Written by Andrew Seale

Encycle Therapeutics recently invited a Canadian ex-pat to visit the life sciences company in Toronto. She’d left the country 25 years prior, part of the scientific brain drain and now Jeffrey Coull, president and CEO of the drug discovery company, is trying to hire her back.

“She was enamoured with the city, it was nothing like she’d remembered it,” he says of the visit. It’s a common reaction, one he’s gotten used to when trying to woo talent to Toronto.

“If you look at the level of the basic scientific research that goes on in Toronto, it’s really second only to Boston in terms of quality,” he says. “And even it’s quantity, the discoveries made every day are major discoveries, it’s going on all around us.”

That proximity has proven to be the lifeblood of Encycle.

The company’s drug discovery is built on the back of nacellins – a new type of molecule found and synthesized by Dr. Andrei Yudin at the University of Toronto, eventually being spun out as a startup in 2012.

“There’s a certain advantage of being close to where the technology originated,” says Coull. The company is located in the MaRS Innovation centre. “Dr. Yudin is right across the road.”

He says Encycle’s homegrown platform has the potential to change the way drugs are delivered.

“If you think about a drug like a key that to have a relevant effect on the body needs to turn a lock, in this analogy the lock would be a protein in your body,” explains Coull. “We estimate that conventional drugs can only act on about 20 per cent of the proteins in the human body – nacellins have the ability to go in and target these proteins that you cannot target with conventional therapeutic entities.”

On the whole, the company, explains Coull, owes its existence to support both in terms of funding from MaRS and the CQDM and research amongst the Ontario-Quebec Life Sciences corridor.

“We’re surrounded by innovation,” he says.  “(The corridor) is a great place to be to have access to innovation, to have access to the scientists that originate the technology.”

And to do so at a cost lower than regions like the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston where commercial real estate is more expensive, says Coull.

Then there’s talent, a key component in any business and exceptionally so in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals where a company’s success relies on attracting top scientists and management executives.

“It’s cheaper to hire people here than it would be in Boston and, relatedly, it’s also easier to retain people in Toronto than it is in Boston where people tend to be a little more mercenary as they jump from one company to another,” says Coull. “The general rule is people that actually live in Toronto, love Toronto… we all know it’s very livable, it’s a great place to try to recruit people to.”