As we have traditionally done in year’s past, we go one-on-one with Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation Reza Moridi to discuss the state of Ontario’s life science industry.
Q: What are the Ministry’s goals for this year’s BIO International Conference in San Francisco?
BIO is a fantastic opportunity for Ontario to showcase and promote its strengths in biotechnology to the world, and for the province’s life sciences companies to reach new markets and customers. Ontario’s presence at this conference will reflect its standing as home to one of North America’s largest and most vibrant life sciences sectors, which fosters a unique spirit of collaboration I’m proud of.
We are excited to continue to leverage our reputation as a jurisdiction at the forefront of biotechnology development to generate new investment leads.
Q: You personally have remained very consistent in your messaging throughout your tenure as the Minister of Research and Innovation that collaboration between academia, the research community, industry and government is paramount to Ontario maintaining its standing as one of the leading life science jurisdictions in the world. On this front, what initiatives that the Ministry has had a hand in over the past year are you most proud of?
Perhaps one of my proudest moments would be our role in working with Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins, the Ontario Health Innovation Council and our medical technology community to create the Office of the Chief Health Innovation Strategist and a $20 million fund to support this work. This tremendous opportunity helps us strengthen our health innovation ecosystem: collaboration between government, industry, health providers and patients will transform patient care and build the economy for tomorrow.
We have also made many investments in Ontario, including:
• Helping young innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs across the province create the next wave of highly skilled jobs and innovative products. The Ontario Government is investing more than $80 million for innovation-focused funding and $565 million over the next two years in the Youth Jobs Strategy, as announced in the 2015 Budget.
• The Ontario Government, University of Toronto, and MaRS Discovery District (MaRS) launched a collaboration
with Janssen Inc. for the successful Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS incubator model in Toronto. The new
facility, called JLABS @ Toronto, is the first JLABS to open outside the United States and will provide startups with many of the advantages of being part of an established innovation centre, such as access to talent and mentors, large existing firms and research universities, capital and convergence opportunities with other sectors. When complete, the 40,000-square foot facility will include cutting-edge, modular and scalable lab space, equipment, with access to scientific, industry and capital funding experts.
• The province is contributing $15 million over 10 years to the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology
Enterprises in the heart of the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo Region, dubbed ‘Canada’s technology triangle’. This institute will help bolster Ontario’s emerging technology sector by teaching the skills required to grow successful start-ups ready to prosper in the global marketplace.
• Ontario is investing in Stem Cell Research by providing $25 million to the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine to study chronic disease treatments. This funding will support new treatments and therapies for people living with chronic diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
We are also committed to sustaining and strengthening Ontario’s world-class research and science environment. For
• In 2015, Ontario invested $209 million in 280 research projects through the Ontario Research Fund and the Early
Researcher Awards programs, building on current, ongoing and innovative research, fostering new discoveries and supporting knowledge- based jobs across the province.
• The Ontario Brain Institute’s objective is to maximize the impact of Ontario’s excellence in brain research and care. OBI activities centre on high-impact translational programs, informatics and analytics platform (Brain-CODE), mechanisms to engage and support industry, training and entrepreneurship, and communications, knowledge translation and evaluation. To that end, OBI is bringing together 200 researchers from 35 institutions, 40 companies and 20 patient advocacy groups. Brain Code will help accelerate brain research including clinical, imaging and neuropsychology assessments.
• Clinical Trials Ontario will attract increased international clinical trials investments to the province by streamlining
the ethics review and contract approval processes for industry-led multicentre clinical trials. CTO has created an electronic clinical trial research ethics approval system that has already significantly reduced the time it takes for a clinical trial to obtain ethics approval.
Q: What differentiates Ontario from other life science jurisdictions?
Ontario is the largest life sciences jurisdiction in Canada with more than 50 per cent of the total Canadian life sciences economic activity. In order to sustain this standing, the government recognizes Ontario’s capacity to compete in a fiercely competitive global economy depends on how well we can harness our research, innovation and entrepreneurship strengths. That is one reason why we support the full innovation continuum – accelerating the translation of scientific discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace.
Q: In your discussions with Ontario companies, and even multinational companies with subsidiaries here, why do they say they choose Ontario?
Companies recognize Ontario’s strategic investments to help mobilize and prepare researchers, entrepreneurs and companies to succeed, compete and create jobs of the future. They are also aware of our investments – more than $3.8 billion across 13 years – in research and innovation to attract talent and investment, provide global solutions and create good jobs.
