Canada’s Next Generation Of Bioscientists
Development and Innovation In 1992 biotechnology was an exciting area of research with great promise. That’s the year the Connaught Student Biotechnology Exhibition, which would go on to become Sanofi BioGenius Canada, was first launched.
The competition, which pairs high-school students with established bioscientists, matches the country’s top young minds against one another in an environment that cultivates innovative and disruptive ideas in bioscience.
In the 24 years since, biotechnology has emerged from its cocoon to become a major component of humanity’s overall scientific endeavours. “Biotech has changed dramatically over the lifespan of the competition,” says Mark Lievonen, President of Sanofi Pasteur Limited. “Today, Canada’s bioeconomy is about $87 billion per year. That’s seven percent of our gross domestic product.”
Lievonen has been with the competition from the beginning, and he was recently inducted into the Order of Canada, with his involvement in the Sanofi BioGenius Canada competition cited as one of the reasons for the appointment. It’s not very hard to see why. Every year, the competition brings top students from around the country together to give their ideas an opportunity to bloom. And, the scientists these students work with are regularly blown away by what these teenagers can come up with. “They bring an enthusiasm, a fresh perspective, and a grasp of technology that allows them to take their research places that others might not,” says Lievonen. “I have people tell me, looking at the student projects, that not too many years ago this would have been PhD-level work.”
The winners receive cash prizes and also the opportunity to progress to the international competition, where the exchange of ideas becomes global. This year’s international competition was held in San Francisco, where The City that Knows How learned how to do some boundary-breaking things from the students who competed there.
Biotechnology is the future
As biotechnology continues to drive innovation in every area of human endeavour, from immunotherapies for cancer to biodegradable plastics, competitions like this one play a key role in inspiring and empowering the young people who will shape our future. Sanofi recognizes this future is one worth cultivating. “We are not doing this to benefit Sanofi. It’s not about us, it’s about the students,” Lievonen says. “It’s really just about giving back to the community and trying to develop the next generation of scientists.”
That next generation is going to take us places we couldn’t imagine. Past winners have invented new drugs, pioneered new areas of cancer research, and developed potent bioenergy technologies while still in high school, before going on to top schools like Harvard and Princeton to refine their skills further. The Sanofi BioGenius Canada competition has repeatedly shown itself to be an incredible springboard from which brilliant young Canadian minds can launch themselves into the careers that let them pay Sanofi’s generosity forward to human society as a whole.
It’s impossible to tell where the competitors in this year’s edition of Sanofi BioGenius Canada will be ten years down the road, but Canadians can rest assured that every one of them — winner and runners-up alike — are already making a real difference.