- Academic institutions play a key role in driving innovation and growth for the bioscience sector in Prince Edward Island.
- Companies are able to source key talent from the universities in Prince Edward Island, which have a strong focus on the biosciences.
- The collaborative business environment in Prince Edward Island allows for companies to access key decision-makers quickly to get projects moving.
Prince Edward Island has the ideal environment for the growth of biosciences companies, bringing strong academic partnerships, collaborations with key organizations, access to talent, and a great quality of life. Investors will enjoy strong support and be able to be part of a thriving ecosystem.
How would you describe Charlottetown’s biosciences sector and how do you see it developing moving forward?
The Prince Edward Island bioscience sector has become a strong economic driver on the island and UPEI has been involved in this from the very beginning. The first company in that sector, Diagnostics Chemicals Limited, was actually founded by Dr. Regis Duffy back in 1970. Dr. Duffy was a chemistry professor and the first Dean of Science at UPEI. The book The Chemistry of Innovation: Regis Duffy and the Story of DCL was just published last week and I cannot wait to read that book. The bioscience sector in Charlottetown has been growing rapidly and continues to expand even through the pandemic, with products ranging from COVID-19-related tools to new biomaterials. There are currently 60 companies in that sector, which are supported by research and development (R&D) organizations such as UPEI, the National Research Council, Holland College, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and specialized facilities from organizations such as Bio|Food|Tech, an organization that provides assistance to food and bioprocessing companies.
What are PEI’s competitive advantages for attracting foreign investors and companies?
We have a very supportive business environment here in PEI, which includes the lowest small business tax rate in the country at 1%. We have a supportive and strong research environment with a research culture that has expertise ranging from natural product chemistry to plant health, fish health, cleantech, and animal and human health product development. There is also a strong and expanding infrastructure base including the PEI BioCommons Research Park, which provides commercialization support to the bioscience industry. There are many other facilities as well as the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) at UPEI.
What kind of companies operate in PEI’s bioscience sector?
We have companies working on natural products, fish health, anything to do with the food industry, bioprocessing, animal health, and everything else that falls in the biosciences sector.
How would you describe the relationship between UPEI or academia and the biosciences community?
UPEI and Holland College are quite well integrated with the bioscience industry and we are working harder to increase that engagement. We are an active member of the PEI BioAlliance and regularly partner with others on engagement, tradeshows, and so on. Universities have a broad and far-reaching economic potential for commercial and industry partnerships to support the creation of innovation and expertise. One of the pathways to help support the growth and success of existing and new partners is by addressing and solving key challenges. Universities are very good at solving problems. If that problem is people, we have well-trained and qualified students from UPEI. If it is a technological issue, we have professors with a wide range of expertise we could tap into. The second pathway here is to co-develop new products and services with partners. In this case, solutions are not always immediately apparent but we work from the discovery end at UPEI and let our industry partners move those ideas into products. The third pathway consists of developing new products and services leading to the creation of new ventures. This may take many forms from startups to partnerships.
What is the availability of talent in PEI for the biosciences sector?
We realize the importance of the biosciences sector and we have established transition programs with our college partners for upskilling. The biosciences sector is a regular client for our Work Integrated Learning (WIL) co-operative and engineering programs. The Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) was recently launched and is one of the newest additions to our toolkit. It is specifically designed to address future skills needs in the life sciences area.
“At UPEI, we train and mentor students and produce skilled trainees for the biosciences sector and beyond.”
UPEI is a great university with a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programming. At UPEI, we train and mentor students and produce skilled trainees for the biosciences sector and beyond.
What areas of research or innovation in PEI’s biosciences sector are you particularly excited about?
I can give you some examples. UPEI is doing world-class research in many areas across the bioscience sector. Dr. Mark Fast of AVC was recently awarded $4.7 million from Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program to develop an early warning system for identifying complex gill disease in salmon. This is a global challenge for the aquaculture industry resulting in up to a $130 million loss in revenue annually. Dr. Fast is a world-renowned expert and along with colleagues across Canada and the world, they are going to attempt to address this situation.
Another product of UPEI, Dr. Russell Kerr from the Faculty of Science, founded and grew Nautilus Biosciences, a company that focuses on the discovery of bioactive compounds from the marine environment. Nautilus Biosciences was purchased by an international specialty chemical manufacturer, CRODA International, a few years ago. Nautilus Biosciences is now the Centre of Innovation for Marine Biotechnology at CRODA.
One more example is Dr. Marya Ahmed from the Faculty of Science, who was recently been awarded the prestigious Emerging Scholar Award from the Canadian Cancer Society. She will be exploring innovative techniques for the treatment of breast cancer. There are many great examples in that area of the biosciences, with the biosciences itself being a very broad field.
What would you say to potential investors about the advantages of Charlottetown and PEI?
PEI has a collaborative approach to doing business and in our track record in the biosciences sector specifically. You would be hard-pressed to find another region where a company can access key decision-makers in such a supportive and guided way. The quality of life in PEI is also a key attractor. A good example of that is our relatively enviable position with regards to COVID-19 management. There is no better place to do business, and PEI is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Again, I want to highlight the low tax rate for small businesses and our collaborative economic cluster model, which is coordinated by all our partners at PEI BioAlliance. UPEI also has a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs. UPEI plays a critical role in transitioning well-trained students to the biosciences sector and beyond. In PEI, foreign investors can tap into our rich pool of talented and highly qualified students, mentored and trained at UPEI.
“In PEI, foreign investors can tap into our rich pool of talented and highly qualified students, mentored and trained at UPEI.”
We also have a safe environment, low crime rate, and communities where everybody knows everybody and people are very respectful. PEI is a very friendly place.
In the five years or so, there has been more immigration and foreign investment coming to the city, which means people must like the place. People here are very welcoming and open. It is a great place.