By: Stu Slayen, March 22, 2022
When Dr. Jerry Gray is fishing on Crowduck Lake in eastern Manitoba, he is grateful for the solitude, the silence, and the province’s relatively low profile. But when it comes to business and innovation, he’d like more people to take notice of the keystone province.
Dr. Jerry Gray: “This will be huge for medical research, huge for diabetics, and huge for Manitoba. I’m very optimistic.”
“We need to get better at tooting our own horn,” says Dr. Gray, Dean Emeritus and Senior Scholar at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business. “Historically, we haven’t bragged here about our businesses, not like in Alberta or California.”
Not that there haven’t been many boast-worthy successes, notes Dr. Gray, pointing to Skip the Dishes, the trucking industry, and Winnipeg’s evolution as the continent’s key transportation hub. In fact, he says, there is an advantage to launching a major business in Manitoba: “There’s room to manoeuvre, room to experiment and innovate; and there are people here who will get on board financially and with moral support. In some ways, we’re just the right size.”
Dr. Gray points to SciMar as another Manitoba enterprise with dramatic global potential; a company that can change the conversation about type 2 diabetes while enriching the profile of Manitoba where SciMar was born and where its headquarters and lab remain.
Dr. Gray was introduced to SciMar Chief Executive Officer Mick Lautt early in March by SciMar investment consultant Chuck LaFlèche, a former student of Dr. Gray.
“I bumped into Chuck at the Manitoba Club and asked him what he’s been up to,” says the Indiana-born Dr. Gray. “He told me about SciMar and gave me the pitch of a lifetime. I realized how big this could be and agreed to meet with Mick.”
When they met in early March, Lautt shared the company story and some promotional material, and explained how the discovery of the hepatalin hormone is the most significant advancement in diabetes research since the discovery of insulin a century ago. The hepatalin hormone was discovered in 1996 by Dr. W. Wayne Lautt, SciMar’s co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer.
The discovery was made while Dr. Lautt was a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Manitoba, and Dr. Gray draws a parallel between Dr. Lautt’s story and the story of the University of Manitoba academics who developed canola in the 1970s: both scientific discoveries with global implications.
At the age of 80, Dr. Gray is no longer making major financial investments, but has been talking up SciMar since meeting with Lautt, and is impressed by the investors who have already come to the table—especially Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba.
“The rates of type 2 diabetes are incredibly high among Indigenous people, especially in the north,” says Dr. Gray. “I’m very pleased that this community invested in SciMar as one way to address the problem.”
Dr. Gray himself is one of 537,000,000 people in the world living with diabetes, of whom 90 percent have type 2. He appreciates the scale of the problem, and the enormity of the opportunity for SciMar.
“I am not a scientist, but this does seem to be the next big discovery,” he says. “This will be huge for medical research, huge for diabetics, and huge for Manitoba. I’m very optimistic.”