Members of the Southwestern Ontario Angel Group have invested in Vanrx Pharmasystems Inc., a Vancouver-based company that designs and manufactures aseptic filling machines for the pharmaceutical sector.

When Chris Procyshyn and Ross Gold approached the SWO Angels in 2009, they had an idea for a machine that could eliminate human error and possibility of contaminants for pharmaceutical companies. A microbiologist by training, Procyshyn holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from the University of Saskatchewan. At his previous company, QLT Inc., a pioneering Canadian biopharmaceutical company, Procyshyn led the manufacturing, engineering, and process sciences groups in the development of advanced aseptic processes and their implementation into global manufacturing facilities.

Procyshyn knew that pharmaceutical product pipelines were full of biologic drugs and personalized treatments based on an increased understanding of the human genome. A shift was about to happen toward smaller production runs. He believed that he and his team could design a new type of filling machine that would be flexible for these small-batch products, while providing superior aseptic assurance. These innovations could benefit patient safety and manage risk for high-value products being made.

With Ross Gold, an engineer by trade, the duo led a pitch to the SWO Angels. Together, Procyshyn and Gold shared their vision to combine the use of robotics and sensors in a machine that would flexibly fill multiple container types, including vials, syringes, and cartridges.

In 2017, this vision is a reality. Vanrx’s Aseptic Filling Workcells—named after robotic semiconductor manufacturing machines—are deployed around the world. The need for flexible manufacturing systems that Procyshyn and Gold anticipated has become very real. After strong initial sales overseas, several systems will be installed in the U.S. in 2017.

When looking back at the prototypes, one can easily see that Vanrx’s Workcells have undergone a complete overhaul since the initial version was designed in 2010. On our visit to the Vanrx offices, we saw the original machine. It was a relic of the journey, sitting in a corner. The Vanrx building in Burnaby is a 32,000 square-foot converted lumber warehouse. The place is abuzz with engineers focused on advancing Vanrx’s technology advantage in robotics and gloveless isolator systems.

Vanrx has shown considerable traction since SWO Angels first invested. Revenues have increased in the high double-digits percentage points since the first commercial machine was sold in 2013.

Vanrx is in the process of releasing their fourth product this year. It will be called the Microcell Vial Filler, a fully automated gloveless robotic isolator for manufacturing clinical trial supplies and cell therapies.

The company has also demonstrated substantial expertise by shortening production runs. While the industry standard is up to two years for the development, construction, and delivery of filling machines, a Vanrx machine can be ordered, built, installed and commissioned in 12 months or less. This is a significant advantage for customers who want to reach the market first. The machines are unique because they are driven by automation software and not mechanics, which allows Vanrx to remotely fix issues.

Currently, three SWO Angels members sit on the board of directors of Vanrx, and have proved instrumental in providing insight to Vanrx to grow quickly and profitably:

  • Hank Vanderlaan, whose experience building Trojan Technologies in London has been extremely relevant and valuable. There are strong parallels between Trojan and Vanrx in terms of building disruptive technology. Both companies also market to some of the same customers.
  • Jeff Brown. His experience with startup High Street Asset management and understanding financial markets proved important for growing and raising funds for the company.
  • George Baran brings international business experience in medical devices from Trudell, which proved to be a significant asset to Vanrx in gaining understanding in the space.

Chris Procyshyn says: “We’re a proudly Canadian company. It’s amazing that investors from southern Ontario linked up with entrepreneurs from British Columbia to build this business. Vanrx has benefitted tremendously from the experience and resources our investors bring to the table. In addition, we draw heavily from Canadian suppliers to build our machines. Vanrx leads the technology race in this space, and we’re committed to showing the world what Canadian innovation can do.”

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