By: Sandra Desrochers
Samy Saad has dispensed a lot of medication and advice over the years. As a career pharmacist with his own practice in Mississauga since 1995, Saad would often receive feedback from customers regarding the effectiveness of certain medications designed to combat various ailments.
One of those customers may have changed the course of Saad’s professional life. That particular patient had a persistent nail fungal infection, a common problem affecting approximately 10 per cent of the North American population. His unsightly, deformed nails caused him frustration and embarrassment for years. Called Onychomycosis, the condition can be a physical and psychological burden and never cures on its own. The standard treatments are less than ideal – either ineffective or prone to dangerous side effects. Samy Saad made it his personal mission to develop a treatment that would completely eliminate the fungus without side effects.
Saad’s passion for personalized medicine and patient care inspired him to start his own company, Richpoint Pharma, which developed RAF02 – a unique topical drug delivery technology to cure nail fungus. RAF02 is applied to the infected nail, targeting the fungus while forming a film which protects the nail bed. The nail then grows out, clear of the fungus.
As a trained pharmacist, Saad had the required knowledge and experience to help him formulate a new medication, but launching a business required a different skill set. Through Mississauga’s Research Innovation and Commercialization (RIC) Centre, Saad enrolled in VentureStart to get the mentoring he needed to start his own company.
VentureStart is funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). VentureStart received $7.5 million in funding through FedDev Ontario’s Scientists and Engineers in Business (SEB) initiative. The program provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies.
“The Government of Canada is a proud supporter of the Research Innovation Commercialization Centre’s VentureStart program,” said Bob Dechert, Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erindale. “Our investments through FedDev Ontario’s Scientists and Engineers in Business initiative are helping to provide companies like Richpoint Pharma, and entrepreneurs and start-up businesses throughout southern Ontario, with the tools they need for success. This is helping to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for our region.”
Through FedDev Ontario’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants like Samy Saad increase their business and management skills and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities. The program is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in southern Ontario.
James Sbrolla was Richpoint Pharma’s assigned Entrepreneur- in-Residence (EIR) at Mississauga’s RIC Centre. Advisors like Sbrolla draw upon their extensive business experience and expertise to help new entrepreneurs navigate through the process of commercialization. “James gave us the guidance we needed to build a business model,” Saad acknowledged. “His knowledge and insights have been invaluable as we work towards making RAF02 a viable marketable product.”
In addition to mentoring, Richpoint Pharma received $30,000 in funding to help find the investment capital required for regional IP filing, stability studies, clinical trials and marketing to pharmaceutical companies. Saad was also able to establish dialogue with Ontario Centres of Excellence to co-fund academic research related to drug-delivery technology. Since founding Richpoint Pharma, Saad has brought on top-notch professionals for his advisory board including experts in the areas of strategic business, legal, marketing, science and dermatology.
Prospects for the company’s invention look very good. “Testing of the compound, with all FDA approved ingredients, has been 100 per cent effective in 15 patients with fingernail or toenail fungal infections,” said Saad. “So far, no one treated with RAF02 has reported any side-effects or resistance to the treatment.”
Richpoint Pharma is getting some much-deserved attention. At RIC’s recent annual Innovator Idol contest (a hybrid of Dragon’s Den and American Idol) Richpoint Pharma was selected as a finalist and then won the prestigious Judging Panel Award, as the start-up most likely to make it to the commercialization phase.
The Canadian Trade Commission selected Richpoint Pharma as one of four Canadian life science start-ups (and the only start-up in Ontario) to receive an incubator space at San Francisco’s University of California. Richpoint Pharma is now in negotiations with a number of pharmaceutical companies to out-license RAF02 technology. At a recent Bio International Conference, the company participated in 52 business development/out-licensing meetings.
Saad looks forward to the day when he’ll see his medication available over the counter or by prescription, providing relief to a potential market of 35 million patients. With the invention patented globally, the future looks bright for Richpoint Pharma.