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- Canada has solidified its global expertise in health innovation when it comes to discovery and application, but we have a poor track record in terms of translating that innovation into commercial success.
- Canadian health companies should prioritize and strategize collaboration in the industry and with key stakeholders, especially organizations that have the same areas of expertise and interests.
- Canada is the only advanced pharmaceutical market in the world without a research-based anchor company. Having one would increase our health start-ups chances of scaling and commercializing their innovations, and their access to capital.
Industry leaders spend an immense amount of money in Canada on health, medicine, clinical trials and so on. A significant portion of that amount is dedicated to discovery research. Now is the time for industry, public policymakers, academia and researchers to come together to leverage various stakeholders’ investments in this research for improved health outcomes and economic activity in Canada.
How competitive is Canada in the discovery, application and commercialization of health innovations?
Canada is a powerhouse in discovery and application in neuroscience, biologics, drug development and basic research infrastructure, such as purpose-built labs equipped with the latest technology. If you look at the data, health innovations are responsible for about 5% of Canada’s innovative output. What’s fascinating is that it doesn’t matter what category you choose – from intellectual property (IP) to world innovation indices – it shows that we punch well above our weight in basic research. Canada also leads the world when it comes to starting up health companies, specifically starting university-based companies.
“Over the last 15 years, Canadian industry leaders have taken on major global risk to develop treatments to then sell off the final product or the company as a whole, as opposed to making a real long-term investment in the Canadian economy .”
But even so, Canada is the only advanced pharmaceutical market in the world without a research-based anchor company.Anchor companies are global or international organizations that deliver wider economic advantages, as they act as hubs in supply chains, are more likely to be active in global trade, and invest more in research and development. This greatly affects the ability of Canadian health start-ups to commercialize their activities in the long-term. Over the last 15 years, Canadian industry leaders have taken on major global risk to develop treatments to then sell off the final product or the company as a whole, as opposed to making a real long-term investment in the Canadian economy and taking top spot, not only in research but in commercialization.
Why did you create adMare BioInnovations by fusing CDRD and the NEOMED Institute?What is the importance of cross-industry collaboration in the health innovation space?
CDRD and the NEOMED Institute brought their respective capabilities and resources together to create adMare BioInnovations because Canada needs to improve its track record of translating our world-leading innovative research output into a sustained health innovation industry. We are certainly better at commercializing our innovations today than we have been in a long time, but we believe it is truly important for Canada to build an industry of scale and to focus on Canada’s key life sciences clusters in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
CDRD and NEOMED already worked a lot across the country but we thought it was very important to start to build the kind of sustainable industry that will be commensurate with the research leadership Canada already has. The federal government, and the governments of Quebec and British Columbiahave identified the health and biosciences as a critical platform for growth. This is clearly one of the important industries for Canada’s future economy. So we looked at the ways in which adMare can help build a sustainable industry.
“The final goal is to combine students’ science background with commercial skills to develop ‘business scientists’.”
The first, and probably the most important one, is translating Canada’s high quality academic research into risk capital investments, and biotechnology and health sciences companies of scale. We know that partnerships and collaboration fast-track scientific discovery, technological innovation and their commercialization. For example, at CDRD, we spent a lot of time partnering with academia and universities to train next-generation science and business leaders. We established some great programs that tailor to undergrad students, such as co-op placements, and we also offered post-doctoral graduates the possibility to join a 2-year training program. The final goal is to combine students’ science background with commercial skills to develop ‘business scientists’. This work is continuing with adMare.
The second thing we must do is help existing life science companies scale up. And this new combined organization will do that in two ways. The first is by leveraging our expertise to help companies solve a scientific roadblock to risk capital. The second way we are doing this is through the NEOMED Innovation Centre. This facility already houses 32 companies and about 25 employees, and works to create an ecosystem or hub where those organizations can come together, share resources and some of the scientific infrastructure they may not be able to afford on their own, to really develop a core cluster. This scale-up function is incredibly important.
“If we want to successfully scale Canadian sciences companies, it requires leaders to think in more complex, systematic and strategic ways.”
