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Panel 315 - Towards a Canadian Life Sciences Supercluster

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Towards a Canadian Life Sciences Supercluster

Organized by: CDRD, Barry Gee

Speakers: Dr. Raphael (Rafi) Hofstein, President and CEO, MaRS Innovation; Cate McCready, Vice President, External Affairs, BIOTECanada; Dr. Stéphanie Michaud, President & Chief Executive Officer, BioCanRx; Karimah Es Sabar, CEO and Partner, Quark Venture Inc. and chair of the federal Health and Biosciences Economic Strategy Table

Moderator: Gordon McCauley, President and CEO, CDRD

Takeaways and recommendations

  • The federal government is investing nearly $1 billion in the Innovation Superclusters Initiative to secure the long-term future of five strategic industries: oceans, digital, mining, artificial intelligence, smart agri-food and advanced manufacturing.

  • The life sciences sector needs to address the reasons it is not yet a supercluster, namely the lack of anchor companies and alignment between organizations across the country. It therefore needs to come together as a sector to develop a unified story for how a life sciences supercluster can become pan-Canadian and globally leading.

  • Canada needs to act now to leverage its successes, capabilities and investments that have already been made in the fundamentals of an innovation economy. This will require a unified approach and bold investments. Without action, Canada will continue to be an “off-balance sheet pipeline” providing talent, discoveries, innovations and companies for the rest of the world.

  • Think of Canada as the incubator to test and advance new technologies; the market for those technologies is global, particularly the U.S.

  • Canada needs a health policy environment that sees the healthcare of Canadians and growth of biosciences sector as mutually reinforcing.

  • The federal economic strategy tables are a unique model of cooperation between industry and government. They are industry-led, but with some government members (e.g., Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Health Canada), and focus on industry-led solutions.

  • The Health and Biosciences Table has set a target of doubling the sector’s exports to $26 billion and doubling the number of companies from 900 to 1800 by 2025, including growing the number of anchor companies from 40 to 80.

Actions proposed by the Health and Biosciences Table (September 2018 report )

  • Accelerate innovation adoption by employing value-based procurement across Canada’s health systems and establishing a procurement innovation agency.

    • An agile and streamlined regulatory procurement system, including between the provinces, territories and federal government, could increase access to value-based innovations which emphasize better outcomes for patients over the long-term, rather than short-term cost savings.

    • Strengthen the health system with technology and incentivize public health care systems to be early technology adopters.

    • Talk to customers (e.g., hospitals) and regulators (e.g., FDA) first before developing a prototype to ensure you’re developing something the market needs and is willing to purchase.

    • Look for opportunities to use made-in-Canada prototypes as part of Canadian clinical trials.

  • Design agile regulations by adopting international best practices, eliminating duplication across jurisdictions and decreasing review times.

    • Health Canada has set a gold standard for regulation that risks becoming less effective unless it becomes more nimble (i.e., in responding to arrival of new cancer fighting biologics and CAR-Ts)

    • Canada is struggling with several capacity challenges: volume, talent, technology requirements, timeliness and increasing pressure to meet safety and sustainability expectations. It is not realistic to expect Health Canada to meet these challenges alone; provincial governments need to step up and work better together.

    • Health Canada has begun to improve its linkages (i.e., sharing data) with the FDA in the U.S.

    • Canada needs to get creative in accelerating regulatory and legislative changes. That will require the regulatory system (Health Canada) to work more collaboratively with colleagues both within and across departments (e.g., Environment and Climate Change Canada).

  • Harness digital technology by creating a national digital health strategy featuring an interoperable digital health platform.

    • Canada needs a robust, interconnected, national patient-centred health data infrastructure to improve the collection and analysis of data for informed decision-making. This could be “sandboxed” in certain regions first.

  • Develop and attract talent by equipping Canadians for highly skilled jobs, eliminating hiring barriers and streamlining government skills programs.

    • The CDRD Academy’s Executive Institute is a new program designed to meet the leadership talent needs of Canadian life sciences companies.

    • In addition to training students, BioCanRx trains academic researchers in pre-clinical experimental design and regulatory submissions to strengthen their skills in moving discoveries from the lab to the clinic.

    • Academic training needs to be increasingly interdisciplinary. (e.g., CDRD’s postdoc program requires participants to work across disciplines; 96% of graduates go on to work in relevant jobs in industry, with approximately 85% of those remaining in Canada).

  • Create anchor firms by mobilizing late stage capital (e.g., public pension funds), scaling up high-potential firms, and broadening research and development tax incentives.

    • To scale up companies and create anchor companies, we have to establish the foundation for it. In sectors like medical devices, for example, that means generating as much data about a technology as possible to ensure it aligns with the needs of regulators, industry and healthcare providers.

  • Ensure the right skills and talent are available. Canada needs a critical mass of activity to attract and retain talent, particularly access to executive-level talent.

    • Attract talent from Canada and abroad who will become our future CEOs, including Canadian expats.

    • Make it easier for immigrants to have their professional credentials recognized.

    • If large-scale implementation isn’t possible, sandbox the idea to demonstrate to others it works.

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