When thinking about symbols of Canadian pride, such things like hockey, maple syrup and our healthcare system spring to mind. There are many others to be sure, but a burgeoning life sciences sector that is taking root across the country is certainly one of which to be proud now, and well into the future.
We’re a humble nation, and not necessarily one to promote the achievements happening in our own backyard, but in the case of the life sciences sector, we’re world-class. We have the talent and infrastructure in place, and the investment following quickly on its heels, to make us a verified breeding ground for start-ups. When it comes to biotechnology clusters in Canada, there are two star players – the greater Toronto and Montréal regions. Of course, Vancouver is also an emerging player. Toronto has more than 9,300 life sciences graduates annually, over a billion dollars invested in research funding at universities and partner hospitals, and is home to the headquarters of over 50 multinational pharmaceutical, medical device and health companies, over 800 home-grown companies and start-ups. Equally significant is the Montréal area, which offers over 40,000 jobs in the life sciences and health technologies sector, and represents over a third of the Canadian total in venture capital investment with $1.6 billion in a ten-year period. Both offer quick access to major global markets, and importantly, the corridor that connects them fosters the collaboration critical to identifying opportunities and solving challenges for the sector.
With a record this impressive, the argument can be made that we should work together to actively promote our successes in this arena, while looking to other jurisdictions for best practices for continued and sustained growth.
To that end, a panel discussion at BIO 2016 – the preeminent congress for the global biotech and pharma industry – sought to address just this. What are the lessons Canada’s life sciences industry can learn from the California venture capital market? Despite the many successes in the Canadian market, challenges remain, particularly when it comes to risk capital. Our venture capital neighbours to the South, who have had ample success in this arena, shed light on how our market can evolve.
A robust discussion from esteemed panelists netted four key takeaways for trends and considerations in the life sciences innovation marketplace.
• Relationships in the life science sector, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, are ever evolving
Today more than ever, there is an emphasized importance on early identification and engagement in opportunities that are by definition unpackaged and risky. Training entrepreneurs in the biotech industry early on and focusing on the value of early research is paramount to long-term investment and success. Furthermore, tuning in to key areas of interest beyond the immediate research community will ensure alignment of goals and foster innovation and investment. For example, oncology immunotherapy is currently of much interest to the academic, scientific, medical and venture capital worlds. The intersection of interest among the varied parties will ultimately be the drive for investment and the true measure of success.
• Disruptive innovation platforms are necessary for success
Innovation starts with ambition, but to ensure the unique technologies being born out of start-ups are commercialized and end up treating patients, we need to implement disruptive innovation platforms, finance them well, and create a culture of ambition across all parties involved. One or two successes, no matter how big or small, can create a cascade leading to many more successes within individual companies and across the sector.
• Partnerships and smart money investment can ensure long-term viability
In addition to being relevant to strategic partners – whether in formal deals signed early on or via advancing key science that they eagerly track and follow – start-ups with aspirations to build full-scale companies can drive an industry need to ensure they seek strategic advice early and often, and learn to decipher and arbitrage the often contradictory input they receive. Ongoing business development and being smart about where your financing money comes from will lend to long-term success in building successful ventures. While the days of the past may have favoured one single business model, partner or investor, today’s model of success looks to multiple, experienced partners and investors, who in addition to providing funding, are able to bring solid expertise to the table to develop and grow the business.
• Government has a role to play beyond policy
Government’s role is often construed as putting in place the policy and infrastructure to foster investment in our country, and in specific sectors. Beyond this, in countries such as Canada where large private endowments are less common, government can also play a role in facilitating the attraction of private funding into the venture capital asset class (such as the VCAP program), and in creating tools to further stretch R&D dollars. For instance, Toronto and Montréal are the most tax competitive major international cities in the world, adding another attractive element for private funds to be invested here, and ultimately increasing the pool of privately held funds available to the life sciences sector.
There’s no doubting we have what it takes to create world-class technologies and build life sciences companies that will generate value, treat men and women across the world, and improve our health for years to come. Now is our time to shine. Let’s learn from industries that have done it before us, and continue to build an industry where talent wants to continue innovating and funders want to continue investing. We invite each and every one of you to join us on our mission to make our life sciences companies not only the best in Canada, but the best in class and the very best
in the world!
About the Authors
Ella Korets-Smith is Executive Director of TO Health! and Principal at EKS Business Development, an independent consulting firm passionate about creating value for Canadian biotech and medical device companies through building strong relationships. In her 10 years in industry, Ella worked with small and large, public and private life science and medical device companies, holding positions such as Director Business Development and Director Market Development with a track record of closing deals and leading successful marketing and business development programs. Examples of her accomplishments include in-licensing a new product from Merck KGaA into Immunovaccine’s portfolio, allowing the company to raise over $7 million in financing, plan and implement Nordion’s market expansion plan including Gamma Centre of Excellence, a premier research facility focused on growing the gamma market, and completing a market entry strategy for Synergy Health, a large publicly-traded company, to support the largest organic growth investment case in the company’s history. Ella has an extensive network in the GTA health sciences cluster and a growing network of international business leaders extends her reach to customers and partners in key markets in North America and around the world. Ella has an MSc in Medical Genetics from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Dalhousie University.
Frank Béraud is Chief Executive Officer of Montréal InVivo. Holding more than 25 years of experience in the life sciences sector, Mr. Béraud has particularly acquired a solid expertise in business development. With a background in sales and marketing within multinationals in the field of clinical diagnostics, his career path has led him to assume responsibility for business development for an SME in the domain of biotechnology, in addition to working as a consultant within the industry as well as a technology transfer organization. Mr. Béraud has also worked on managing the policies and strategic development of an industrial association in the life sciences sector before joining Montréal InVivo’s team. Highly socially engaged with schools and the health community, he currently chairs on the board of a community organization working towards the social and economic reintegration of individuals in situations of homelessness in Montréal (Le Sac à Dos).
Cedric Bisson is partner at Teralys Capital, Canada’s largest innovation-focused fund of funds management organization, where he focuses on healthcare and life sciences investments. He has spent the past two decades across Canada, in Europe and the USA creating, building and advising innovative businesses, serving as founder and partner of iNovia Capital (a leading pan-Canadian VC firm), founder of MSBi Valorisation (now Aligo, seed technology transfer), associate principal at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, and more recently as board member at Grand Challenges Canada.. Mr. Bisson obtained a M.D. degree from McGill University and a J.D. (law) degree from Universite de Montréal.