Ontario start-up company secures US$41.4 million to advance cancer immunotherapy

November 2, 2016

Partners congratulate Turnstone Biologics Inc.

The Ottawa Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) and McMaster University congratulate Turnstone Biologics Inc. (Turnstone) on securing US$ 41.4 million in new private investments.

Turnstone was founded in 2015 to advance the development of novel oncolytic viral immunotherapies for cancer. Its technology is based on research led by Dr. John Bell (from The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa - middle), Dr. Brian Lichty (from McMaster University - right) and Dr. David Stojdl (from CHEO and uOttawa - left).

Turnstone’s most advanced product is an oncolytic Maraba virus that is engineered to express melanoma-associated antigen A3 (MAGEA3). This is currently being tested in a clinical trial led by The Ottawa Hospital, sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Full results are expected to be released in 2017. More information for patients is available here.

Quick Facts and Links
  • This is believed to be the largest venture capital (VC) deal in Ottawa since 2013, and the second largest biotech VC deal in Canada in 2016 (data obtained from Invest Ottawa).
  • Private investment is almost always necessary for the development of new therapies, as this can cost more than US$2.5 billion.
  • The top journal Science called cancer immunotherapy the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013.
  • Numerous organizations have supported the research team, including the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Angels of Hope, BioCanRx, Brain Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CHEO Foundation, Hair Donation Ottawa, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Research Institute.

Quotes from Founding Scientists

Dr. David Stojdl, senior scientist, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario; associate professor, University of Ottawa:
  • “This financing is incredible validation that we’re on the right track. We all want to be part of a scientific narrative that changes lives, and I believe that our immunotherapy approach is it.”
Dr. Brian Lichty, associate professor at McMaster University:
  • “We have had tremendous success with our technology so far, but this financial support as a commercial venture is essential in enhancing our ability to bring it to the bedside. We know there is so much potential.”
Dr. John Bell, senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital; professor, University of Ottawa:
  • “Community support has been and will continue to be crucial for our research. However developing new therapies is extremely costly, so we also need to engage the private sector to take our research to the next level. I want to express my deep gratitude to all the people who have helped get us to this exciting place.”

Additional Quotes

Dr. Derek Jonker, Principal Investigator for the Maraba trial; medical oncologist, The Ottawa Hospital; professor, University of Ottawa:
  • “We are pleased with the progress of the clinical trial so far and now have a better understanding of how patients do after receiving the dual virus vaccine therapy. We anticipate moving to phase II for patients with lung, breast and esophagogastric cancers in the near future.”
Dr. Martin Osmond, CEO and Scientific Director, CHEO Research Institute:
  • “CHEO is proud that the Stojdl lab was involved in the initial discovery and development of the Maraba virus! Today it’s the lead asset in Turnstone’s impressive portfolio, which is nothing short of inspiring. My heartfelt congratulations to the entire team at Turnstone for this major funding milestone which boosts the trajectory towards improved patient outcomes through research.”
Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research, The Ottawa Hospital; professor, University of Ottawa:
  • “It is incredibly challenging for academic researchers to take a discovery all the way from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside, so I want to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Bell and his colleagues. Their success has helped to create a culture of translational research at The Ottawa Hospital that has huge potential for patients as well as the economy.”
Dr. Mona Nemer, Vice-President of Research, University of Ottawa
  • "This investment represents a major milestone in the development and translation of academic research discoveries into the clinic. The University of Ottawa congratulates Turnstone and our researchers on their success. We look forward to working with Turnstone and the research team to advance this technology further."
Dr. Paul O’Byrne, Dean and Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University
  • “Commercialization of discoveries in our academic laboratories is an important move forward to a healthy society, both economically and physically. We are extremely thrilled by the work of Dr. Lichty and other McMaster scientists, and the collaboration on this project with CHEO, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, other supporters and now, Turnstone. This significant investment being made in Turnstone is much appreciated.”
Dr. Lincoln Stein, Interim Scientific Director of The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research:
  • “The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is proud to stimulate the groundbreaking multi-institutional research behind Turnstone, including significant financial and in-kind support enabling the current clinical trial. We congratulate the Turnstone team on attracting further investment to the benefit of both patients with cancer and the innovation economy of Ontario.”
Dr. Stéphanie Michaud, President and CEO, BioCanRx
  • “On behalf of BioCanRx, I wish to extend my congratulations to Turnstone Biologics on the significant investment announced today. This announcement not only reflects the accomplishments of Turnstone but also of the advancements in the oncolytic virus platform in Canada, and around the world. These novel therapies potentially offer a unique opportunity to change the way we treat cancer patients. We are delighted to continue working with Turnstone in transitioning these important new discoveries out of the lab and into the clinic.”

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