Innovation is everywhere in our lives. Whether radical or incremental, innovation is changing all facets of life: the way we work, the way we play, how we take care of our health and engage with our governments.
Most importantly, innovation is changing our economy. The way we produce value is changing and the federal government is preparing the Innovation Agenda to make Canada ready to lead in the fourth industrial revolution. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told global leaders earlier this year at the World Economic Forum, “Canada was mostly known for its resources. I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness.”
In this new paradigm, to be resourceful means to make innovation a core value of our knowledge-based industries. This is why the federal government’s Innovation Agenda, led by Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, is especially energizing. It is a bold approach towards Canada’s future and holds the potential to unlock great advances in Canada’s life sciences sector.
Canada already has great fundamentals in the life sciences sector: strong clinical research; leading hospitals and universities; emerging innovation clusters that bring together universities; emerging innovation clusters that bring together entrepreneurs, researchers and capital; and a renowned public health care system.
These are the fundamentals upon which Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Janssen Inc. were able to bring JLABS @ Toronto to Canada in 2016. Located in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, Johnson & Johnson Innovation | JLABS (JLABS) is a 40,000 square foot life sciences incubator focused on translating the significant discoveries made in Canada into new, important therapies for patients. JLABS provides start-up bio pharma, medical device and consumer companies with modular and scalable lab space, offices and access to external scientific, industry and capital funding experts, as well as to internal Johnson & Johnson therapeutic area experts. By providing a capital-efficient and resource-rich environment, JLABS enables life sciences companies to focus on what they do best: moving their science forward to deliver much needed therapeutics to patients.
JLABS is a success story that gives us an example of what Canada can hope to achieve. However, in moving forward, our life sciences sector faces fierce global competition. The growth of leading life sciences regions, such as the Bay Area and Boston in the Unites States, Israel, Ireland, and Singapore, has been supported by clear, comprehensive and sustained government strategies.
Greater cohesion in innovation policies between our federal and provincial governments and between ministries would smooth the path forward for Canada’s innovators. The Innovation Agenda provides an opportunity for the federal government to lead life sciences innovation by developing a cohesive, coordinated life sciences ecosystem in Canada. This ecosystem can harness the power and energy of both our discovery and start-up companies, as well as recognize that established, multinational corporations, like Johnson & Johnson, can bring critical financial capital, infrastructure and expertise in research and development. Encouraging this synergy will accelerate commercialization, helping Canadian invention grow into Canadian companies. Governments can play a key role in this commercialization, by leveraging their power as a purchaser. These activities can set Canada on course to create a globally competitive life sciences sector, capable of attracting and retaining more significant levels of foreign direct investment and more successfully growing local entities.
Federal government leadership is critical to establish a ‘whole of government’ approach to the life sciences sector between levels of government and across departments to ensure that innovation policies reward outcomes and results and that these innovations receive the funding they need for continued success.
With the Innovation Agenda, Canada is poised to demonstrate the shift from “resources” to “resourceful,” which can propel us to a global life sciences leader. We hope that Canada can identify the life sciences sector as a priority for the Canadian economy and establish an ecosystem which will provide future health and prosperity for all Canadians.
About the Author
Rebecca Yu is Head of JLABS @ Toronto Johnson & Johnson Innovations, JLABS