New Brunswick

Sackville fire leaves cancer researchers, support group homeless

The CEO of Soricimed Biopharma, Paul Gunn, hopes the company will be back at work within a couple of weeks after fire destroyed its laboratory in Sackville Monday evening.

Local groups and businesses reaching out to help those displaced by fire

A fire in Sackville destroyed the Soricimed lab and community health offices on Monday night. (Suzanne LaPointe/CBC)

A pharmaceutical research company, Soricimed Biopharma Inc., could be back up and running within a couple of weeks, after fire destroyed its laboratory in Sackville Monday evening.

Paul Gunn, chief executive officer of the company, which conducts research on new cancer drugs, said he is relieved all his staff and the most critical research materials are safe.

"Knowing the people were safe was the first important thing," he said.

"After that, having the data, the intellectual property and the results. It's all stored offsite on a cloud-based storage system, so I knew everything we've done and have is still here," Gunn said, meaning 11 years of work didn't go up in smoke.

There's definitely a heavy sense that we have lost our home.- Melody Petlock, Daybreak Centre

He met with his staff Wednesday morning to deal with the shock of the fire and to talk about finding a short term work space.

"The lab kind of works as a nerve centre and kind of co-ordinates a lot of the outside work that we do. But it's not so much the bricks and mortar of the lab that does that, but the people that are there who do that," said Gunn.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation Gunn said it seems to have started in the unit furthest from Soricimed in the three-unit building.

The company developed a drug that can combat some types of cancer including breast, ovarian and prostate, with its first human trials completed this summer.

"That drug has shown very low toxicity and some decent results against a number of different cancer types, so we're very encouraged by the results of the first human trial," Gunn said.

He said the fire will have no affect on patients in clinical trials as those were done at hospitals in Ontario and in Texas.

Mount Allison University, the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute and Université de Moncton have all stepped forward to help in the aftermath of the fire.

Mental health program homeless

The building that burned also housed Sackville's Public Health office, which shared its space with the Daybreak Centre, which helps adults in the Tantramar region with mental health issues.
This building in Sackville housed a research laboratory, a public health office and the Daybreak program before fire destroyed it on Monday night. (Suzanne LaPointe/CBC)

Melody Petlock, executive director of the Daybreak Centre, said the building housed her office and a craft room, and the group also used the boardroom in the building as an activity room on occasion.

"There's definitely a heavy sense that we have lost our home," Petlock said.

"We had really worked hard there transforming that space ... We had filled it with art and plants and rocking chairs and quilts and things to warm it up and make it feel like a safe,happy space that would be good for our mental health."

Petlock noted the groups motto is "We're better when we are together," so while the location may change, the program will continue as best as it can until a new permanent home can be found.

Petlock expects it will take at least a couple of months to be fully operational again and in the meantime, local churches have offered temporary space for meetings and activities.

Support group meetings will be held in private homes for now, but Petlock said it will take some time to replace its cache of arts supplies and comfort items lost in the fire.


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