Q: One of your goals is to attract businesses and foreign investment into Ontario’s life science sector and you mention a number of initiatives that have been launched to accomplish this. Is the world getting the message that Ontario is a great place to conduct their business?
Ontario is building a more dynamic, competitive environment for job creators with the newly launched, $400 million
Business Growth Initiative. The initiative focuses on three areas: creating culture of innovation, helping more businesses scale-up, and modernizing regulations.
The new JLABs facility at MaRS (JLABS @ Toronto) is an initiative under the Strategic Partnership Stream of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund. The Strategic Partnership Stream was designed to encourage open innovation technology partnerships, allowing companies, research institutions, suppliers, investors and customers to work together and establish industry driven strategies.
The province’s investment in JLABS @ Toronto will provide a valuable long-term asset for Ontario’s innovation ecosystem in the form of a state-of the art lab space for life sciences start-ups. The facility will also attract global venture capital interest and give start-ups access to global commercialization and entrepreneurship experts, including access to Johnson & Johnson’s global resources that span 57 countries and five other JLABS facilities. In addition, it will provide training and expertise for entrepreneurs in the life sciences sector.
Furthermore, since JLABS committed to Ontario, we have seen an uptake in the number of multinational companies visiting the province to understand our science and meet emerging entrepreneurs.
Q: One other significant change this year as you mentioned was the appointment of Bill Charnetski to the role of chief health innovation strategist. What were the reasons for creating this position, and why was Mr. Charnetski the ideal candidate to fill this role?
We created this position because it was one of the key recommendations of the Ontario Health Innovation Council’s report to champion Ontario as a leading centre not only for new and innovative health technology, but also for bringing that technology to market both here in Ontario and globally.
We were excited to welcome Mr. Charnetski to the role, given he is an accomplished national and global executive with more than a decade of experience in developing integrated health solutions in Canada and around the world in the global pharmaceutical industry.
Q: In a sense, is the creation of this role an example of the type collaboration you wish to see across Ontario’s Ministries (i.e. Ministries of Health, Economic development, Research & Innovation etc.) and a means to further your collective impact on the sector?
It certainly is. This work requires partnerships and collaboration between ministries including Economic Development, Research and Innovation and Health and Long-Term Care. Building bridges between these three ministries is key, and I’m proud to say we’ve created multiple meaningful opportunities to collaborate. Our shared goals include creating a strong medical technology business environment in Ontario to ensure its continued growth and advance prosperity in Canada; position Ontario as a global leader in life sciences and a destination of choice for medical technology investment and development; and maximize the industry’s contribution to high quality and sustainable health care.
We are finding ways to improve outcomes for patients. Together, we increase economic activity and create prosperity by leveraging the health-care system to strengthen our medical technology sector, and in so doing, improve the quality of health-care delivery service through the adoption of innovative health technology.
Q: Staying on the home front, at the LSO Awards Gala held in February, you reaffirmed the Province’s commitment to the creation of a public/private life sciences working group, to strategize how Ontario can further the sector’s growth. How much progress has been made here?
The Ontario Government supports Ontario’s life sciences sector. Over the last decade, the provincial government has invested almost $2 billion in life sciences. And Ontario remains committed to attracting investments in research and development to improve the industry’s competitiveness. From 2010 to 2014, the Ontario Government has invested in 44 life sciences companies supporting the creation of 1,030 new jobs, the retention of more than 1,400 existing positions and leveraging a total investment of nearly $700 million.
The government established the Ontario Health Innovation Council (OHIC) to accelerate the adoption of new technologies in our health-care system and support the growth and competitiveness of Ontario’s health technology sector.
Last fall, we passed the Better Business Climate Act, which commits Ontario to acting as a catalyst to spur the development of clusters. Life science is a priority cluster and we will work with businesses and other entities to develop plans to continue to develop the industry.
Ministry staff are creating a working group to look at ways to grow and scale Ontario’s life science companies. Industry, with support from Ministry staff will develop options and recommendations to improve the sector broadly. I remain interested in this Ministry initiative, and will monitor its work closely.
Q: At this same event, you went on record citing the need for new facilities to help attract world-class biotech events, such as the BIO Convention to Toronto. Do you think we’ll see Ontario hosting an event like BIO during your term as Minister and is it possible?
Yes, I would welcome having more of these events here. Ontario is home to a large and vibrant life sciences sector, which represents a huge economic growth opportunity for Canada and Ontario, in particular. Given the large public investments already made in the sector, attracting world-class biotech events is a natural next step.