SciMar’s Dallas Legare takes care of the details

In his off hours, you might find Dallas Legare renovating his house or tiling a friend’s bathroom. During the day, though, this veteran leader trades in his tool belt for a lab coat.

Dallas Legare, Director of Laboratory Operations
Dallas Legare takes investors and guests through the SciMar lab: “It’s our responsibility to make sure that our enthusiasm doesn’t compromise our abilities to think critically, work hard, and do good science.”

As SciMar’s Director of Laboratory Operations, Legare oversees the administration of the laboratory including the planning, organization, and co-ordination of multiple research projects. This includes the allocation of human and technical resources, budget matters, and serving as SciMar’s Quality Assurance Officer, ensuring compliance with regulatory and ethical standards. In other words, it’s Legare’s job to create and maintain the conditions for discoveries to be made and validated day after day.

Whether he’s leading a renovation or supporting innovation, the same principles apply: organization, attention to detail, good humour, and unbridled passion. In the case of SciMar, Legare’s passion is shaped by the steady evolution of SciMar’s science and the deep belief that the company is positioned to create a major change in global health.

“Our goal is to maintain a culture of discovery and excitement in the lab because we’re changing the paradigm where billions of dollars are being spent on diabetes care, but little progress is being made to push back the disease,” says Legare. “When you take a look at how far we’ve moved our research from concept to reality, there is absolutely a sense of excitement.”

Legare’s career path to laboratory operations was hardly a direct one. Moving from his childhood home in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, he enrolled in a social work program at a community college in Saskatoon. The idea of social work appealed to him because of his desire to interact and help others. It appeared to be a fitting occupation, however during his practicum he encountered many overworked and stressed-out social workers. Still, he carried on with his studies at the University of Saskatchewan until a government hiring freeze made the news. The prospect of not finding work or living with a stress-filled occupation pushed Legare away from social work and left him wondering what to do next.

He learned about the laboratory technologist program at the Kelsey Institute in Saskatoon and enrolled. One year of course work was followed by a one-year practicum in hospital laboratories. During his practicum, he saw lab work grow increasingly automated, which changed the role of the technologists and made the work less appealing to him.

And so, the job hunt began. The year was 1979. Legare was looking for a challenging laboratory gig where he could interact with the work and the people around him, potentially making a significant contribution. Enter Dr. Wayne Lautt of the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Lautt—Founder and current Chief Scientific Officer at SciMar—was looking for a research technologist for his physiology lab. Legare fit the bill, working with Dr. Lautt in Saskatoon until 1984 when Dr. Lautt was recruited to the University of Manitoba. Legare followed without hesitation to help Dr. Lautt set up his lab in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Building on his earlier studies of insulin and the liver, Dr. Lautt and his team made a serendipitous discovery in 1996 that would change his work forever, the discovery of hepatic insulin-sensitizing substance (HISS).

The lab grew to as many as 14 staff and continued to attract funding as Dr. Lautt published his findings. In 2012, though, Dr. Lautt retired from the University of Manitoba and his lab wound down. It was the same year that Legare’s wife passed away. Legare stepped back from science, took a deep breath, and spent much of a year doing home renovations before returning to another position at the U of M as the Director of Operations for the Vaccine and Drug Evaluation Centre.

By 2018, it became clear that SciMar, the company that Dr. Lautt founded in 2009, needed to open a lab to accelerate research into HISS and explore ways to take the discovery to the world. Once again, Legare joined Dr. Lautt without hesitation. Working off of his dining room table for the first few months, Legare started to cobble together the pieces to get a new lab off the ground.

By October 2018, the team moved into its lab at St. Boniface Hospital’s Albrechtsen Research Centre. Each day brings the team closer to commercializing the products that will open a new frontier in the battle against type 2 diabetes. In August 2019, a major milestone was reached when Health Canada approved SciMar’s most recent clinical trial plan, a success due in no small part to Legare’s navigation of the complicated ethical requirements and application processes.

As SciMar gets closer and closer to major announcements and launches, Legare keeps his excitement in check.

“There hasn’t been one single a-ha moment,” says Legare, a father of two adult children. “Since 1996 it has been a steady trajectory of learning and discovery. We know that what we are working on will soon help millions of people. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our enthusiasm doesn’t compromise our abilities to think critically, work hard, and do good science.”