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JLABS gives U of T startups a place to call home

May 11, 2016

Nanovista is one of the first 22 up-and-com­ing com­pa­nies select­ed to be part of JLABS @ Toron­to, an inno­v­a­tive research cen­tre designed to advance bio/pharmaceutical, med­ical device, con­sumer and dig­i­tal health pro­grams.

“Being a part of JLABS brings us one step clos­er to com­mer­cial­iz­ing and deliv­er­ing this prod­uct to mar­ket to help patients,” said Jinzi Zheng of her company’s injectable imag­ing agent that helps sur­geons see where tumours are locat­ed and remove them more pre­cise­ly, while leav­ing healthy tis­sue intact.

“They’ll give us the right expo­sure to the busi­ness side and they’ll help us carve out a clear path to mar­ket. We’re sci­en­tists, we don’t have that exper­tise.”

Of the 22 star­tups at JLABS announced today, at least eight have ties to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and its part­ner hos­pi­tals — like Nanovista, which devel­oped out of research start­ed by Zheng as she worked towards her PhD in med­ical bio­physics. The oth­ers include: 6Biotech, App4Independence, Avro­Bio, DNAs­tack, Keto­gen Phar­ma, Ubiq­ui­tech and Pro­te­o­rex Ther­a­peu­tics Inc., which is work­ing close­ly with Pro­fes­sor Robert Batey, chair of the depart­ment of chem­istry.

Their new home is a gleam­ing 40,000-square foot facil­i­ty that has cut­ting-edge, mod­u­lar and scal­able lab space, equip­ment and, most impor­tant­ly, access to sci­en­tif­ic, indus­try and cap­i­tal fund­ing experts.

It also fea­tures JLABS’ first device and dig­i­tal pro­to­type lab, which was shown off today at its offi­cial open­ing to dig­ni­taries such as Ontario Pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne, Toron­to May­or John Tory and U of T pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler.

The space, which is rent­ed by JLABS from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, is the result of a unique col­lab­o­ra­tion between glob­al giant John­son & John­son Inno­va­tion LLC, the uni­ver­si­ty, the Gov­ern­ment of Ontario, Janssen Inc., MaRS Inno­va­tion and sev­er­al hos­pi­tal part­ners.

“The project to trans­form and fit out the floor into the first Cana­di­an loca­tion for JLABS, bud­get­ed at $18.3 mil­lion, came in on time and more than a mil­lion dol­lars under bud­get,” said Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions.”

Every speak­er at the event men­tioned the uni­ver­si­ty and the crit­i­cal role it played in mak­ing JLABS @ Toron­to a real­i­ty, includ­ing Pre­mier Wynne.


Pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne, May­or John Tory, Ontario cab­i­net min­is­ter Reza Mori­di and U of T pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler were on hand for the offi­cial open­ing of JLABS @ Toron­to (all pho­tos by John­ny Guat­to)


“The oppor­tu­ni­ties that JLABS will cre­ate for Ontario are immense,” she said. “And while the dri­ving force behind those suc­cess­es will be the peo­ple who take their research from lab to mar­ket, we need to rec­og­nize that there are oth­er fac­tors.

“If it weren’t for MaRS, if it weren’t for U of T, the strate­gic part­ner­ship stream of our Jobs and Pros­per­i­ty Fund, the life sci­ences cor­ri­dor that sur­rounds us today, and the whole inno­va­tion ecosys­tem that we’ve built here in Ontario, there would be no JLABs launch today.”

With five loca­tions in the Unit­ed States, com­ing to Toron­to next made sense.

“Canada’s start­up scene is boom­ing,” explained Melin­da Richter, head of JLABS.

The loca­tion is also per­fect — smack dab in the cen­tre of Toronto’s bustling ecosys­tem of hos­pi­tals, busi­ness­es and uni­ver­si­ty labs that already attract more than $1.4‑billion in research fund­ing each year to the city.

The university’s Bant­i­ng and Best Cen­tre for Inno­va­tion & Entre­pre­neur­ship is also just across the street mak­ing this stretch of Col­lege Street the place to be for ambi­tious researchers to hang out their shin­gle with the hope of turn­ing their dis­cov­ery into the next big thing.

“We’re excit­ed to have JLABS @ Toron­to join the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to as the newest addi­tion to our vibrant entre­pre­neur­ship ecosys­tem,” said Gertler. “Togeth­er with our nine cam­pus-led accel­er­a­tors, under the umbrel­la of our Bant­i­ng & Best Cen­tre for Inno­va­tion & Entre­pre­neur­ship, we’re fuelling the cre­ation of new com­pa­nies, new jobs and solu­tions to some of the world’s most press­ing chal­lenges.”

U of T pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler at the offi­cial open­ing of JLABS @ Toron­to (all pho­tos by John­ny Guat­to)


For Zheng and her Nanovista co-founders, Chris­tine Allen and David Jaf­fray, a world of pos­si­bil­i­ties has now opened up by join­ing the JLABS fam­i­ly.

This in addi­tion to their aca­d­e­m­ic posi­tions at U of T where Zheng is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Insti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als & Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing and a sci­en­tist in the Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Tech­nol­o­gy for Health with the Uni­ver­si­ty Health Net­work; Allen is a pro­fes­sor in the Leslie Dan Fac­ul­ty of Phar­ma­cy and GSK Chair in Phar­ma­ceu­tics and Drug Deliv­ery; and Jaf­fray is a pro­fes­sor, direc­tor of TECHNA and exec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of tech­nol­o­gy and inno­va­tion at UHN.

“It’s going to be great to be able to bounce ideas around with the oth­er star­tups,” Zheng said. “They’re going to have some of the same chal­lenges as us, which means we can learn from each oth­er. They’ll be a healthy com­pe­ti­tion.”

And aside from dreams of hav­ing oper­at­ing rooms around the world stocked with vials of their prod­uct, Zheng says ide­al­ly they’d like their time at JLABS to lead to them meet­ing the right peo­ple who can take over the busi­ness side of their com­pa­ny, free­ing them to focus on what they know best — push­ing the sci­ence for­ward.


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