They came here for the high-calibre scientific workers and an atmosphere that promotes innovation.
And they hope that drugs they’re working on to treat muscular dystrophy will make a difference in the lives of sufferers of the disease worldwide.
AGADA Biosciences Corp. was among 26 businesses to receive provincial government money Tuesday to help expand outside the region’s confines. The company, which received a $26,252 grant under the province’s Global Business Accelerator Program, has 10 people on staff, not including its two founders.
According to Muscular Dystrophy Canada’s website, the disease can appear at any time in life. It is widely understood as a childhood disorder, but there are many types that afflict people.
“It’s a horrible disease where children are diagnosed between two and four years of age; one hundred per cent of them die in their twenties,” AGADA co-founder Dr. Kanneboyina Nagaraju said in an interview Tuesday.
“It’s a horrible thing for parents knowing that their children are going to die.”
Nagaraju said the provincial money will help expand the young company — co-founded by Dr. Eric Hoffman, who in the late 1980s discovered the gene that causes muscular dystrophy — and enable AGADA to break into new markets in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, France, Italy and Australia. The firm has contracts with groups in those countries.
“In fact, this is one of the first human genes ever discovered; it remained as his main focus,” Nagaraju said of Hoffman.
“He needs to find a cure … for the disease.
“We wanted to expand our business in multiple different companies. We truly don’t have the expertise to go off to each market, so that means we have to hire people to help us.”
AGADA will continue to work on treatments of its own and screen possible drugs for muscular dystrophy submitted by other pharmaceutical firms, he said.
Nagaraju and Hoffman worked on a drug to combat the disease in 2008 and plan human trials next year. That drug was developed by the partners, who also own the firm ReveraGen, before they formed AGADA, said Nagaraju. AGADA did pre-clinical work on the drug.
Hoffman, who is based in Washington, D.C., spends part of every year in Nova Scotia. Nagaraju, a professor of integrated systems, biology and pediatrics at the Children’s National Medical Centre in that city, frequently travels to the province.
Nagaraju said big pharmaceutical companies often focus on diseases that affect a large number of people but not rare diseases, which AGADA focuses on.
Agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European medical regulators have recently become more helpful, and the focus on rare disease has heightened, said Nagaraju. That shift has helped AGADA because big companies are bringing trial drugs to the Halifax firm for screening, he said.
Blind trials are done at AGADA’s headquarters in the Dalhousie Life Sciences Building on Summer Street, where it has laboratories and offices. The company rents from Innovacorp and Dalhousie University.
AGADA is just a year old, and Nagaraju said the funding will help accelerate it beyond Nova Scotia borders.
“We are in the very early stages.”