Why did you choose to work in biomanufacturing and what were your career ambitions?
I grew up in Ontario and studied chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo. I was really interested in pursuing a career in industrial biotechnology. Living in Canada in the early 2000’s when I graduated, I had the chance to work in either the petroleum or pulp and paper industries, but I felt strongly that I wanted to help people and make patients’ lives better. This was my calling.
When I graduated from university, I wanted to work in an environment that was producing new therapies. I was willing to move away from home and leave Canada to find the right opportunity and the biomanufacturing industry in the United States was thriving. At that time, there was a lot of opportunity in California to gain large-scale biomanufacturing experience working on innovative products. So, I moved there right out of school for an opportunity to work at a new facility that was producing monoclonal antibodies to treat cancer.
What were you hoping to achieve by coming back to Ontario?
When I had a family of my own, I wanted to come back to Canada. I had been casually keeping an eye on the status of the biotechnology industry at home and happened to see the announcement that Sanofi would be investing in a new large vaccine manufacturing facility (Building 100) in Toronto. It piqued my curiosity that perhaps a shift had started to happen with additional investment in biomanufacturing going on now in Canada.
At the time Building 100 was announced (2018), it was the largest ever bulk manufacturing investment by Sanofi worldwide. On top of the 100+ year history of Sanofi’s Connaught Campus and existing strong life science foundation, this investment allowed for opportunities for many in our industry, for those just starting out and for those with deep experience, to develop their careers while working to build a manufacturing facility for pediatric booster vaccines with the latest technology and processes. Building 100 was a spark – the first initiative to begin the revitalization of Sanofi’s operations in Toronto. It brought talent back to Canada, built knowledge and capacity locally, created jobs, and increased opportunities for university co-op students to get hands-on experience here. I moved home to Ontario in 2019 to join Sanofi in Toronto. I hoped that I would see future investments at the Toronto site and more broadly in biomanufacturing in Canada.
Sanofi’s recently announced $925M influenza vaccine and pandemic readiness manufacturing facility is a great outcome. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a renewed commitment and financial support from the Federal Government, Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto is building momentum. More companies are investing in Canada and creating considerable opportunities to grow the industry, improve healthcare outcomes and increase local talent. It is a good challenge to have for companies to now face competition for talent attraction and retention. This enhances our overall life sciences sector.
How is the government supporting Canada’s biomanufacturing industry to develop and attract talent?
The Federal Government and Ontario’s biomanufacturing and life science strategies prove that developing and protecting this sector is of national interest. And, strategically investing to promote, cultivate and capitalize on Canadian innovation is needed. More funding directed towards academic institutions and researchers is one way to build the talent pipeline for the future and investing in partnership with industry is another.
I left Canada for California because the skills I needed to achieve my career objectives are highly specialized. I gained this experience working in large-scale industrial biomanufacturing facilities as did many of my colleagues now working at Sanofi. California is one example where government made a conscious effort to develop a biotechnology hub and has realized the benefits of this strategy from the resulting scientific contributions to human health as well as the local economy.
Right now, large-scale industrial vaccine manufacturing in Canada is limited. The planned Moderna mRNA facility is another step in the right direction, but the Federal and provincial governments still have work to do to continue attracting private sector investment. This is needed for Canada to play a more prominent role internationally while protecting Canadians during public health crises. Policy makers must ensure connections exist between adapting innovation into our healthcare systems at globally competitive valuation, along with our economic development initiatives. Canada is a small market competing with other countries with more established biomanufacturing hubs and policy environments that are attractive for investment from an industry perspective.
Can you tell us what is going on at Sanofi’s Toronto site now and more about your role?
I am currently the head of a new program where my team is responsible for building a large-scale industrial influenza vaccine manufacturing facility with capabilities for pandemic preparedness. This includes new drug substance production capacity and technologically advanced formulation, filling, visual inspection, and packaging capabilities (FFIP). These FFIP capabilities will be a key pandemic readiness asset that could support the production and distribution of critical vaccines during a public health emergency.
This is so exciting because the facility is being designed with the future in mind: leading-edge technology including robotics, digital tools designed to increase knowledge capture during production processes, advanced manufacturing principles, and flexibility with the capacity for high throughput commercial production and small volume for research and development needs.
It is a great time to be working at the Sanofi Toronto campus because it has so much to offer people at different stages of their careers – research and development facilities, massive commercial manufacturing, combination pediatric vaccines, our new influenza manufacturing facility and the pandemic readiness program. Our commercial manufacturing operations are expanding. It is rewarding working with a great team dedicated to advancing public health through a focus on science, advanced technology, and innovating every day. I’m thrilled to be part of it and for the opportunities it is creating for people to build their careers and be part of the growth of biomanufacturing in Canada.