There’s Always a Way

May, Michael

CEO of the Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) makes biomedical technology big business

July 30, 2012

“It’s really hard to take things out of the University and into the medical world,” admits Michael May, CEO for the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM). “No one can teach you this stuff.”

May would know. His PhD supervisor and former business partner, University Professor Michael Sefton, fondly recalls that May’s entrepreneurial spirit showed itself early in the game.

“Mike indicated early on in our work together that he was working toward setting up his own business and was looking for opportunities,” says Sefton, who also supervised May’s undergraduate research in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry. Sefton recalls that while still a graduate student, May went into business for himself creating power point slides for faculty.

May put that innovative spirit to good use as he teased out opportunities for himself. “I saw the extent of intellectual activity going on in engineering and how much you could connect with medicine,” he says. May, who originally entertained thoughts of becoming a physician, soon realized that he could connect the worlds of medicine and engineering in unique ways. “The depth of possibility was an eye-opener for me,” he explains. “I made it my personal mission to figure out how technologies spun out of the university.”

May won the Martin Walmsley Fellowship for Technological Entrepreneurship, which, he argues, helped precipitate a conversation that shaped the course of his future.

“When we first started, people were trying to make polymers inert,” May says of his decision to create the start-up company Rimon Therapeutics Ltd. with Michael Sefton in 2000. Sefton and May, on the other hand, were looking at polymers that solicit responses.

“A therapeutic polymer with functional benefit was a novel concept based on a serendipitous observation made in Sefton’s lab,” explains May. Rimon Therapeutics went on to patent Theramers™ –molecules that deliver localized treatments without systemic consequences. Sefton and May obtained FDA approval for Theramers™, whose applications included the development of new blood vessels; preventing the destruction of tissue; killing bacteria without harming human cells; healing chronic wounds; treating heart disease; delaying knee replacement; and, preventing medical device-related infections. Their premier product – the Mi-Sorb™ Dressing – entered into clinical trials.

“We had some successful products for wound treatment, but when it came to the final stages of commercialization we had a hard time getting a partner or price for the product,” says Sefton. The company lasted twelve years, though, and gave May invaluable experience for the next phase of his career.

Sitting on the Board of Directors for MaRS Innovation, May helped develop commercialization projects when he moved into the position of CEO for CCRM, a not-for-profit whose mission it is to develop regenerative medicine technologies to be out-licensed to industry, and to create new companies in order to accelerate new technologies.

“Rimon times ten,” May describes of his new role in the one-year-old commercialization venture, whose three critical partners at the host institution—the University of Toronto—are the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and IBBME. Several hospitals are also CCRM’s partners, and there are 20 biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the CCRM Industry Consortium, as well.

But May’s influence extends beyond the world of venture capital, where May is translating the interface between academia and industry into big business.

“There has been conceptual change in the biomaterials community that Mike can take partial credit for, [such as] the idea of regeneration-inducing biomaterials,” according to Sefton.

“People think of polymers, or medical biomaterials, much more broadly, and with much more potential mechanisms for action than when we started,” May concludes.

“Potential,” perfectly encapsulates May’s credo when it comes to entrepreneurism: “I tell people there’s always a way,” he says.

And then he proves it.