Treadwell employee Wenjing doing R&D tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) expansion
Treadwell employee Wenjing doing R&D tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) expansion

Treadwell has adopted a global growth strategy but remains committed to Toronto, Ontario, where its innovations first took shape

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In a 9,000-square-foot space in Ontario’s capital city of Toronto, some of the world’s leading minds in cancer research are advancing next-generation therapies for the most aggressive forms of this disease that kills almost 10 million people each year.

Launched in the first half of 2021, the state-of-the-art laboratory is the global hub for all research and development at Treadwell Therapeutics, a made-in-Ontario company with headquarters in Hong Kong and offices in New York, Boston and San Francisco.

“Toronto is a good place to be if you’re a life sciences company,” says Dr. Michael Tusche, co-CEO at Treadwell. “There’s a very robust environment for R&D in Toronto, and Ontario as a whole. Toronto is where our work at Treadwell all began.”

Treadwell’s work focuses on developing novel, first-in-class therapies for cancer, concentrating on cell cycle regulation and immune-oncology to date. A company with a deep pipeline of therapeutic programs, Treadwell has three clinical stage small molecule programs and numerous preclinical small molecule and biologic programs.

The company was founded in 2019 by a group that includes one of the most distinguished scientists in cancer research: Dr. Tak Mak.

Treadwell employee Karen doing high-throughput screening (HTS) discovery with primary T cells
Treadwell employee Karen doing high-throughput screening (HTS) discovery with primary T cells

Dr. Mak is an Ontario geneticist, oncologist and biochemist who became known as the first person to clone a key gene of the human T-cell receptor—which plays a critical role in cancer immunotherapy—and for identifying the tumour-destroying ability of the CTLA-4 immune checkpoint protein.

By 2013, Dr. Mak’s team co-developed a new drug called CFI-400945, based on the PLK4 enzyme, which plays a crucial role in dividing cancer cells. Today, CFI-400945 is one of the three therapy platforms in Treadwell’s pipeline. This therapy platform has been used in multiple clinical trials for various cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer and acute myeloid leukemia.

With its R&D centre in Ontario, Treadwell Therapeutics is connected to a concentrated network of experts in cancer research, says Tusche. His team already collaborates with researchers at the largest health research network in North America: Toronto-based University Health Network (UHN), where Dr. Mak’s research into CFI-400945 was incubated.

“I see even more opportunities for collaboration with people on the ground, whether in pre-clinical or clinical stages,” says Tusche, who received his master’s degree in business administration and his doctorate in immunology from the University of Toronto, where he trained in Dr. Mak’s laboratory.

Ontario’s open environment for innovation and collaboration extends well beyond UHN to include such organizations as the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Ontario Genomics Institute, Ontario Brain Institute and Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC). These organizations have collectively helped create dozens of startups and support the province’s innovation ecosystem.

Ontario’s robust life sciences ecosystem, powered in part by annual R&D investments of $1.7 billion by the province’s 23 research hospitals, makes it easier for Treadwell to tap into critical resources such as leukemia patient samples and patient data. It also provides the ideal environment for companies translating research into real-world clinical applications, says Tusche.

“There are strong interfaces between pre-clinical and clinical work, and between research and development,” he says.

Tusche says Treadwell plans to grow its Toronto workforce substantially in the next one to three years. Being in a province that’s home to 1,900 life sciences organizations employing about 68,000 workers gives Treadwell access to a rich pool of talent in such areas as protein biochemistry, immunology and biology.

Among this talent pool are about 32,000 pharmaceutical sector workers, including researchers and scientists employed by the world’s top 10 global pharmaceutical companies that conduct clinical trials in Ontario.

“There’s a lot of talent in Toronto,” says Tusche. “There’s also a lot of talented people not living in [the city] who would be willing to [live here] because it offers a very favourable environment.”

While Treadwell continues to grow as a global company—with clinical development focused in the United States and manufacturing activities in the U.S. and China—its R&D future in Toronto looks bright, says Tusche.

“We’re a company that’s born and bred in Toronto, led by a group with a global view, and that’s very much committed to Toronto,” he says. “We want to continue to be here and to grow here.”