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Opinion

Advancements in biotech and life sciences provide robust benefits for Canada

By Navdeep Bains      

Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development, says Liberals seek to establish 'optimal conditions' to foster innovation, support investment, trade, and economic growth.

Navdeep Bains is the federal minister of innovation, science and economic development. The Hill Times photograph
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As minister of innovation, science, and economic development, my top priority is the development and implementation of an inclusive innovation agenda that positions Canada as a global centre for innovation. In so doing, the agenda will create well-paying jobs for the middle class, drive growth across industries, and improve the quality of life of all Canadians.

Since I launched the development of this agenda in June, we’ve embarked on an extensive engagement process to hear from businesses of all sizes, academia, different levels of government, indigenous peoples, social and environmental groups, the non-profit sector, and individual Canadians. These conversations are at the heart of a collaborative approach to building the frameworks for Canada’s future prosperity.

Our aim in this process is to put into place the optimal conditions to foster innovation, support investment, trade, and grow the economy.

Our world-class biotechnology and life sciences sectors will be key players in this effort. Their role in Canada’s economy and society cannot be overstated: not only does progress in health research lead to a better quality of life for Canadians and contribute to job creation and economic growth, it also maintains Canada’s position as a world leader in the field.

As the Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Malton, Ont., I have witnessed first-hand the contribution of the life science industries in my community. Over 25,000 local residents are employed at over 400 life sciences and biotech companies.  

Nationally, it is clear that we have unique strengths in health research: Canada accounts for between four and six per cent of global clinical trials and our pipeline of drug candidates under development ranks third in the world, behind only the U.S. and U.K.

Furthermore, we have a strong footprint of pharmaceutical research and development as well as manufacturing facilities, a track record of attracting international investment into Canadian biotech firms and research institutions, not to mention a health-care system that has both strong national and regional components.

Frankly, the numbers speak for themselves. Since 2010, over $1 billion worth of investments has been announced in Canadian life science manufacturing sites, creating more than 2,100 jobs.

In June, I had the privilege of leading Canada’s delegation to the 2016 BIO International Convention in San Francisco. My conversations with top global leaders in the life sciences sector brought home to me the importance of our government’s focus on innovation as a driver of prosperity and growth. The economies that succeed in today’s globally competitive environment will be those that understand and implement an innovation strategy for sustainable prosperity.

Our inclusive innovation agenda will be the foundation of our future competitiveness and prosperity. It will be our vehicle to strengthen industrial capabilities, grow new globally competitive companies, and generate quality jobs for all Canadians.

By way of down payment in support of this goal, budget 2016 provided support to health research, genomics, regenerative medicine, brain research, and drug development. We also committed $800 million in support of innovation networks and clusters. More generally, the budget also makes a huge investment to upgrade and enhance the places where science happens in this country. This funding, over $2 billion, will be shared by universities and colleges across Canada. We are now in the process of announcing recipients.

Looking to the future, Canada is well positioned for new investments in stem-cell research and regenerative medicine, oncology, neurology, clinical trials, health innovation, and other areas. The potential upside of success in these areas is enormous. World-leading clusters that draw on the expertise of industry, entrepreneurs, investors, research centres and hospitals, academia and health systems can help drive innovation in these areas.

Through our engagement on the inclusive innovation agenda, we have heard loud and clear that for life-science companies, partnerships are essential for success given the complexities of research, the long product-development cycles, and the lengthy regulatory process to getting products approved for the market. It is clear that the public and private sectors need to come together for success.

This partnership approach extends to how we facilitate the development and growth of Canadian companies, in life sciences and other sectors. This includes consideration of what the government can do to stimulate further venture capital funding, particularly in the financing of late-stage commercialization, and how we might harness the purchasing power of government to help get our made-in-Canada health technologies to market.

As the minister of innovation, science, and economic development, I am extremely proud of how vigorous the life sciences and biotech sectors are all across Canada. The development of our inclusive innovation agenda will leverage our current strengths in these sectors and others to help build, in partnership with all Canadians, an even more innovative, healthy, and prosperous society.

Navdeep Bains is the federal minister of innovation, science, and economic development.

The Hill Times

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