A Charlottetown-area biotech firm received a funding boost Wednesday from the federal government that may help lower the cost of some medication.
Somru BioScience, based in the industrial park, received $3.2 million in federal funding that will be used to help the company develop analytical tools research antibodies. The work could be used to make the development of biosimilar drugs easier.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) will offer a repayable contribution of $3 million, while the National Research Council will provide $257,752. The P.E.I. government will also contribute $975,000 in repayable financing, as well as $172,000 in support for the company’s labour and marketing costs.
Between both levels of government, Somru will receive $4.4 million in financial support.
Clarinda Islam, the company’s vice-president of project management and regulatory affairs, said the funding would allow Somru to hire 12 additional employees, as well aid in expansion plans. The company currently has 15 staff on-site in Charlottetown.
At the announcement Wednesday, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said the decision to fund Somru BioScience was based on the desire of all levels of government to grow non-traditional industries in P.E.I.
"Diversification is really important for this region, particularly for Prince Edward Island,” Bains said. “This investment will create many jobs and many opportunities, particularly in research and development."
Somru focuses on developing technology for research, diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
The company’s CEO, Mohammed Moin, founded the Somru with his wife, his brother and his sister-in law in 2012. Moin arrived in P.E.I. from Bangladesh as an international student at UPEI.
Moin credited the P.E.I. BioAlliance, which provided an incubation lab space, with lowering the barriers to starting the business.
"When we decided, with my brother and our family members, to start the business about six years ago, it was not an automatic choice,” he said. “There was an option to go to the United States because my brother and his family live in the States.
“But due to the support systems P.E.I. has in place, that was one of the attractive systems."
Although Moin said the company has had success in filling entry-level positions with Holland College graduates, filling senior-level positions has been difficult. The company has applied to sponsor foreign workers through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project, which allows companies to sponsor staff for permanent residency in P.E.I.
Islam, who was one of the company’s co-founders, said Somru is focused on developing technology to allow easier manufacturing of biosimilar drugs, which resemble a generic form of biologic drugs. Biologics are manufactured using a living system, such as a microorganism.
"As we get more of these biosimilars out into the market, the cost of these medications will go down and hopefully increase access,” Islam said.
Islam said the lower cost of these drugs would provide cheaper access in countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines.