Canada has a proud history in the development of biotechnology: milestones include the discovery of insulin in 1922 and the first polio vaccine in 1955, the world’s first commercial grown biotech crops in 1995 and biofuel jet test in 2012 through to contributions to the development of an Ebola vaccine.
Canada’s biotech is largely divided into four sub-sectors: health, medical & pharmaceutical; agriculture & crops; food & beverage bioprocesses; and organic chemical manufacturing. The industry grew steadily in the early 2000s: from 282 companies in 1997 to 496 companies in 2003. Canadian biotech generated $87 billion of revenue in 2012. More than 80% of Canada’s biotechs are small or medium sized enterprises with less than 50 full-time employees.
Pharmaceutical sales specifically have a 2.5% share of the global market, making Canada the 9th largest market. In 2014, the manufacturing portion of the sector employed 26,300 people, however this number has fallen by about 6% over the last 5 years. Ontario, the largest life sciences industry in Canada, contributes 50% of the country's economic activity and holds the lead. For example, in June 2015 Clinical Trials Ontario, an independent not-for-profit organization, announced the first global company to receive province-wide ethics approval for an international multi-centre clinical trial, advancing Ontario as a global leader in clinical trials.
Presently, Canada’s investments in biotech are behind what is being invested south of the border. Since the global financial crisis in 2008 Canadian R&D spending, as a percentage of gross domestic product, is declining and is now only 1.35% of what the U.S. spends on R&D. Also venture capital investment is at a ten-year low. “[In Canada] the companies are much smaller, and much riskier many times, because the companies have maybe one or two molecules or one or two products or platforms, as opposed to larger companies in the U.S. with multiple products being developed,” said Mario Piccinin, partner at Ernst & Young.
However, worldwide various biotech industries are facing a funding crisis as investors turn to more “sexier” industries with faster product turnarounds and better chances of payoff.
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