The pandemic’s economic, social and health impact has effectively focussed the attention of policymakers and the public on the strategic importance of building a competitive domestic life sciences industry and biomanufacturing capacity.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic’s economic, social and health impact has effectively focussed the attention of policymakers and the public on the strategic importance of building a competitive domestic life sciences industry and biomanufacturing capacity. Importantly, Canada is building this capacity from a position of strength.
Prior to the pandemic, Canada was already home to two large scale, multinational facilities belonging to Sanofi (Toronto) and GSK (Quebec City), as well as several established Canadian biomanufacturing facilities including those of Resilience, VIDO InterVac, Medicago, and BIOVECTRA. The existing capacity coupled with a national biotech ecosystem comprised of nearly one thousand companies, and globally recognized expertise in regenerative medicine, artificial intelligence, vaccines, clinical trials, and genomics, (and the soon to be added Moderna mRNA facility in Quebec) all represent a formative and competitive foundation upon which to build Canada’s biomanufacturing capacity. Investing in this foundation will both prepare for a future pandemic-like health challenge and drive the competitiveness of the biotech ecosystem more broadly.
While Canada is certainly fortunate to have a strong biotech foundation upon which to build, there remain some headwinds to be addressed, namely:
- Attract and Reward Investment: Canada still needs to be more competitive with respect to attracting and rewarding investment capital. Other countries are using strategic tax initiatives such as R&D tax credits and patent boxes to attract investment and support company growth. Canada needs to keep pace with these. Moreover, a significant and long-term commitment to enhancing the federal life sciences venture fund would accelerate the availability of venture capital investment dollars for early-stage Canadian biotech companies.
- Attract and Retain Talent: the attraction and retention of top tier talent might be the most pressing hurdles before the industry. Canada is not alone in grappling with this. Other nations’ biotech sectors are equally challenged. But this simply makes for a hyper competitive landscape for the very mobile asset that is talent. Importantly, there are some initiatives led by adMare BioInnovations and the Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) which will certainly help address gaps, but more needs to be done to retain the talent we have and attract new talent.
- Regulatory Efficiency: With remarkable health and environment technologies both on our doorstep and on the not-so-distant horizon, Canada needs to ensure its regulatory capacity is effective, modern, and agile.
The 2021 federal budget dedicated significant funds (over $2 billion) and launched a Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy to grow the life sciences sector in Canada and develop domestic biomanufacturing capacity. This makes good public policy sense with respect to building Canada’s ability to address a future pandemic. The investments and strategy also represent an important and timely opportunity to accelerate the growth and global competitiveness of Canada’s biotech sector beyond just a crisis response.
Yet, there remains significant work ahead to address the challenges noted, strategically deploy the budget’s investments, and deliver the Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy. As the country begins to emerge from under the pandemic and return to some sort of normal, there will always be the risk of new priorities and challenges (eg: inflation) drawing attention from finishing the important investments and work already underway. Accordingly, the government should establish a dedicated, senior level official and corresponding team tasked with strategically deploying the investments and following through on the delivery of the Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy. Importantly, Canada also needs to collect data relating to company creation and growth, employment, and investment in order to measure the impact of the investments and initiatives on the ecosystem.
There is no bucket of pixie dust which will magically solve for all of what needs to be done. Nor should making Canada a more competitive jurisdiction fall solely on the shoulders of government. The pandemic has presented an important inflection point for the industry and government to partner constructively to deliver on diverse but connected objectives relating to the entire life sciences sector. Accordingly, in 2020, BIOTECanada developed the BIONATION initiative to bring policymakers and the industry together to chart a course for the future of Canada’s biotech and biomanufacturing sector. The inaugural in-person BIONATION summit will take place in Ottawa on September 28 and 29, 2022 as part of Global Biotechnology week. The summit will see policymakers and the industry gather on Parliament Hill to celebrate the Canadian biotech industry and look to the future with an eye on the important role it can play in addressing economic, environmental, and social challenges both in Canada and the world more broadly. To learn more about BIONATION and how you can participate, visit https://www.biotech.ca/bionation/.
Andrew Casey is the president and CEO of BIOTECanada.