The third thing we must focus on is training the next generation of leaders in the health innovation space. adMare will do that in two ways. One, through our post-doc program, which focuses on taking scientists and making them more commercially minded. Though CDRD this program graduated 225 post-docs, 96% of whom went on to relevant jobs in the industry with approximately 84-85% of them currently work in Canada, contributing to the economy. The other way we lead that training mandate is through the adMare Academy’s Executive Institute, which we created a year ago with very significant support from Pfizer Canada to train the next generation of business leaders in the space. We must focus on training the future management talent the Canadian life sciences sector needs to lead the world. This is important because if we want to successfully scale Canadian sciences companies, it requires leaders to think in more complex, systematic and strategic ways.So, this program is designed to give people who are in mid-career the leadership skills they need to become the CEOs, CFOs and CSOs of Canada’s future health innovation industry.
Obviously there has been some integration work to do between NEOMED and CDRD, but they were both really strong entities with strong teams in both Vancouver and Montreal. They are already dovetailing well together, and the immediate mission is to find where we can learn from each other to make the new pan-Canadian organization stronger. We’re very excited about what the future has to bring with adMare.
What can be done, and by whom, to encourage more collaboration among industry stakeholders?
The appetite for collaboration is already there; industry leaders, investors, researchers and public policymakers are seeking to work together to lead extraordinary improvements in Canada’s health innovation sector. The Health and Biosciences Economic Strategy Table that the federal government convened over the last year and a half is a prime example of this demand. But there are also steps that life sciences organizations can take on their own, specifically with organizations that have similar interests and capacities.
For example, CDRD recently partnered with TRIUMF Innovations to achieve new advancements in the field of cancer treatments through nuclear medicine. Yes, we have similar interest areas, but instead of seeing this as competition, we envision an even more effective way to work together and advance medicine. We expect great outcomes from this partnership because as innovation becomes more complex, it will require a convergence of multi-disciplinary talents and resources.
“Now is the time to come together to leverage various stakeholders’ investments in basic research for improved health outcomes and economic activity in Canada.”
Industry leaders spend an immense amount of money in Canada on health, medicine, clinical trials and so on. A significant portion of that amount is dedicated to basic research infrastructure. Now is the time to come together to leverage various stakeholders’ investments in basic research for improved health outcomes and economic activity in Canada.If the industry comes together with public policymakers, academia and researchers to identify ways to streamline regulation and investments like it did with the Health and Bioscience Economic Strategy Table, there will be extraordinary opportunities to see significant growth for existing industries and create new industry partners.
How can we get larger national or international funds to invest in the Canadian health sector?
As a venture capitalist myself and former CEO of several companies, I have raised hundreds of millions of dollars around the world from the largest life science investor in Canada, the largest life science investor in the world and some of the most sophisticated investors in Europe. And, I have to say, the money is there. If you look over the course of the last few years, the Canadian industry has raised an unprecedented amount of capital.
So, it’s not a question of not having enough capital. It’s about not having enough companies that are ready to scale and commercialize.Capital is very fluid — it will go where opportunities exist. The focus needs to be on having health companies and teams ready to scale so that they can attract the capital that is available and secure.
“If we want to scale more companies, the Canadian health industry first needs to establish and secure anchor companies that act as health clusters that will make ripple effects in enabling other health companies to grow.”
To be able scale, a health company must deliver three things: multiple products or a platform that is able to generate multiple products, advance them enough to attract substantive risk capital, and finally push them forward towards human clinical trials. The industry is a bit stuck on scaling more companies because of our lack of anchor health companies. If we want to scale more companies, the Canadian health industry first needs to establish and secure anchor companies that act as health clusters that will make ripple effects in enabling other health companies to grow.
What is your advice to the federal and provincial governments to ensure that Canada owns the podium on health innovation and commercialization?
As a national health ecosystem, there are really important things that we can continue to do to help existing companies scale up. The Strategic Innovation Fund(SIF) the federal government created is a pillar that is incredibly well received by the industry. The recent $37.5 million contribution the fund awarded BioVectra represented the single largest SIF Project ever awarded in Atlantic Canada. In 2018, STEMCELL Technologies received a $45 million joint funding agreement between the Governments of Canada and British Columbia to help the company build a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility.
“My advice to government is to combine financial support with incentives to collaborate in the health industry.”
So, my advice to government is to combine financial support with incentives to collaborate in the health industry. I think that the health industry across the board needs to be directed and pushed into collaboration as much as possible. This includes collaboration among research organizations, associations, start-ups and so on. The more we bring diverse voices from coast to coast into the process of collaboration, the more the health industry can improve solutions that cater to scaling and commercializing health companies.