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“The combination of a world-class talent-pool, opportunity to grow, and quality of life made Hamilton, [Ontario] attractive.”
John Valliant, the company’s founder, recognized the opportunity to develop and commercialize targeted alpha therapies in 2014 when he founded Fusion. Early stage research of their targeted alpha-particle therapy demonstrated the potential to provide treatment that is more effective and precise compared to those currently offered.
Existing radiotherapies generally rely on external beam radiation or what’s called a beta particle emitter. This type of radiation causes small breaks in the cancer cell’s DNA structure that lead to cell death. Because some cancers resist this type of damage, elimination of cancerous growths can be inconsistent. In addition, beta emitting isotope treatment can also cause damage to healthy cells in the surrounding area due to the ‘long throw’ of the beta particles.
Fusion has successfully developed a process for linking alpha particles to molecules that specifically seek out cancer cells. Alpha particles are much larger and more energetic than beta particles and as a result cause greater damage to the DNA of cancerous cells. “We think of them colloquially as bowling balls or hand grenades, because they don’t just make small snips in the DNA, they blast through and shatter everything in their path,” says John Valliant when comparing the two payloads used to attack cancer. Another benefit of alpha particles is that they have a much shorter range, meaning they only travel a few cells, resulting in much less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Fusion’s alpha linker technology is designed to create more precise and effective treatments for patients.
With clear advantages to existing treatments, the commercial interests in the technology are growing and as a result, Fusion has been successful in raising funds for their groundbreaking research. Their first round of funding raised $46 million USD and their second round, completed in March 2019, received $105 million USD. Currently, Fusion is in its first phase of clinical trials, which aims to ensure the safety of the product, before moving into subsequent larger scale trials in distinct types of cancer.
Fusion Pharmaceuticals came out of the McMaster University’s Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC). This commercialization accelerator and national centre of excellence was designed to foster pharmaceutical manufacturing and de-risking of intellectual property which provided Fusion the “unique ability to move technology out of the lab and into the clinic” where they could further development of their technology. The model which linked McMaster, CPDC and Fusion resulted in the fifth largest venture capital investment in Canada for 2019 and the largest in the Canadian biotech sector.
“When Fusion completed initial financing, we looked at many places to open our headquarters, but the combination of a world-class talent-pool, opportunity to grow, and quality of life made Hamilton attractive” says Valliant. Fusion’s decision to settle in Hamilton was largely due to the world class talent pipeline stemming from McMaster University. “In terms of medical isotope research, it’s one of the leading centres globally.” Additionally, Hamilton is an appealing location to live and raise a family which contributes to long term retention of high-quality talent.
Fusion Pharmaceuticals currently has 34 employees. In the coming year, John Valliant aims to double that number and expand the scope of Fusion’s research. At the forefront of radiotherapy innovation, Fusion’s technology has the goal of maximizing efficacy, minimizing side effects, and offering new treatment options to cancer patients.