2012 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement In Alberta Science And Technology
Company Takes Technology And Financial Risks
Approximately 200 million people worldwide suffer with Hepatitis C (HCV) and risk developing fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer. Half do not respond to current therapy and face liver transplant or death. Now an Edmonton company is giving new hope for people with HCV through a novel technology that contributes significantly to research on liver-related diseases.
KMT Hepatech Inc. developed a transgenic mouse model (KMT Mouse™) with a humanized liver, an effective and cost-efficient tool for researchers to use for testing hepatitis and malaria therapies.
Making a Difference
KMT Hepatech was founded in 2001 by world-class researchers and expert clinicians in the fields of viral hepatitis, liver disease and liver transplantation, Dr. Norman Kneteman (President and CEO), Dr. David Mercer and Dr. Lorne Tyrrell (Vice President and CSO). They financed the company’s start-up themselves because they believed in their technology.
At the core of the company is a profound insight into who benefits from KMT Hepatech’s technology. Dr. Kneteman has performed liver transplants since 1989 and sees first-hand how HCV ravages lives.
“It quickly became apparent to me that we need better treatment for people with HCV,” he says. “The chance of us curing them – the success rate of treatment – was only 15 per cent. And it was expensive and has a lot of side effects.”
Dr. Kneteman saw one big obstacle to developing better treatment. HCV only infects humans or chimpanzees, so finding a test subject for the development of therapies and vaccines is difficult, time constraining; and with the chimpanzee model, expensive. The transgenic KMT Mouse is the first non-chimpanzee animal model for practical testing of HCV drug candidates. It can be successfully infected with HCV, hepatitis B (HBV) or malaria and remain infected over an extended period of time.
In addition to funding and growing their own venture, the company founders hold full-time positions at the University of Alberta. Dr. Kneteman is a Professor and Director of the Division of Transplantation in the Department of Surgery at the University of Alberta, and the Zone Chief of Transplantation for Alberta Health Services in Edmonton. Dr. Tyrrell is Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Medical Microbiology and Immunology and the Founding Director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology.
On top of demanding careers, the KMT Hepatech founders have grown their corporate team, provided skilled jobs for top-calibre scientists in Alberta and established a world-renowned, leading-edge technology.
The company’s mouse model has penetrated markets in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2006 KMT Hepatech become the only company worldwide contracted by the National Institutes of Health to provide in vivo testing of antiviral agents for HCV. The company has expanded into new facilities in the National Institute for Nanotechnologies Innovation Centre in Edmonton.
KMT Hepatech plans to improve the scope of the KMT Mouse by adding hepatitis B and malaria to its portfolio and to explore using the chimeric mouse to evaluate drugs for toxicity to human hepatocytes.
“We want to expand into new areas to treat liver disease,” Dr. Kneteman says. “We see a unique opportunity for our mouse model to study the new drugs that are causing injury to the liver. Ultimately, we’d like to help find a cure for HCV, much like what has been developed for small pox.”