C3i Center Inc. is a CDMO on a mission to help grow a national biopharma ecosphere in Canada by accelerating the commercialization of cell therapies and cancer immunotherapies.
Readers encountered Montreal-based C3i when we discussed how a cell-therapy developer (Triumvira Immunologics, Inc.), and the emerging C3i, enticed Lonza to install its newest technology for autologous therapies (the Cocoon System) at C3i. (I encourage those who haven’t, to read part one.)
“There’s a lot of Canada in our story,” says Louise Petropoulos, C3i’s chief executive officer. She’s certainly correct, but I found a lot of story in C3i.
And it’s well worth retelling to Outsourced Pharma readers, no matter where in the world you reside.
You Have To Start Somewhere
A few minutes into our discussion, it’s clear Petropoulos is on a professional and personal mission to grow the Canadian biopharma industry, and has a plan in motion to accomplish that.
C3i was originally funded by the Canadian government in 2015 as a Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research. Part of that establishment was to take over a newly built, but never utilized cell-manufacturing facility at a large regional hospital in Montreal (Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont). (Why built but never realized is a story for another day.)
Today, C3i is a “self-sustainable non-profit,” according to Petropoulos, offering biomarker and diagnostic services, GMP manufacturing, clinical research, CRO services, and investment support.
Petropoulos was the second employee; she immediately began equipping the facility, and nurturing a full stable of support services.
When C3i was launched, she quickly had to figure out how to transform that newly built cell manufacturing facility at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont into a business that innovators could rely on. .
The search for clients started with the pursuit of Pharma, but there were no takers. Next was established biotech, but “nobody wants to be first in an unproven facility,” she says.
So C3i turned its gaze to emerging companies. “Nobody wants to support start-ups because of the risks,” she says. “We saw an opportunity to invest in potential game-changers, and so developed a shared risk model and collaborative approach to clinical trials and company development.”
“We did whatever was required to get them through their Series A funding rounds, and stay in Canada,” says Petropoulos of the first two emerging cell-therapy companies C3i has invested in to date – the aforementioned (and featured) Triumvira, and ExCellThera, a Montreal-based start-up focused on developing cell and immune-cell treatments for blood cancers
“It took cash, it took in-kind investment of our services in exchange for equity stakes –anything needed to get these companies started.”
Anything But Profitable?
Interesting, yes. Admirable, too.
However, I ask Petropoulos if it’s a profitable business model for a small CDMO to invest money and energy in an emerging autologous-cell-therapy organization – started up in Canada or not?
“Few if any CDMO seems to have a financial model for personalized medicine,” I inform her.
The statement visibly startles her.
“You mean to tell me they can't make money?” she responds.
“That’s what I hear,” I reply.
“I find that very interesting,” she says, “we're not one of those companies.”
“Scientific translation is difficult, but if you do it well, there’s a business model for it,” she explains. “We had good people to begin with, and we have built our team to focus on excellence and continual improvement. Our IP is our people.”
“I ensure they continue to get as trained as possible. We communicate to ensure they're happy and interested in what they're doing. If there’s a particular project they are interested in working on, I'll go find it and bring it in.
“Right now, because most of the technologies are still autologous, they know at the end of manufacturing is a patient. It's not just a job. And the companies we work with are not just clients, they are partners.
“And you know, companies are now breaking down the walls to get all their pipeline in with us.”
Why Not Here?
We circle back to the national objective this CDMO has taken on. Petropoulos says C3i takes this stance so the entire biopharma industry can “get stronger here.”
“The key is to do more, right? As a Canadian CDMO, to help build our ecosystem, retain our IP, ensure companies get to stay here, and support our population’s health and economy, as opposed to constantly ping-ponging our technology out of the country.
“If we see something that's innovative, we want to make sure it has access locally. Once it hits phase one, we want to make sure you can get to phase two and further.”
“Why wouldn't a company reach commercialization and still be located in Canada? You can work collaboratively from wherever you are.
“We need the opportunities to learn – to let companies make their mistakes. Some people say all the expertise is not available in Canada, but really the country has never been given the opportunity to grow. We have to give ourselves the chance to evolve.”
“I think every country has to stand for itself. This is our part in doing this, as a CDMO.”
Finally, Petropoulos says this thought process is not necessarily “putting your country first.”
“But at least it is not putting our country last. “We’ve demonstrated we can attract local and international companies in the cell and gene therapy space. We have demonstrated we can develop and manufacture those therapies here, and be competitive globally. This is doing our part, as a CDMO.”