Lessons from Atlantic Canada’s biotech sector: Part two

By Ainslie Pierrynowski (AIMS On Campus Student Fellow) 

In this two part series, I’ll examine several of the key factors behind the biotechnology sector’s success in Atlantic Canada—and what lessons they hold for other industries in the region.

It was the premier event for the industry. For biotechnology firms, the 2016 BIO International Convention offered a wealth of business opportunities. Its 15 000 attendees included major pharmaceutical companies, thousands of prospective investors, and exhibitors representing firms from around the world. The participating companies included several names which might have been familiar to residents of New Brunswick: Mycodev Group Inc., Soricimed Biopharma, Inc., and the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute, to name a few. In all, ten New Brunswick biotechnology companies and non-profits took part in the 2016 BIO International Convention, showcasing their work to a global audience. Their presence at this high-profile event is but one sign of Atlantic Canada’s growing biotechnology sector.

Find your area’s advantages—and showcase them to the world

A number of biotechnology firms have recently opened their doors in Halifax, where low operation costs have drawn in technology companies. The region as a whole has attracted biotechnology companies for a variety of reasons, including a growing network of business incubators and accelerators, low real estate and housing prices compared to large urban centres, and, as noted in part one of this series, strong research and development infrastructure.

In other words, Atlantic Canada has a number of advantages which have proven attractive to businesses. The region’s biotechnology sector provides a prime example of how Atlantic Canada companies can convey these advantages to prospective investors and business partners around the world. Atlantic Canada biotechnology companies send representatives to major conferences like the BIO International Convention. Businesses in other sectors would do well to follow the biotechnology industry’s lead and invest in networking opportunities. To ensure that these networking opportunities are productive, businesses in other industries should reflect carefully on the advantages which the Atlantic region affords their industry. Like their counterparts in the biotechnology sector, businesses should consider how these advantages can best be presented to prospective partners, clients, investors. At the 2016 BIO International Convention, for instance, the New Brunswick firms’ representatives coordinated with other Atlantic Canada biotechnology companies. Their appealing, unified messaging highlighted the rapid, continued growth of the biotechnology sector in Atlantic Canada as well as the region’s many natural resources.

In fact, for some biotechnology companies, partnership is at their core of their operations—and their success—as examined below:

Pursue partnerships

Nova Scotia’s Biomedical Translational Imaging Centre (BIOTIC) offers an instructive example of how industries can forge profitable, lasting, local partnerships.

To the dismay of Atlantic Canada’s biotechnology firms, the National Research Council (NRC) closed its medical device lab in Halifax. The IWK Health Centre, the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, and the region’s life sciences community banded together to fill the void left behind by the NRC lab. This partnership gave rise to BIOTIC, an imaging centre focused on the development and commercialization of medical biotechnology. What sets BIOTIC apart from other biotechnology businesses, however, is its partnership-based research model. That is, BIOTIC forges business partnerships with companies and research institutions. BIOTIC offers their partners with the expertise, equipment, support services, clinicians, and patient populations needed for the development of new biotechnologies. In turn, BIOTIC can collaborate with leading medical companies like GE Healthcare Canada on the creation of profitable new products and processes.

Partnerships can not only lead to valuable opportunities, but can facilitate economic diversification:

Diversify your industry

In an earlier op-ed, I noted that economic diversification is incredibly important to long-term economic growth and stability in Atlantic Canada. Essentially, Atlantic Canada’s economy needs to encompass a wide range of different, strong, and profitable industries. Doing so will reduce the chances of a crisis in a particular economic sector devastating the economy as a whole.

To further mitigate this risk, however, the region also needs intra-industry diversification. The biotechnology sector can serve as a useful guide here. The industry encompasses a wide range of subfields and applications, from the microbial production of insulin to the process of fermentation used to make alcoholic drinks. In Atlantic Canada, for instance, one can find industrial biotechnology, which produces enzymes (specialized proteins) for use in household cleaners, fuels, and other useful products. The region is also home to agricultural biotechnology, marine biotechnology, medical biotechnology, and more. As a result, an unforeseen event affecting one particular biotechnology field becomes is less likely to topple Atlantic Canada’s entire biotechnology sector. Therefore, the region’s businesses should seek to expand and branch out into new subfields and niches within their respective industries. Doing so could not only help these businesses to stand out, attract a wider customer base, and gain a competitive edge, but could also improve the region’s overall chances of economic survival.

Ultimately, the growth of the biotechnology sector in Atlantic Canada represents more companies, more job opportunities, and greater economic diversification and growth. The industry’s emergence also represents a new, successful approach to doing business in Atlantic Canada—an approach which many of the region’s industries could benefit from following.




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