The Intersection of Academia and Industry: A Growing Need

On Thursday October 10th, the S2BN Waterloo Chapter was honored to welcome two of our very own eminent, academic researchers – Dr. Andrea Edgington and Dr. Marianna Foldvari. In the first event of the term, S2BN held a Dinner-and-Learn Professor Information Night, where the professors highlighted their dynamic career trajectories and educational backgrounds, as well as helped guide graduate and pharmacy students through potential post-grad opportunities relating to the intersection of academia and industry.

Dr. Edgington is an Associate Professors, and Associate Director of Graduate Studies and Research at Waterloo. An expert in pharmacokinetics (the study of how drugs move through the body), her team builds virtual living organisms (i.e., in silico) to model how medications or toxins get absorbed, distributed, metabolized and excreted in a living body (i.e., in vivo). She has developed these physiologically-based pharmacokinetic models (PBPK) to assess the differences both between species (e.g., humans and rats) and within species (e.g., children and adults). These virtual model organisms have eOrgans – that is, electronically modelled livers, spleens and guts – to accurately predict the pharmacokinetics of diverse molecules. Dr. Edgington uses these models for test drugs in the early stages of the drug development pipeline, and her collaborations include drug companies such as Bayer.

“The environment is very ripe for this” she says, as regulators are asking for this type of analysis to be included in the drug development pipeline more and more.

Current research in her lab is in developing a web-accessible population-based pharmacokinetic service for hemophiliacs. The project is targeted towards helping medical practitioners predict the bleeding risk of hemophiliacs. In short, clinical medical information about a hemophiliac patient (e.g. their specific blood chemistry lab values), would be translated through a pharmacokinetic eCalculator, to estimate drug doses that should be provided to help patients minimize their bleeds risk. Currently there are 5000 patients uploaded onto the program, which is a large number granted the rarity of the disease.

Andrea mentioned that the jump from toxicology academia to the world of ePharmacokinetic modeling for industry in her early career was a difficult one. At first the learning curve uncomfortably large, but Andrea jumped in - and in doing so was able to move forward in her career and break through her own pre-conceived ideas of what she can and can’t do.

The night then closed off with Dr. Marianna Foldvari – another female trailblazer who works in the cross-section of academia and industry. A pharmacist by training with a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Marianna is an internationally-renowned expert who uses her unique training to create and develop non-invasive drug delivery systems using nanotechnology for the medical fields of dermatology, ophthalmology and immunology. Not only is Dr. Foldvari a professor, Canada Research Chair, member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) and the Center for Bioengineering and Biotechnology (CBB) – but she has also founded and works for a number of nanotechnology companies. These include Helix Biopharm Corporation (Vice President of R&D), Transparent Pharma Laboratories (co-founder), and PharmaDerm (co-founder).

As mentioned, Marianna began her career as a pharmacist, trained in Budapest, Hungary. After entering the field, she became restless and hungered for academic challenge – so she decided to pursue graduate studies in Canada. Dr. Foldvari completed a PhD in nanotechnology at Dalhousie University, where she developed lipid-based drug delivery systems of methotrexate that were less toxic and able to specifically target melanoma cells.

After completing her graduate degree, Marianna was offered a tenure-track position right away at University of Saskatchewan. Even today, she considers Saskatchewan her home. It was the starting point of her professional career, birthplace of her children, and founding city of her first nanotechnology company – PharmaDerm. Marianna co-founded PharmaDerm in the 1990s with a colleague, which was exceedingly rare for the time. PharmaDerm was and is an innovator in non-invasive drug delivery systems (i.e. moving away from needles and towards patches or eye drops). Currently, the company has developed non-invasive technologies for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – specifically methods for replacing interstitial injections for HPV vaccinations. This project is currently in Phase III clinical trials in the drug development pipeline.

“In the late 90s, universities only had a 50-thousand-dollar IP budget for patenting. There wasn’t a lot of money. Now, universities contribute much more to this budget, to help researchers develop new technologies and products.”

Both Dr. Edgington and Dr. Foldvari’s stories exemplify how the gap between pure academia and industry is easily closed for driven individuals who have a hunger for knowledge and entrepreneurship.

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