Friday, July 29, 2016

Haskayne and Cumming School bring scientist-entrepreneur behind hepatitis C cure to campus



The Haskayne School of Business and the Cumming School of Medicine recently teamed up to bring Michael J. Sofia, PhD, chief scientific officer at Arbutus Biopharma Inc., to campus. He gave two talks on how he led a team of scientists in discovering a cure for hepatitis C and how he became a successful scientist-entrepreneur.

Sofia was the first speaker to be jointly hosted by both faculties. He has introduced numerous drugs into clinical development for the treatment of infectious and inflammatory diseases. He has also authored more than 100 publications, 10 book chapters and numerous abstracts, and is an inventor on more than 51 United States patents and numerous patent applications.

Drug for hepatitis C patients is important backbone therapy

At the Cumming event, Sofia provided fascinating insights into how his love of science, training as a chemist, and dedication to research led to the breakthrough of Sofosbuvir, named in his honour.

Until Sofosbuvir was invented, patients had to endure months of injections with interferon therapy that often did not work and had severe side-effects. Sofosbuvir was the first drug to use pro-drug technology in the treatment of hepatitis C, which allows delivery of the active drug to where it is needed — in the infected liver cell. There have since been many new advances in hepatitis C therapy, but Sofosbuvir remains an important backbone therapy in the fight against the disease.

'A small company needs innovation to survive'

At the Haskayne event, Sofia provided a glimpse into the key factors that led to his success in the biotechnology industry and the challenges he faced along the way. He gave insight into how, no matter what your background, the fundamental rules of running a successful startup apply across industries.

“During your career, you are going to get told that your idea won’t work by key opinion leaders, colleagues and friends. Your belief in your idea makes a difference,” Sofia told the audience.

“A small company needs innovation to survive. We had to innovate in order to always be a step ahead of our much larger competitors. This was only an organization that never maxed higher than seven individuals, it is possible to beat multinational companies by being innovative, focused and creative with your objectives.”

Sofia strongly believes that what drives him is his passion to help others. He says, “success is not just dollars and cents, it is also measured in the patients’ success rates.”

Joint talks enabled greater learning for both medicine and business

“By working together with the Cumming School of Medicine, we were able to maximize Sofia’s visit to the University of Calgary and provide meaningful opportunities for students, staff and faculty to engage with a world-renowned leader,” says Elizabeth Allen, associate director of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“[His] career has included the discovery and development of multiple therapies and treatments; our joint efforts enabled greater learning, value and impact for both Sofia and the guests in attendance at his events.”

Sofia’s talks were co-hosted by the Hunter Centre’s Wayne Henuset Speakers Series and the Cumming School of Medicine’s Cal Wenzel Family Foundation Chair in Hepatology, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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