Global Science Excellence Roundtable

July 21, 2016—Ottawa, ON
Global Science Excellence
Hosted by Tyler Wish

Area of Focus

Engage with Canadian Life-Science ecosystem to discuss how we can better leverage our Global Science Excellence to build and sustain a powerful biotech innovation ecosystem.


Growing talent and creating demand for talent, education, training, knowledge transfer/intellectual property, growing firms to scale, access to capital, procurement.

Summary of Discussion

What is Canada doing right—areas of strength: high quality science research, relatively well-funded universities, good start-up culture, applications of life-sciences technologies across a range of sectors, competitive business environment (tax, SR&ED) and great place to live and work.

How to leverage these strengths and build up Canada's life-sciences sector—key themes: growing talent and creating demand for talent, knowledge transfer/IP, growing firms to scale, access to capital, procurement.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Scale: Canada's geography and political culture were raised as challenges in doing anything at the scale that is required in this industry. Participants highlighted the need to think more nationally, to put resources behind the best ideas to achieve critical mass and scale. Neuroscience was noted as an area of strength in Canada, with strong science and catalyst/incubation capacity, particularly in the Toronto area.

Growing talent/education: Participants highlighted the need to ensure that the pool of STEM graduates is large and that the skills of Canada's graduates are meeting industry needs—that grads are sufficiently well rounded, with skills on the business side including in entrepreneurship, commercialization and an exposure to non-academic pathways. It was also pointed out that domestic demand for highly skilled graduates in these fields remains weak in Canada—a major concern for participants.

Growing firms/access to capital: Many participants raised the issue of growing firms, and developing or attracting anchor firms. It was noted that the life sciences industry is highly portable and suffers from many firms being bought out and moved south. There was a strong recognition of the role of the anchor firms and the need for more such firms. In this context, the perceived shortage of venture capital funds in the life sciences sector was a key theme, especially given the long timeframes to commercialization in this sector.

SR&ED: The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Credit was seen by several participants as a strong program, with some gaps or areas for improvement noted.

Procurement: The need for federal and provincial governments to maximize the use of their significant procurement potential to advance the life sciences industry was also noted as a significant barrier to commercialization in the life sciences sector in Canada. Participants asserted that it is often easier for a small company to sell or find a first customer in the U.S. than in Canada.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Experiential learning/talent: Stimulate growth in the pool of innovators at a younger age by developing STEM, business, and entrepreneurial skills in early grades. Expand experiential learning and industry academic collaboration opportunities, including for scientists (to increase their understanding of business needs), and to encourage multidisciplinary/converging programs (coding/data literacy) that can better respond to the needs of industry. Introduce a system to incent PHDs to stay here and contribute to innovation in industry using tools like mentorship, coaching, experiential learning.‎

Expand access to capital: VCAP program is seen as a strong program in a field where access to capital is lacking. VCAP could be supplemented or topped-up and tweaked to focus on creating scale, possibly with a greater allocation for the life sciences industries where late stage funding is particularly important. Some discussion of how to get big pharma firms to invest in VCAP-style funds—need to share some control over investments for pharma to be at the table.

Tweaks to SR&ED: SR&ED was also considered a good tool with some changes called for (e.g. some relaxation of requirement to be a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC), removal of caps/scalability to how many jobs are being created or R&D spending in Canada to incent scale, eligibility of clinical trials.)

Knowledge transfer: Need a greater focus on industry pulling technologies out of universities rather than a sole focus on spinning out firms. Industrial coop terms and mentorships could also be helpful for knowledge transfer. On IP, need to educate principal investigators (PI's) on the value of IP and the importance of having a well-organized IP package. Participants also cited successful examples of more open IP where partners have background IP protected and shared joint rights to all IP jointly developed. Need to educate researchers about the value of making research data accessible and introduce or advance open data incentives and policies, taking into account and addressing legitimate privacy concerns.

Procurement: need mechanisms for Canadian hospitals to procure Canadian solutions. For example, could set aside budgets to adopt innovation or designate hospitals as innovative hubs.

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