It’s clear that the life sciences industry has the potential to revolutionize economies. In the first two months of 2018, investors poured $2.8 billion into US biotech ventures. The combined market capitalization of three US biotechs — Amgen, Gilead, and Celgene — is $246 billion. This exceeds the combined market cap of the entire Canadian mining sector listed on the TSX, which includes more than 1200 companies.

Canada’s life sciences potential is massive. Ontario’s life sciences sector alone generates annual revenues of $40.5 billion, contributing $21.6 billion to the province’s GDP, and ranking among North America’s top clusters alongside Boston, San Francisco, and New York.

We are pioneering phenomenal innovations from coast to coast and attracting attention on the global stage, with substantial investments from multinational companies. We’ve reached this level of success by making significant investments in research and science, so why aren’t these investments converting into more sizeable financial returns?

Life sciences stakeholders consistently identify access to capital as a key barrier to growth. Government programs such as SR&ED and IRAP provide funding, but cannot address the massive costs of R&D unique to our industry and unfortunately, we do not incentivize risk for investors. In addition, our intellectual property (IP) and commercialization policies are outdated and inefficient, making it hard for companies to compete internationally.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s life science sector is among the only major life sciences jurisdictions in North America without a coordinated strategy for growth. While the federal government is developing its own approach through its Health and Biosciences Economic Strategy Table, there is a pressing need for policy across government — both federally and provincially — to be aligned.

A way forward

For life sciences to thrive, research, innovation, health, education, and economic policies must work in concert. Recent issues surrounding drug pricing illustrate this principle — our access to innovative, life-saving medicines depends on private sector investment in R&D. To continue innovating, we need policy that supports pharmaceutical companies’ investments in this area and their resulting IP. We must recognize that there is a value to innovation and prices of medicines must reflect that value. Policy is an ecosystem.

Life sciences touch on almost every facet of our success as a nation including the health of our population and environment, the food we eat, our research capacity to solve intractable challenges, and job creation in our knowledge economy. This presents an enormous opportunity for government and the private sector. Working together, we can build Canada’s life sciences sector into an economic powerhouse that will drive our prosperity — now, and for years to come.

Life Sciences Ontario (LSO) is a member-funded, not-for-profit organization advancing Ontario life sciences through advocacy and policy work, educational and networking events, and support services for the sector. Learn more at lifesciencesontario.ca.