Collaborating for Vaccine Development in Quebec City
- Both the government and private sector have made great strides to support researchers currently working on vaccine development in Quebec City.
- Engineering capacity is vital to the production of vaccines and medical equipment, necessitating collaborations between the medical and engineering fields.
- The ultimate goal of vaccine production should be to innovate and share knowledge instead of different entities making similar discoveries because of a lack of collaboration.
Quebec City provides a dependable and high-quality stream of talent to industries in the life sciences sector. Better yet, with a high quality of life, this talent will be more productive and much easier to retain. On top of that, the collaborative environment in Quebec City allows for the development of innovative solutions.
What makes Canada an attractive destination for foreign investors in the life sciences sector?
The education level and quality of highly qualified personnel in Canada are unbeatable. From the first step of the school system to the most advanced studies, Canadian education is among the top in the world. We have a very good environment in terms of expertise. When it comes to specific needs like vaccine and drug production, people underestimate the need for highly qualified personnel.
What are Quebec City’s competitive advantages in the life sciences sector?
The expertise environment is very good but there is more than that. Quebec City is a very pleasant city to be in. Let us face it, work takes up close to 80% of our time, but for the 20% remaining, we want the best quality of life. When families relocate, they are looking for the best environment for their families and kids, and Quebec City in that respect is amazing.
It is a four-season city where you can enjoy winter activities such as skiing and skating and at the same time, have some very decent weather in the summer to sail or do water sports. All this looks trivial, but it is not. When you are contributing the best in your field, you want access to high-quality living, which Quebec City has, instead of accumulating frustration. This is something that is really an advantage in Quebec City.
“Quebec City is thinking about how to build things in the most efficient way for the city, region, country, and international stage.”
There are a lot of great ideas and motivation for wanting to build. Each dollar counts, whether it is from the public or private sector, and Quebec City is thinking about how to build things in the most efficient way for the city, region, country, and international stage.
How would you describe the life sciences innovation ecosystem in Quebec City?
It is multi-sectoral. There is funding from the government as well as great contributions and involvement from the private sector in the Quebec City life sciences ecosystem. I have had calls and emails from high-level multinational people asking how they can contribute. These multinationals with 200-plus buildings across the world are pitching in to help make the vaccine happen. This was quite unique and interesting to me. I am not used to seeing the private industry call into an academic lab or not-for-profit to offer help and support whether through financial means or by offering land or buildings. That was very inspiring actually.
“There is funding from the government as well as great contributions and involvement from the private sector in the Quebec City life sciences ecosystem.”
There is also the academic sector including Université Laval and Université du Québec in Quebec. There are great contributions from the college and pre-university levels. They have made great investments in technical capacity throughout the years, including in building capacity, creating a very vibrant system.
There is also the private sector with large pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Medicago, which started as a small to medium-sized enterprise and is now on track to become a large pharmaceutical company. There are also not-for-profits like ours and small biotech companies, as well as new projects that are often coming out of partnerships between the private and public sectors, whether they are for profit or not. This is all at play right now.
We are also lucky to have strong input from the engineering crowd. Engineering in Quebec is very strong. As a matter of fact, the Department of Engineering at the Université Laval is extremely good. We just developed a new device to inject vaccines and we looked around the world for a partner, but the solution was right here, two blocks away at the Engineering Department of Université Laval. They helped us build something customized that really met our needs at the lowest cost.
What makes Quebec City such a world leader in the life sciences sector?
It is important to clarify that many here do not see our work in the life sciences sector as a competition. We see it as complementary and collaborative, looking for our individual strengths to see how we can contribute. In Quebec City, we always look elsewhere for opportunities to collaborate with others, whether to grow the environment here or to grow their environment. This is all to make sure that we do not reinvent the wheel and double what is needed. With this approach, we have been very successful.
CRI was initiated between Quebec City and Winnipeg, growing from there to reach both sides of the country. This is just an example where it started as a collaboration but then led to the development of cutting-edge work that can be built on.
Everybody is looking at building more vaccine capacity, but the point is not to have the same capacity in all our cities but to have an integrated system that can respond and work together to address different needs not only for the Canadian population but for the world.
“The point is not to have the same capacity in all our cities but to have an integrated system that can respond and work together.”
We are not the only ones growing in this space. A unique and not celebrated enough advantage in Quebec City is the social contribution and angle that comes with every big step forward. Here, we have a healthcare system that grants universal access. It has a strong social commitment component, and when you talk to workers in private industry or government, they have the talent and they also want to do what is right for the environment, community, and the generations to come. Every city wants this, but in Quebec City, the level of intensity and focus on this aspect really differentiates us.
How well-positioned is Quebec City to support future pandemics?
We need to be ready as if the current pandemic was just a warning. Quite frankly, we have not yet faced a pathogen that could kill 30% of the population across all age groups. That would be a different reality from what we are seeing right now. COVID-19 is the alarm that went off to tell us to get ready because there might be more coming.
We have seen a lot of movement on the engineering side to look at what can be done in terms of manufacturing. There is also a lot of work that has been done at the basic science level as well on how we use better tools to quickly understand the spread of viruses. There is even research ongoing about whether masks are efficient or how efficient they are. All of this work has ramped up very quickly in the city. We have seen every biology lab cranking up their activities and doing a lot of work in hospitals and long-term care facilities. We have seen engineers come out strongly to help with all sorts of production, including of reagents. At one point, we were lacking reagents for the vaccine development process, but engineers throughout Quebec City stepped up to help with synthesizing those with bioreactors. We have seen a lot of activity here.
What should the Quebec and Canadian governments do to improve growth in the life sciences sector?
First, governments should come up with a solid, robust strategy so that every dollar counts, and try to be innovative in the way we build our next response. That includes supporting not-for-profits to help create good jobs and bring the costs down, especially in finding solutions that are not economically viable. Non-profits can help develop a vaccine or drug through partnerships with for-profit private structures or the public sector that is innovative and is more flexible, and which can adapt to any kind of situation.
What is your message to potential foreign investors about what Quebec City has to offer?
The cost of building in Quebec City is 1.5 times the cost of building in other locations that are cheaper in the world. However, you will get access to highly qualified people that are happy, more productive, and more innovative. If you want to make every dollar count, this is what you need. It is better to invest a little bit more in infrastructure to at least have the most important part of your business—highly qualified personnel—bring you innovative solutions.