Atlantic Business: Don’t segregate the entrepreneurs, embrace them

Taking ideas that were born in the lab and bringing them to the market has been a long-standing goal of Dr. Alli Murugesan. This goal has manifested in what is now BioHuntress Therapeutics, an incubator within academia that is meant to do just that.

Dr. Murugesan founded the company in 2016 while working on her postdoctoral fellowship with Mitacs Canada, a non-profit, national research program. It was after joking with a colleague about how ludicrous it would be to start a company that was capable of commercializing research quickly, that she decided to pursue it.

“The focus of academia is to publish,” says Dr. Murugesan. “Commercialization is not given much importance simply because it takes a long time, or you have to go out of your way to find the resources.”

With BioHuntress, Dr. Murugesan believes she is capable of being the resource that researchers need to go beyond publishing. Her discovery and development of this new business model is growing concurrently with her first medical breakthrough.

Dr. Murugesan partnered with medical oncologist and UNB professor Dr. Tony Reiman and Université de Moncton associate professor Dr. Mohamed Touaibia to create a nature-inspired compound that has the ability to kill blood cancer cells—even those resistant to chemotherapy.

BioHuntress is working on bringing this drug to market, seeking industry funding and investment to begin animal testing and phase one clinical trials.

A dedicated scientist who is passionate about research that serves the greater good, Dr. Murugesan’s vision and methodical follow-through has earned her national recognition, receiving the 2018 Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award.

BioHuntress’ next step is to establish its incubator where it can be most beneficial. The company is currently negotiating with the University of New Brunswick to provide them with a space in the Saint John campus. Dr. Murugesan expects this will be good for researchers and business students alike.

“If I could also be embraced by the School of Business at UNB, then it becomes an extremely interesting collaboration,” said Dr. Murugesan. “The potential talents from the business school could be involved in the long-term vision of BioHuntress.”

Innovation hubs like BioHuntress are not unheard of in larger universities. In fact, colleagues have suggested to Dr. Murugesan that she try and secure her company in a city with more demand; but, she has other plans.

“Everyone was telling me that I should go to Fredericton because that’s the innovation happening place,” said Dr. Murugesan. “And I said… ‘well it’s nice to hear that, but could Saint John have its own innovation hub too? Why should I move if there is potential here?’”

Dr. Murugesan isn’t quite sure what the future of BioHuntress entails. She just hopes to fulfill what it means to have a global impact. “All I could think about was that my idea was coming alive… and it looked beautiful.”

By: Ashley Sheppard