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Canadian Life Sciences Innovations Thrive

Canadian companies are innovators in human health, bio-agriculture, and ocean technologies.

Location Canada 2011
Life sciences research is often a global endeavor. In multicultural Canada, one in every five Canadians - or more than 4.4 million workers - speaks a language other than English or French. This diversity has created an adaptable and skilled work force that is conducive to global investors from Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Punjabi, German, Arabic, Portuguese, Korean, Hindi, and Japanese backgrounds. Canadian private-sector biotechnology comprises about 670 companies generating a direct economic impact of about C$1.1 billion annually, according to a spokesperson for British Columbia's Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Innovation. The sector includes (in order of size): industry/environment, therapeutics, agriculture, and genomics. The historical center of life sciences in Canada has been Quebec; however, a third of all Canadian biotechnology companies (about 220 firms) are now based in B.C., according to the B.C. Ministry's spokesperson.

Human health represents over half of all the country's life science companies, 70 percent of all revenues, and close to 90 percent of all R&D, according to the Invest in Canada bureau. B.C.'s biotechnology industry includes more than 90 biopharmaceutical companies, employs 2,200+ people, and generates revenue in the range of $800 million per year. The B.C. Ministry spokesperson cites that by number of companies, British Columbia's biopharmaceutical sector is the fastest growing in Canada.

Vancouver is Western Canada's largest life sciences hub, comprising the fastest-growing biotech center in Canada and seventh largest in North America, according to the Invest in Canada bureau. Two of Canada's largest and most successful biopharmaceutical companies are currently located in Vancouver: QLT and Angiotech Pharmaceuticals. Collaboration with research institutions is ongoing at the University of British Columbia Life Sciences Centre, the Centre for Drug Research and Development, and Simon Fraser University's 4D labs, which conduct research on advanced materials and nanoscale devices. Companies can also benefit from tax advantages specific to life sciences.

Collaborations and partnerships that strive to keep people healthier also provide a shot in the arm for the economy. Partnerships include a deal between Cardiome Pharma Corp. and Merck, valued at up to $1 billion, for commercial rights to Cardiome's drug for treating acute atrial fibrillation, which represents the largest licensing deal ever done in Canada; and the merger of OncoGenex with Sonus Pharmaceuticals that resulted in a NASDAQ public listing and, combined with promising clinical results, produced a tenfold increase in OncoGenex's market capitalization.

Elsewhere in Canada, in March, global bioscience firm Novartis expanded to a third building in Prince Edward Island's West Royalty Business Park, across from its already existing head office and product development facility. The firm also operates a vaccine production facility in the park, as well as research and development operations in Victoria, P.E.I.

Merck Canada has invested $5 million over five years in the Quebec Consortium for Drug Discovery (CQDM) to support biopharmaceutical research in the province. The consortium promotes synergies between academia and the biopharmaceutical industry by creating networking opportunities among universities, hospitals, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Genomics research is also a focus in Quebec, bolstered by the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) and the McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Centre.

Toronto, the fourth-largest life sciences hub in North America and Canada's largest pharmaceutical center, is home to more than 140 public and private companies. Toronto's life sciences cluster is centered downtown, close to the University of Toronto, numerous research hospitals, and specialized institutions such as the Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (CCBR) and the Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) Discovery District.

According to the Invest in Canada bureau, Canada has one of the highest activity rates for firms in agro-food applications among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (28 percent). Canadian firms' revenues exceed those of U.S. agro-based companies and are more than double those in Japan and the UK.

Saskatchewan contains approximately 44 percent of Canada's cultivated farmland, suited to supply crops for non-food uses such as bio-fuels, pharmaceuticals, and other industrial products, says a spokesperson from Ag- West Bio, Inc., a leading catalyst for the growth of the agrobiotech industry. Creative use of mustard seed is one focus of the agro-tech sector's research. MPT Mustard Products & Technologies Inc. is developing biodegradable, environmentally safe products from locally grown mustard seed, including a high-value bio-pesticide formulation. The company, which received a $300,000 financing package from the Ag- West Bio Commercialization Fund, anticipates substantial benefits from the technology that provides biologically based, natural, safe, and renewable solutions for managing key insect pests. The new, potential non-food market created for Saskatchewan's mustard growers and for the new manufacturers of patented formulations is expected to translate into job creation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's largest city, and the surrounding area.

Home to more than 40 companies engaged in groundbreaking agricultural biotechnology R&D - 30 percent of Canada's activity in the field - the Saskatoon cluster's markets extend to functional foods, nutraceuticals, and industrial bio-products. With annual revenues totaling nearly $60 million, the Invest in Canada bureau notes that the cluster has nurtured North America's largest legume and cereal microbial inoculant manufacturing centers, and ranks as one of the most competitive cities in the world for food processing. The National Research Council's Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon offers access to laboratory space and genomics equipment, and its partnership program also serves as a business incubator.

The food processing industry employs nearly 300,000 Canadians. Vancouver expects to grow this sector with its new Industry-Government Food Processing Action Plan, which debuted in January. The plan's pilot project actively promotes the high-quality food production of Canadian farmers and food processors to increase competitiveness. It targets four key areas: economics, market access, innovation, and the regulatory environment. Most of the recommended actions, including research studies, policy and program reviews, and new initiatives, are expected to be completed over the next 12 months.

This March, funding flowed to Atlantic Canada, where ocean technologies are a primary economic development focus. Invest in Canada notes that the ocean technologies industry is strong, with approximately 140 companies generating an estimated $330 million in sales annually.

The Honorable Denis Lebel, Minister of State for Canada Economic Development, announced an award of approximately $6.7 million in nonrepayable funding to the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR) and its Institut des sciences de la mer, as well as to the Centre interdisciplinaire de développement de cartographie des océans (CIDCO - Interdisciplinary Center for the Development of Ocean Mapping). The Bas-Saint-Laurent region, which stretches along the Saint Lawrence Estuary in Quebec, is particularly focused on the marine sciences, and this funding is expected to increase technology transfers from research centers to businesses, resulting in the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. Some targeted areas for expansion include coastal erosion modeling, sub-aquatic structure inspection, ocean-floor and habitat classification, subsea natural resources detection and evaluation, bathymetric data collection in rivers and lakes and in very shallow areas, and the acquisition of equipment for the inspection of port and marine facilities.

Also in March, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) announced $3 million in funding for a genetics development program originating from the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The $7.8 million, five-year project facilitates a partnership between the Huntsman, Admiral Fish Farms Ltd. (Grand Manan, N.B.), Gray Aqua Farms Ltd. (Northampton, N.B.), Northern Harvest Sea Farms Ltd (Letang, N.B.), and others to develop an elite Atlantic salmon breeding program that produces salmon with better growth rates, improved fillet yield, and more natural resistance to disease.

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