RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s scientists get down to business

Up on the 5th floor of the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, Dr. Richard Gilbert, head of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for St. Michael’s Hospital, and Dr. Darren Yuen, a nephrologist with the hospital, work together on cases where diabetes and kidney disease intersect.

On top of stethoscopes and microscopes, the pair has added business scope to their frequent discussions—with the launch of a company called Fibrocor.

Drs. Gilbert and Yuen are two of the three scientific co-founders of Fibrocor, who will work to identify targets and develop therapies to prevent, slow and ultimately reverse organ scarring.

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“Scarring, or fibrosis, can help people in the short-term—such as healing after a cut or sealing off an infection so that it does not spread—but when an injury is chronic, such as with diabetes, the amount of scar tissue formed can cause organ malfunction,” said Dr. Gilbert, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Diabetes Complications.

The researchers and fellow co-founder Dr. Jeff Wrana, senior investigator at Sinai Health System’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, will test biopsy samples of scarred human tissue. They will measure which genes the body activates when scarring begins.

“Once we know what pathways are involved in activating the body’s scarring response, we’re well on our way to understanding how to block it,” said Dr. Yuen. “And because we’ll identify these pathways using human tissue samples, we think they’ll have a much better chance of being effective in future clinical trials.”

Although scarring underlies the development of liver failure, heart failure and certain type of lung disease, the company’s initial focus will be on kidney disease—reflecting Dr. Gilbert’s and Dr. Yuen’s clinical backgrounds and the tremendous unmet need.

By 2018, Fibrocor expects to have developed a new anti-scarring drug that will be ready for testing, not only in kidney disease but also in other diseases that involve fibrosis, the doctors said. The world-class academic team is complemented by management and business development from MaRS Innovation and drug discovery and development services from Evotec AG, which together launched the company with $2M USD financing.

“Because drug development is incredibly expensive and most granting agencies don’t fund this sort of activity, forming the company was a necessity,” said Dr. Yuen. “With Fibrocor, we’ll be part of the developmental strategy, taking our knowledge from the clinic, to the lab, to the boardroom and, hopefully, all the way back to the bedside.”

Written by Geoff Koehler at St. Michael’s Hospital

 

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St. Michael’s Hospital is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Read more Research Spotlight posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.