stage technology companies in British Columbia, and he has steered many potential new clients to NRC-IRAP."
On a less formal basis, Angiotech is also sharing its experience with biotechnology and other technology companies to help them grow efficiently and effectively. "There are several senior management level roundtables (CEO, CFO, HR) where executives meet to share best practices and discuss their experiences to better the industry as a whole" adds Dr. Barran. "Angiotech has been a very proactive member of this group."
One important lesson Angiotech has been willing to share is the need for a start-up company's business model to evolve as it begins to succeed. "Initially, our business objective was to develop technologies that could be licensed for other companies to manufacture and distribute," says Hunter. "Today that has changed. Angiotech has grown into a company able to take an idea from the labs directly to the customer. We continue to license our intellectual property, and also sell a wide range of next generation medical and combination products.
It is an impressive portfolio. As of March 31, 2008, Angiotech's portfolio of intellectual property developed, licensed or acquired to date included over 250 issued U.S. patents and 230 pending U.S. patent applications. These patents cover a wide range of technologies from hemostats used in the operating room to control bleeding to vascular grafts granting easy access to arteries.
Following in the footsteps of all successful NRC-IRAP funded projects, Angiotech has attracted a talented group of employees over the years. Today Angiotech has over 1,500 employees worldwide with operations in Canada, the U.S., and Europe.
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