by Heidi Riley
As part of Global Biotech Week in September, a virtual BioNetworking session was presented by the PEI BioAlliance. The webinar featured representatives from local bioscience companies, who provided highlights on the activities and growth happening in the sector.
“With more than 60 companies in the sector, bioscience on PEI is growing, employing over 2,000 full-time, highly–skilled workers. The average income in the sector is more than 40 percent higher than average of all workers on PEI.
“We may be a small Island in Eastern Canada, but our size is our competitive advantage,” says Oliver Technow, Board Chair, PEI BioAlliance and CEO, BioVectra. It gives us opportunity for a collaborative partnership between government, academia, and industry.
“A shining example of this innovation and collaboration is the launch of the Canadian Alliance for Skills Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) which will help develop very important re- and upskilling of talent that is needed to continue to grow this sector successfully right here in Atlantic Canada.
Cheryl Stewart-Walsh, Board Member, PEI BioAlliance and Director, Atlantic Canada, Innovative Medicines Canada, moderated the virtual seminar, which featured representatives from seven PEI bioscience companies:
- Center for Aquaculture Technologies
- Island Abbey Foods
- Nature’s Crops International
“As the pandemic rages across the globe, the solutions our life sciences and bioscience industry has delivered during the last six months and will continue to deliver in the future have never been more critically important for our health and economic competitiveness,” says Oliver.
For more about the PEI BioAlliance and job listings in the sector on PEI, visit www.peibioalliance.com
AffinityImmuno – Jon Zuccolo, Founder and President
This biotech company located in Charlottetown develops and commercializes antibody-related technologies. “We were one of the early companies involved in developing research products for COVID-19,” says Jon Zuccolo.
“We developed our first antibodies by early March 2020, which positioned us to quickly get involved in research and in developing products for COVID-19.”
The company works in two areas:
Antigen testing is a methodology to identify if a person is currently infected with the virus. “Our goal is to help develop products that can be used on site in places like hospitals, airports, and schools, and tell you almost immediately if you are infected with COVID-19.
“We developed a number of reagents in house, including a lab-based test that allows you to identify corona virus in a saliva sample. We are currently working on our own five-minute saliva-based test to identify corona virus infection. There is a lot of interest in this technology, and the Canadian government is planning to purchase rapid testing kits.”
Serological testing determines if a person has previously been exposed to the corona virus by detecting COVID-19 antibodies. This is an important test to understand the spread of the infection and to monitor if a vaccine can generate a strong antibody response and to check if there is preexisting immunity in the population.
“We are currently working on partnering with companies that can manufacture our test and we are increasing our data set to prepare submissions to Health Canada and the FDA for emergency authorization and commercialization of this test. This work was supported heavily by the National Research Council of Canada, Canadian Blood Services, Dalhousie University, Next Generation Manufacturing and Innovation PEI, and private funds.
“We are very heavily focused on the technical side of things – we identify a technical challenge and then try to solve it, developing robust, innovative, high quality products.
“The marketing side of things is very challenging for our company. We are just four people with very technical backgrounds. We are trying to partner with groups with more expertise in commercialization and marketing with sales forces and well– established distribution networks. It is a massive challenge to get these products out globally.”
For more information, visit www.AffinityImmuno.com
BioTraceIT – Deb Dullen, CEO
“The PainTrace® system combines wearable hardware and software that allows us to visualize pain,” says Deb Dullen. “We work in multiple industries, including animal welfare, horse racing, research and pharmaceutical, and families and companion animals in the veterinary space.
“On PEI, we have an amazing team of software engineers who created an online data analytics system with healthcare-grade encryption and speech detect, so we can document the activities when we are visualizing pain, and track it over time.
“We are also working with an excellent hardware team that has developed a ‘fitbit on steroids’ so to speak. It is the combination of hardware and software that allows us to see our PainTrace® biosignal. We have an amazing team and we are expanding our offices and are hiring.
“We have received veterinary medicine approval, and we have distributors, corporate partners, and manufacturers in place. We would like to have our manufacturing on PEI in the future.
“Our next goal is FDA approval for use in humans. We are pleased to be part of the solution. According to research, 21 percent of the global population experiences chronic pain, and annually, $300 billion is spent on treating pain, so this is a huge opportunity.
“We have worked closely with The PEI BioAlliance, which has a very wide breadth of global experience. They provided a mentor team that has a global business background. We have also access to networking opportunities that help us expand into new markets. It has been a great resource.”
For more information, visit www.biotraceit.com or www.facebook.com/PainTrace
Center for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT) – Jason Cleaversmith, VP of Health and Nutrition and GM for Canada
“Despite the global pandemic and economic turmoil in the first half of this year in the seafood sector, CAT has gone through tremendous positive changes,” says Jason Cleaversmith.
“We have tripled our Canadian footprint with the addition of a new facility, and we have doubled staff numbers as well. We are very optimistic about our future continued growth and success. We are in the process of launching a business service with a feed extruder. We are also the world’s largest privately held provider of AQC3 aquaria space, and we can work with any aquatic species or aquatic pathogen.”
