holding oversized cheque are ydney Thompson, Marc Mundy of sponsor Royal Bank of Canada, founders Michelle Dao and Joy-Lynn Kobti, EPICentre director Wen Teoh.The team from Complex Therapeutix claimed first place in the RBC Founders pitch competition. From left: entrepreneurship program co-ordinator Sydney Thompson, Marc Mundy of sponsor Royal Bank of Canada, founders Michelle Dao and Joy-Lynn Kobti, EPICentre director Wen Teoh.

Pharmaceutical founders produce top pitch

From conducting chemistry lab experiments to launching a start-up, two chemistry and biochemistry doctoral candidates are taking their research knowledge and turning it into a viable medical technology business venture.

Michelle Dao (BSc 2017, MSc 2020) and Joy-Lynn Kobti (BSc 2020) found rapid success as the winners of the RBC Founders Program hosted by the Entrepreneurship Practice and Innovation Centre (EPICentre); the program aims to support businesses in the early stages of development.

Dao and Kobti took top honours and $2,000 in the April 9 pitch competition, the culmination of the six-month program. Their start-up, Complex Therapeutix, will design and develop new drug-release materials.

“The Founder’s Program at the EPICentre offered a wide range of different resources that were instrumental in starting a business,” Dao said. “The EPICentre team has been exceptional in providing feedback and support throughout the past few months, and we cannot thank them enough for their guidance.”

The technology behind the start-up is an innovative drug release technology made up of three components, a metal, an organic molecule and a pharmaceutical, that together create coordination polymers.

“We can control the release rate of the drug by how fast that polymer degrades, making it customizable for different drugs and applications,” says Dao.

Dao and Kobti are completing their doctoral research in the lab of their supervisor, assistant professor Nick Vukotic.

“Complex Therapeutix is gaining traction as a new approach to enhancing drug release and advancing medical treatments,” says Dr. Vukotic.

“Both played integral roles in patenting the technology and this week, our findings were published in RSC flagship Chemical Science Journal.”

The technology research contributions behind the spin-off company also generated an April 2024 publication in the journal Chemical Science, “Therapeutic Coordination Polymers: Tailoring Drug Release through Metal-Ligand Interactions.”

“Over several months, these two crafted a strong business plan and delivered a compelling pitch for a spin-out company, centered on their innovative drug release technology developed during their PhD research,” Vukotic says. “Their determination and dedication to translating academic research into real-world impact are truly inspiring.”

In addition to securing a patent for the product, this research also resulted in a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Idea to Innovation grant. With the grant, they received feedback from international industrial companies through a market research assessment.

“Twenty stakeholders said they were interested in further follow-up discussions regarding the technology,” says Kobti. “Hearing the feedback that it has tremendous potential is fulfilling as someone working directly on the technology in the lab.”

Dao and Kobti see a future for the start-up where they will partner with companies and apply the technology to other drugs, eventually bringing a new product to the market and improving current medical treatments.

Read more on the EPICentre website.

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