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B.C. invests $2.5 million in new biomedical research facility

A technician at Starfish Medical in Saanich programs a respirator in October 2020. A technician at Starfish Medical in Saanich programs a respirator in October 2020.
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VICTORIA – The British Columbia government is providing Vancouver Island Life Sciences (VILS) with $2.5 million to create a new facility that supports Greater Victoria companies with access to a low-cost, specialized lab space.

The funding is part of the province’s Life Sciences and Biomanufacturing strategy that encourages businesses to research and develop commercial pharmaceutical products and medical device manufacturing.

“With a world-renowned talent pool, we want to help build more businesses that are the envy of the sector internationally,” said Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey. “We’re supporting wet-lab space to help start-ups in the biotech sector to access in order to continue their experiments and grow their company.”

The new 7,000 square-foot facility will support as many a six Greater Victoria-based companies access the equipment and labs needed to take their prototypes and products in an industrial setting.

The province hopes that by building on the success of biomedical companies like Saanich’s Starfish Medical it will address global healthcare challenges while creating more jobs for British Columbians. At the height of the pandemic, the more than 100 employees at Starfish Medical developed and manufactured 7,500 respirators for use in hospitals.

“Medical innovation is moving closer to the patient’s bedside,” said VISL president Samuel Mercer. “In the past you may have seen a few companies in Greater Victoria here and there, now you’ll see them in one place collaborating, and you’ll see a hive of activity with shared resources.”

Mercer says VISL is currently looking for a location in Greater Victoria for the new lab. He expects the facility will be up and running in 2025.

One Victoria-based company that will benefit from the wet-lab is Axolotl Biosciences. The small start-up creates bio-inks that can be used to 3-D print human tissue. The tissue is currently used around the world for pharmaceutical and cancer research.

The new space will allow companies like Axolotl Biosciences to spend more of their capital on the commercial aspects of their products, while spending less on overhead costs that could slow down research.

“That was one of the things we’ve been struggling with, is how to fundraise and develop this type of space,” said Axolotl Biosciences CEO Dr. Stephanie Willerth. “Being able to just move in to a facility and be able to start work immediately is going to be a huge benefit for companies working in Victoria.”

Mercer says there is an extraordinary diversity of biomedical business in Greater Victoria, from medical devices to pharmaceutical drugs to biomaterials. He says the flexibility that the new lab will provide will support each tenant company with the support needed to achieve their goal to bring benefits to patients.

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