Taking Canadian Innovation To The Next Level With The Bioeconomy
Development and Innovation Challenges facing Ontario’s life sciences sector.
In June 2016, the federal government kicked off consultations on a nation-wide innovation agenda, citing an urgent need for bold action to secure our future prosperity. While traditional industries remain important, we need to diversify our resource-based economy. We must up our game to remain competitive.
Canada — and, in particular, Ontario — is recognized internationally for the quality and quantity of its scientific output. Our investment into research and higher education has paid dividends: Ontario is among the top three North American jurisdictions for life sciences. Conservative estimates put our sector’s annual revenues at $40.5 billion, directly contributing $21.6 billion to Ontario’s GDP.
But this momentum is at risk of stalling. To secure our future success, we must address the roadblocks in our sector. The most pressing among them are as follows:
This deficit has been recognized by our Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains. We often work in silos due to historical segmentations within government, industry, and academia. We must adopt new ways of working together to reach common goals, including promotion of a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to innovation, enhancing the marketing of our successes, and coordinating our outreach globally. These are the requirements of doing business in a fast-changing, interconnected world. We ignore them at our peril.
Access to growth capital
Life sciences is a high-risk industry given the capital intensity of its R&D phases and lengthy payback periods for investors. Access to risk capital is essential for companies to bridge the gap between innovative research and commercial viability. Tax incentives — most notably, flow-through shares, which are already in place for Canada’s resource industries — must be made available to the life sciences sector. The missed opportunity is staggering: two U.S. life sciences companies, Gilead and Amgen, have a combined market cap of $275.9 billion USD — more valuable than the entire Canadian mining sector on the TSX/TSXV.
The talent gap and the new world of work
Talent is critical to driving innovation and growth; lack of experienced senior management and entrepreneurs with deep knowledge of product commercialization is an oft-cited pain point. On the opposite end, young science graduates face high unemployment rates. We must find ways to transition graduates into career-related positions and prepare them for the challenges of the digital economy. Wage subsidy programs, such as the federal Career Focus program, provide financial incentives for companies to hire new graduates. We must also encourage paid internships and apprenticeships, alongside targeted mentorship and career supports that are closely integrated with higher education.
Modernizing intellectual property protection
Canada lags behind the rest of the developed world in terms of IP protection and its regulatory environment. We must ensure a strong and internationally competitive intellectual property regime that encourages development and commercialization of our innovative technologies. The first step is for the federal government to implement the recommendations in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the E.U. as they relate to intellectual property — specifically, The Right of Appeal and Patent Term Restoration. Canada is the only G7 nation that does not provide any form of patent term restoration.
We are already a nation of innovators. What is required to move forward is a leap of faith. We must let go of our perceived territories and work together, across disciplines, for our collective success. Simply put, we cannot wait any longer — too much is at stake.