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After 60 years new drug for lupus from Canada approved in U.S.

Christian Fernsby |
People living with lupus will soon have access to a breakthrough treatment discovered by an Albertan life sciences entrepreneur, who is creating a more globally competitive drug commercialization industry in Canada.

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Dr. Robert Foster, an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta, discovered voclosporin in the early 1990s after founding a start-up drug company in his Edmonton basement.

It would take nearly 30 years, but the drug would earn the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat lupus-related kidney disease. Voclosporin was approved by the FDA earlier this year.

"This is a homegrown Canadian success story. The FDA doesn't approve Canadian drugs often," Foster said. " Voclosporin will improve people's lives; it's a breakthrough for people living with lupus."

Medical treatments for lupus are rare. Volcosporin is only the second treatment to come to market to treat lupus in more than 60 years. It is not yet approved for use in Canada. While Foster understands possible frustration from Canadians unable to access the new lupus therapy, he expressed hope and optimism for the future of Canada's life sciences sector.

Since developing voclosporin, Foster has become CEO of Hepion Pharmaceuticals - a US company with its research and development headquartered in Edmonton. Hepion is now researching a treatment for fatty liver disease, and has joined forces with Alberta's leading drug commercialization accelerator - Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API).

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