Is Biotechnology at the Heart of Canada’s Future?
Insight How a Quebec-based investment firm is enabling international market success for Canadian Biotech companies.
Advances in science and technology have led to life sciences breakthroughs in health care, pharmaceuticals, and farming practices. One organization helping to propel the development of biotechnology companies across the country is Québec-based Fonds de solidarité FTQ. “Our company is a development capital fund whose mission is to encourage Québec’s economic growth by supporting jobs through investments in small and medium-sized businesses in all spheres of activity,” explains Didier Leconte, Vice President of Investments in Life Sciences at the Fonds.
The company was created in 1983 by the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), the province’s largest labour body. Though the Fonds invests in many kinds of industries, it has always given special attention to biotechnology. “The Fonds de solidarité FTQ’s first investment in life sciences was BioChem Pharma in the 1980s. In 2000, BioChem merged with Shire, a catalyst for Québec’s biotechnology industry.”
“Our focus is in biotechnology and the development of new therapies for unmet medical needs. This is where we’ve developed our expertise and where we’ve delivered the best financial returns,” says Leconte. “We support the industry by investing directly in companies and indirectly through specialized funds. The Fonds has invested $1.4 billion in biotechnology as of May 31, 2018.”
The Fonds works with a diverse array of biotech companies in Québec and throughout Canada. Their broad portfolio includes 16 companies from coast to coast including Zymeworks in BC and IMV in Nova Scotia, with an emphasis on the Québec bio sector. “Ensuring the province’s economic prosperity is part of our organization’s mandate.”
Furthermore, Fonds likes to take an active role in helping companies grow. “We don’t just provide capital, we also provide companies with a network of co-investors, including the ones we finance, and resources who also help businesses grow,” emphasizes Leconte. “We’re also long-term investors. A good example is Atrium Innovations, recently acquired by Nestlé. We financed that company from inception, supported its acquisition strategy, and continued supporting it through an IPO then privatization.”
Mediaplanet: Why do you think Canadian biotech companies will continue to prosper and grow in the industry?
Didier Leconte: Firstly, over the years, we’ve noticed a change in biotech companies’ leadership. CEOs have started to think big and be bolder — more like their US counterparts — which is a good thing for innovation. Companies have also gotten better at raising substantial amounts of capital, which helps them move their development plans forward. Finally, pharmaceutical companies have become much more innovative by partnering with academics and universities, as well as with biotechnology companies.
MP: Do you think Canadian biotech companies can have a global influence?
DL: When Roberto Bellini, the CEO of Bellus Health, noticed that more capital was being allocated to the country’s biotech industry, he said he believed that one day Canada would have a “Gilead [a major US biopharmaceutical company] of the North by 2025.” I agree with him. I think we’re going in the right direction and, in fact, finding and investing in the Gileads of the North is our goal.
MP: What needs to change to help Canadian biotech companies continue to develop successfully?
DL: The talent for drug development is here and artificial intelligence will foster more efficient discoveries, but the industry needs more institutional investors in the biotechnology asset class. By working together, Canada can become one of the top bio-economies in the world.
Get to know more about the Fonds de solidarité FTQ’s support for Canada’s life/health sciences sector by visiting fondsftq.com/lifesciences.