Innovation thrives in Canada’s life sciences ecosystem
Canada has a long history of leadership in the life sciences, from creating the world’s first pacemaker to discovering stem cells. Canada is the tenth largest market for pharmaceutical sales and home to North America’s second largest life sciences corridor.
“Canada’s life science brand is highly respected internationally. It has long been known, and sought after, for its expertise in R&D,” explains Zoe Hawa, Deputy Director, Life Sciences sector at Global Affairs Canada.
“Innovation thrives here thanks in part to our academic institutions, cross‑industry collaboration and federal initiatives such as the Digital Technology Supercluster, the Pan‑Canadian strategy on artificial intelligence and the Strategic Innovation Fund.”
Canada’s life sciences ecosystem includes strengths in key industry subsectors such as:
Canada is a pioneer in precision health, with ground‑breaking discoveries like insulin and the gene for cystic fibrosis. Now Canadian companies are at the forefront of research and development driven by the increasing global burden of chronic disease and fuelled by advancements in technology and molecular medicine. Among these companies are:
- Genome Canada, a not‑for‑profit organization funded by the Government of Canada, which acts as a catalyst for developing genomic‑based healthcare solutions. It invests in large‑scale projects and supports cross‑sector collaboration.
- BC Cancer is setting a global precedent with its Personalized Onco‑Genomics (POG) initiative, which aims to decode the genomes of individual patients’ cancers and direct patients to targeted therapy clinical trials.
- Toronto’s largest innovation hub, MaRS, supports more than 1,200 start-ups in the health and technologies sectors. One of these, ArcticDx, has developed innovative genetic tests for age‑related macular degeneration, Cytochromes P450 and cancers.
Canada’s digital health investments hit a record $8.6 billion in 2018. Canada’s innovation and adoption of technologies, from electronic health records to wearable health devices, are transforming the way we deliver healthcare.
- Canada’s AI ecosystem is supported by the $125 million Pan‑Canadian AI Strategy and includes more than 600 AI researchers and three leading AI institutions — the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII), the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) and the Vector Institute in Toronto.
- Telehealth is a free service provided by Alberta Health Services that uses videoconference technology to connect Albertans to the best healthcare no matter where they live.
- Toronto‑based company BEACON is the first company to provide commercially available, clinically proven cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) via the internet.
- Montreal‑based firm Hexoskin developed the first washable smart shirt that captures cardiac, respiratory and activity body metrics. The company is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency on wearables that can monitor astronauts’ health in space.
Natural health products (NHP)
Canada’s pristine natural landscapes, agricultural expertise and strict safety standards have made us a leading supplier of raw materials and manufactured products to the global NHP market.
- Health Canada has robust regulations for validating health claims, ensuring that our NHP industry has a science‑based culture that fosters collaboration with research institutions.
- Natural Products Canada offers expertise, international connections and investment to support growth in the NHP sector.
- Halifax is home to the world’s largest manufacturer of seaweed-based specialty products, Acadian Seaplants, and the world’s largest producer of Omega‑3 supplements, DSM.
- The University of Manitoba: Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN) develops functional foods and nutraceuticals using ingredients derived from crops native to the Canadian Prairies.
Canada is a leader in animal health, with particular expertise in reducing food‑borne illness risks and finding sustainable alternatives to antibiotics.
- Saskatchewan‑based organization VIDO-InterVac studies animal pathogens and has developed eight commercialized vaccines, six of which are world firsts.
- P.E.I.‑based company Aqua Health developed the first DNA vaccine to effectively treat Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), a viral disease in Atlantic Salmon that cost the aquaculture industry $200 million from 2001 to 2003.
- Winnipeg‑based Dominion Veterinary Laboratories (DVL) has developed and registered more than 100 veterinary drugs and instruments for livestock and equine species. The products are sold across North and Central America, Asia and the Middle East.
- Ottawa‑based Avivagen discovered the use of beta‑carotene as a natural alternative to antibiotics in animal feed and is exporting its product to the U.S. and Asia.
Collaboration fuels Montreal’s life sciences cluster
Canada is home to several clusters where large concentrations of companies and institutions in the life sciences ecosystem collaborate and innovate. Montréal InVivo is a non‑profit organization that works with all stakeholders in the city’s life sciences cluster, including more than 620 organizations, 11 post-secondary institutions and 41,000 skilled workers. It aims to create an environment that fosters innovation, growth and competition.
“We are industry‑led, university‑fuelled and government funded,” explains Frank Béraud, CEO of Montréal InVivo.
“We work for the benefit of the whole ecosystem, ensuring all areas of the industry are represented at our strategic meetings. Our members explore common pain points with the goal of bringing to market innovation from companies throughout Quebec.”
Twelve years ago, the cluster’s first project — the Biopharmaceutical Research Consortium (CQDM) — saw three pharmaceutical companies and the Government of Quebec collaborate on technology projects to accelerate drug discovery. A decade later, CQDM has grown to 12 members and is partnering with other provinces and Europe.
Montréal InVivo was also instrumental in the creation of the Quebec Network for Personalized Health Care, the BIOSUCCÈS Mentoring Network, the Personalized Medicine Partnership for Cancer and the signature life sciences conference, EFFERVESCENCE.
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