CAT’s PEI locations in Souris and Victoria by the Sea are supported by the head office in San Diego, California. The PEI facilities have about 75,000 square feet of aquaria and office space where they focus on health, nutrition and diagnostics for domestic and international clients.
“Our sweet spot is in the interplay of health, breeding, genetics, nutrition, and genotyping – we are unique in that respect,” says Jason. “We solely focus on aquaculture, so we bring together a high level of expertise, knowledge and infrastructure to provide services to the aquaculture sector. We work with new and highly innovative international farm and feed companies and producers.”
In the past year, they have worked with several different species, including eels, tilapia, shrimp, salmon and trout.
“We have a lot of expertise from our staff base that has been with us for several years. Our new service requirements are driving the recruitment of new expertise and talent.”
Their new service, which is planned to be up and running by early 2021, offers the ability to produce trial batches and test formulations to see how raw materials perform in a feed extrusion process.
“At CAT, we are able to help with breeding, genetic selection, health challenges, nutritional requirements, and diagnostics to help support existing and new species, lifecycle completion and development.
“The PEI BioAlliance has been particularly good at engaging and supporting the industry with several new initiatives over the past few years which have delivered on the needs of the sector. It is a true collaborative effort.
“The engagement levels on PEI are certainly higher than my experience elsewhere, which is a factor of the size of our community and how we interact. You can get the support you need in a timely manner to really give your business a chance to succeed.”
For more information, visit www.aquatechcenter.com
Elanco – Brian Stewart, General Manager
“Elanco is one of the larger bioscience companies on the Island,” says Brian Stewart. “Globally, Elanco is the second-largest animal health company, with a focus on supporting food protein production and products that care for companion animals. On PEI, we focus on the food side.”
Elanco has manufacturing sites all over the world, including the US, France, UK, and Germany. In Charlottetown, Elanco has three facilities in the West Royalty Business Park. Two are for manufacturing, and the third houses administration and the quality control lab.
History of the company
“Back in 1984, the Aquahealth Group was founded on PEI and began developing vaccines for fish health,” says Brian. “In 2000, Novartis purchased the company, and the knowledge base and facilities grew. In 2015, Elanco purchased the facilities, continued producing aqua products, and heavily invested in growth.”
Elanco manufactures vaccines for the aqua market, specifically farmed salmon. The manufacturing facility in Charlottetown has equipment for fermentation, upstream and downstream processing, labelling and packaging, and quality control release testing.
“Our markets are where farmed salmon is produced on the coastlines of Norway, Chile, Canada, the UK and the US,” says Brian. “Each coastline has a different disease issue, so we tailor our vaccines to meet market needs. Implementing our vaccines to take care of a particular disease makes it possible to open up whole areas to fish farming that could not be farmed previously.”
Staff numbers are growing
“A few years ago, we had about 75 staff members. Now, 135 people work at the PEI site. It is a young and diverse workforce which is highly educated. We are always looking for strong talent and people who want to be part of our team. We are seeing a lot of growth and opportunity in the vaccine network to take care of the need for food protein across the world.”
Support drives growth
“Growth on PEI is driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit to take an idea and bring it to fruition,” says Brian. “A lot of key people at the PEI BioAlliance and provincial and federal governments are very supportive. The efforts of the PEI BioAlliance to support and incubate some of PEI’s younger companies will drive us to the next round of innovation. The level of collaboration in this region is the biggest thing.”
For more information about Elanco, visit www.elanco.com
Island Abbey Foods – Scott Spencer, President and Chief Operating Officer
The company is the maker of Honibe® products, which uses pure dried honey to deliver health and wellness products. Honibe® lozenges use dried honey for cough and cold relief. Recently, the company has focused on Honibe Gummies to deliver vitamins and health and wellness ingredients such as sleep support and immunity support.
They also make liquid honey from PEI honey, as well as the HoneyDrop™, a fully dehydrated piece of honey to sweeten coffee or tea. “We still make that product the same way we did 10 years ago, and are now working to automate the process,” says Scott Spencer.
Staff compensation and hiring
“Right now, we have a big focus on our people. In October 2020, we instituted a plant-wide production wage increase across the board. We want to give our team an opportunity to have a career at Island Abbey Foods.
“We are focused on hiring college graduates to fill our leadership ranks and develop them from scratch. We want to encourage Atlantic Canadians to grow with our company and be the next round of leaders.”
Island Abbey Foods makes products for customers in the US, the UK, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand. “We have seen tremendous growth both in our products and our customers around the world,” says Scott. “By the end of 2020, the year to year growth of our Honibe® Gummy products will have grown by about five times.
“The years 2021 to 2023 will be a very busy time for Island Abbey Foods. We are planning to expand our facility on Innovation Way in Charlottetown from 35,000 square feet by an additional 30,000 square feet. Hopefully in the second quarter of 2021, we will be improving our GMP conditions as well as our product and people flow to meet ISO and SQF standards.
“We recently put a down payment on some world class manufacturing technology out of Europe. It will enable us to increase our gummy manufacturing capacity by five times and reduce our overall processing time. That equipment will be ready to start by 2022.
