Introducing SNI, SciMar’s clinical trials provider

As a young man growing up in Rimouski, Quebec, Bernie Desgagnés, his brothers, and their dad would pass the time throwing axes, chopping wood, and competing against their fellow lumberjacks across North America to see who could saw through massive logs the fastest.

Being a successful competitive lumberjack required laser-like focus, attention to detail, a commitment to safety, and an uncommon work ethic. The same goes for the skills required to run a company focused on regulatory affairs and clinical trials. Same vigour; even more rigour.

Bernie Desgagnés wows the crowd. Being a competitive lumberjack and head of a contract research organization both demand “laser-like focus, attention to detail, a commitment to safety, and an uncommon work ethic.”

Today, the only logging Desgagnés does is data. As Founder, President, and CEO of Winnipeg-based Source Nutraceutical Inc. (SNI), he is a strategic supplier to SciMar as the company works to test, validate, and commercialize its product pipeline. In the clinical trials world, SNI is known as a “contract research organization”, or CRO.

SNI has already conducted a small clinical trial of SciMar NuPa Test, SciMar’s diagnostic test meal, to fine-tune the trial protocols and establish baseline measures. These are human trials that follow SciMar’s many years of lab work and animal trials. A clinical trial with 16 people will launch at the end of January 2022, followed by larger and more frequent clinical trials through SciMar’s Wellness Transformation Network community outreach initiative.

“As a CRO, it’s important for people to know that we have no financial interest in SciMar or any of our clients. The integrity of the process depends on that,” says Desgagnés. “Our role is to help our clients gather compliant data that demonstrate the safety, efficacy, and quality of their products. Only then will Health Canada license any natural health product, drug, or medical device for sale in Canada. The clinical trials process is vital, as it ensures that in the end, only safe and effective products reach the marketplace.”

Canada has developed a positive international reputation for the strictness of its rules and the high standards required for clinical trials. With rigorous trials that produce positive results, SNI’s clients can publish their findings with confidence and make authentic claims about what their products can do.

But the system wasn’t always so strict, and consumers weren’t always so well protected. Prior to 2004, the system was less regulated, the line between food and drug was blurred, and sometimes snake oil with dubious claims would find its way to market. In 2004, the government established new guidelines for natural health products and Desgagnés stepped in to fill a huge consulting void.

“My goal then and now was to provide a turnkey service to Canadian innovators and to businesses from other countries looking to enter the Canadian market. We look at every part of the product lifecycle from concept, to testing, to quality assurance, to packaging, translation, and labelling,” says Desgagnés. “We help clients navigate the very complex regulatory landscape.”

Desgagnés found his way to the world of clinical trials, regulatory affairs, and natural health products through his own enthusiasm for health and fitness and his interest in standards.

He left Rimouski after high school and followed his brother to northern Manitoba. “My brother was working for Manitoba Forestry (Manfor) and I thought I would, too. There were also opportunities to work in the mines, but they were both on strike at the time,” he says. “Mostly, I came to Manitoba to learn English.”

At the same time, the 18-year-old decided to pump some iron—“in case I got into any fights,” he jokes— and eventually became a competitive bodybuilder (he still works out five days a week in his home gym). With no forestry or mine work available, Desgagnés took a job with the provincial government as a machine operator and then moved south to Brandon to get his Red Seal and his ticket to work as a heavy-duty diesel mechanic.

His work with the province continued, and he parlayed that into a job with Manitoba’s department of Workplace Safety and Health. It’s where he got his first taste of regulatory affairs and he was fascinated by it. In total, Desgagnés worked for the province for 18 years. Through much of that time, he had a side muscle hustle selling sports supplements to fellow fitness enthusiasts.

And then along came an opportunity to enter the private sector as Director of Regulatory Affairs for a natural health products company in Winnipeg. It was a chance to marry his interests in regulation and health products. Eight years later, the company decided to uproot and move its head office to Toronto. Desgagnés wasn’t interested in leaving Manitoba at the time, and the new Health Canada regulations for natural health products were just coming online. So, he decided to stay put, go on his own, and provide consulting services from home. His timing was right; his work ethic and passion were primed. That was 17 years ago and he hasn’t looked back, and with the recent opening of new clinic space that will house SciMar’s trials, SNI is poised for the next level.

“We’re excited for this work with SciMar, especially given the high incidence of type 2 diabetes in Manitoba,” says Desgagnés. “Their passion is undeniable and they are keenly focused on their goal of changing the course of human health by balancing metabolic function through nutrient partitioning and the hepatalin paradigm. We’re proud to help them navigate toward that goal.”