COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the need for a strong domestic life sciences industry – both to address and secure the health of Canadians, and to drive economic recovery and growth. Governments and other stakeholders are stepping up in historic ways to make this a reality.
We have seen significant support from the Quebec government and their commitment to the sector. In its 2020-2021 budget, they allocated $118 million to support the life sciences industry; and in Budget 2021-2022, committed another $2.8 billion to accelerate the transition to the new economy, including $218 million to create wealth through innovation. The federal government too has made major commitments with $2.2 billion allocated to the life sciences sector in Budget 2021.
In addition to increasing public sector support, we have also seen unprecedented private investment, with billions of dollars of venture capital going into Canadian life sciences companies since the pandemic began.
It is a compelling moment to be part of this ecosystem, and with a wealth of scientific discovery, Canada is primed to be a global leader in life sciences. However, to maximize our future successes in the post-pandemic era, we need to double down. Doing so means addressing three pressing problems and focusing all our energies on three key outcomes…
We need more domestic venture capital.
Of the billions invested into life sciences by venture capital funders last year, 10% was from Canadian investors. The good news is that life sciences-focused VC funds in Canada continue to strengthen; with about $1.3B raised last year. We also saw a number of the largest fund closings ever. However, foreign limited partners comprise the majority of LPs in Canadian VC funds. We certainly welcome foreign direct investment, but to collaborate with those investors, and build a sustainable Canadian ecosystem with them, we must keep building Canadian VCs too.
We need more commercially focused wet-lab space.
This issue is a fundamental roadblock in each of Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver – Canada’s key life sciences clusters. At adMare, we have two multi-tenant innovation centres: a 40,000 square foot facility in Vancouver; and 150,000 square foot site in Montréal, where we recently completed a major expansion, essentially doubling the rentable space. With approximately 35 companies residing with us, these centres are at capacity. And given the market demand we have seen, we could likely fill them twice over.
We need more domestic talent.
The greatest competitive advantage of our life sciences industry is people. It is estimated however, that 65,000 additional workers will be needed to support the bio-economy by the year 2029. The enormous growth that the existing industry is driving has created a “sweet headache”, a problem of success, a skills gap that we need to address now.
These pressing issues have prompted us at adMare to think about how we seize this opportunity to focus on three specific areas: building companies, building ecosystems, and building talent – and then re-investing our returns back into the Canadian industry to ensure it is sustained for the long-term.
- We build companies by partnering with and investing in technology innovators and entrepreneurs -- namely academic researchers and emerging Canadian life sciences companies – and bringing our scientific and commercial expertise, specialized R&D infrastructure, and investment capital to the table.
- We build ecosystems based around physical infrastructure such as our innovation centres, which support the growth of Canadian life sciences companies and the development of Canadian innovations by providing move-in ready lab and office space with shared services and amenities. We also build the national ecosystem by bringing together and supporting key organizations, as well as producing high-value industry events; and by building connectivity through the adMare Community digital platform.
- We build talent by training the highly-qualified personnel – from undergrads to industry executives – who will drive the growth of the industry. The adMare Academy provides four distinct program streams: the Executive Institute, the BioInnovation Scientist Program, the Fellowship Program, and the Undergraduate Institute. It has also recently partnered with the Canadian Alliance for Skills Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) to deliver world-class technical training for Canada’s biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector.
We know what happens when we focus on the interconnected processes of building companies, building ecosystems, and building talent – the results and the data are overwhelmingly clear. We know that this approach works because our 25 portfolio companies have attracted more than $1.4 billion of real risk capital, have a combined value of over $3 billion, and employ almost 1,000 Canadians, and the adMare Academy has trained 500 alumni, 95% of whom are now working to build our life sciences industry.
However, one company or team alone isn’t going to make our industry a global leader. If we all focus together on these three things — building companies, building ecosystems, and building talent —, we will realize our shared vision of Canadian life sciences leading the world.