Each year, BIOTECanada hosts a two week conference to introduce large companies and investors to the biotech community, and every year it's a sellout, says Andrew Casey, president and chief executive officer. BIOTECanada is an Ottawa-based association that represents about 250 member companies that fall into three categories: health, industrial and agricultural.
"The investor turnout is a good omen as to what's going on in Canada for the industry," he says. In fact investors currently rank Canada as third in the world as a strategic place for investment in biotech. (The United States and Germany are first and second).
Canada's strength in this industry has been a longstanding one. "Our history in biotech is pretty significant," Casey explains. "A lot of biotech solutions to crops were developed here, such as canola oil. A lot of vaccines were also started here."
He attributes that to a strong post-secondary education system, a highly educated workforce and relative economic strength. "Industries such as forestry, mining, oil and gas and fishing don't have to look far to find resources to compete in the new bio-economy."
"Carbohydrate chemistry offers tantalizing possibilities for therapies and diagnostic tools to fight everything from cancer, to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to arthritis," says Dr. Howard Verrico, Sirona Biochem chairman and founder. "It could play a role in developing clinically efficient vaccines to fight cancers and other diseases."
"The opportunities for this type of ingredient are enormous," says Neil Belenkie, Sirona Biochem's CEO. "Diabetes is the fourth largest pharmaceutical market in the world, accounting for $471-billion in treatments in 2012 in the U.S. alone. Skin-lightening formulations to reverse sun damage is a $432-million dollar market and growing at 18% annually. And the global market for anti-aging products is $300-billion a year, and forecasted to continue double-digit growth in the foreseeable future."
"People don't realize that all drugs going through different approval trials have to come from somewhere," adds Dr. Verrico. "Some lab has to create the first chemical entity for drug or ingredient discovery."
Paul Drohan, president and CEO of LifeSciences BC, a Vancouver-based industry association, says today's environment is an interesting one for the biotech industry in Canada and globally. "It’s a really unique time. We're starting to see capital coming back, and some unique agreements being signed with international organizations. Sirona, for one, has established a foothold in China, as well as Europe where government is very supportive of the life sciences industry."
Given the changes taking place in the world today, the opportunities for the industry are enormous, Casey says. "In the next 20 years the world population will reach nine billion. That will put enormous pressure on the planet and our health. How will we feed them? How will we reduce CO2 emissions? How can we improve health? These are all things that play an important part in moving the biotech industry forward."