“To support that manufacturing capability, we need to add high-speed bottling capacity to our facility. We will be fully automating that line and reducing some of the manual processes we do now. We will also be expanding our warehouse space and installing a warehouse management system.
“I moved from Long Island New York to Prince Edward Island to take this position. When I arrived, I was amazed by the community on PEI, the music and the food scene, and the many growing companies here. There is plenty of opportunity for personal development and growth here on PEI.”
Nature’s Crops International – Crystal Cormier, General Manager
This company, based in Kensington, PEI, manufactures specialty oils for dietary supplements, food, and personal care products. “We are vertically integrated from soil to oil,” says Crystal Cormier. “We grow oilseed crops, manufacture those crops into oil, and sell the oil.”
There are office locations in Canada, the US and the UK. At the company’s Canadian location in Kensington, there is also an oil production facility and a refinery that was commissioned in 2010.
The production facility mechanically extracts the oil from the seed and the refinery removes impurities from the oil.
“We also have an on–site quality control laboratory, which monitors every step of our operation, from planting seed going out to our growers, harvested seed coming back in, and every step of our production in the refinery. The facility is ISO-22000 certified, and our lab is fully capable of supplying a certificate of analysis for all the oil that comes from our facility.”
They have three main products:
Ahiflower oil is the richest non genetically modified plant-based source of Omega-3-6-9 oil currently available on the market. Ahiflower oil is commonly found in nutraceuticals, nutritional supplements, food ingredients, and animal nutrition.
“This oil has been involved in a number of studies over the last several years,” says Crystal. “Currently it is involved in a comparison with flaxseed oil and fish oil at the University of Toronto looking at the omega-3 turnover in brain and other tissues.
“There is also a human clinical trial happening at the University of Moncton looking at hip and joint mobility and pain and related inflammatory biomarkers related to rheumatoid arthritis.
“In addition, DoseCann Inc. has recently purchased the global rights to ahiflower oil to use in their portfolio of cannabis products, and we are very pleased to be working with another Island company.”
Crambe or Abyssinian oil is grown locally on PEI. It is high in erucic acid and is used in personal care products.
Meadowfoam seed oil is known for its stability, and is used in personal care products. The seeds are grown in Oregon in the US and processed on PEI.
“Due to increased demand, the company has doubled the production of Crambe and Meadowfoam seed oil. This is very good news for Island growers of Crambe.”
“A big part of operations is in our production facility, where we look for people with production experience and mechanical and equipment-related experience to fill those positions.
For more information, visit www.naturescrops.com
Sekisui Diagnostics PEI Inc. – Eugene Howatt, Site Director
Sekisui is one of the largest and oldest companies in PEI’s bioscience cluster. In 1971, Dr. Regis Duffy founded Diagnostic Chemicals Ltd. The company was purchased by Genzyme in 2007 and then purchased by Sekisui in 2011.
The company has manufacturing and distribution locations worldwide. “On PEI, our 93,000 square foot facility has 150 staff members with educations ranging from PhD, Masters, college diploma to grade 12,” says Eugene Howatt. “We run a 7 am to 5 pm shift and can add additional shifts as required.
“Sekisui has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers four years in a row, and was also named as one of Atlantic Canada’s Top Employers for the past four years.
“Our primary function is to manufacture in vitro diagnostic test reagents. A patient’s blood sample is mixed with our reagents and put in a clinical chemistry analyzer to produce quality patient results. We make enough reagents to perform 1.7 billion tests per year.”
“We have seen major growth in the last five years. There was 42 percent growth in our revenue, 33 percent growth in square footage and a 38 percent increase in our full-time employees at the site. We continue to grow, with $8 million in capital investment over the past five years and another $6 million in capital investment currently in progress.”
“Our employees on site are super heros. They safely worked through our COVID-19 processes and policies.
“Once a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19, a doctor is focused on managing the patient’s health and will order a test panel. In many countries, one of the most common panels used is called a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP). If a patient has severe COVID-19 and is hospitalized, these tests may be run multiple times. We produce many of these tests from our PEI site and this is why the continued supply of these products is essential.”
New initiatives lead to more hiring
“We are focusing on two main areas: reformulating our existing products to make them more environmentally friendly, and expanding into new markets. We are looking at another 20 full-time equivalent positions in our PEI facilities to support our continued growth.
“We are continuing our capital and facilities expansion and we are increasing lyophilizer capacity. We are also continuing to drive our Six Sigma and Lean training by hiring a dedicated continuous improvement manager to run that department.
“Through COVID-19, we have continued to work and to expand. We have got the steel and panels up and the floor poured on a new addition. Currently in progress is a multimillion-dollar capital project to purchase and install two new lyophilizers.”
Lyophilization is a process that removes moisture from a drug to make it chemically stable and allow longer shelf life.
“Our company is all about continuous improvement. We train and encourage our employees to look for ways to improve the sites. We have developed communication routes for employees to bring their ideas forward and be part of the improvement process. Employees are rewarded for ideas that improve any part of the operation.”
For more information about Sekisui, visit www.sekisui.com