By Dr. Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, Province of Ontario
Realizing great ideas in the fields of regenerative medicine and life sciences, then presenting them to market is a challenge. It requires the precise combination of talent, support from private and public partners, and a competitive intellectual property regime. Furthermore, breakthroughs often require an interdisciplinary team of biologists, chemists, engineers and even physicists, along with a company ready to shoulder significant risks and capital to achieve results. Few places in the world are as concentrated with these necessary components such as Ontario, Canada.
The province of Ontario is Canada’s largest life sciences hub, with innovative leaders engaged in every facet of the industry—from diagnostic imaging to gene therapy and neuroscience. Ontario is already home to numerous major medical breakthroughs and innovations, and four of the top 10 Canadian research hospitals, which attract more than USD$1.92 billion in sponsored research income.
Government plays a critical role in this ecosystem with a strong commitment to developing policies that enable success and attracting investment to improve the industry’s competiveness. Ontario is committed to supporting and maintaining a globally competitive life sciences sector in the province, and the investments in research and commercialization over the years have helped foster strong innovation and a knowledge-based economy.
Ontario is on the cutting edge of research in the field of regenerative medicine. While regenerative medicine itself isn’t new, advances in developmental and cell biology, immunology, and other fields, have unlocked new opportunities to refine existing regenerative therapies and exploit new theories.
The province is now, more than ever, a place where innovative ideas become world-renowned scientific, medical and technological breakthroughs, with the potential to improve millions of lives around the globe. In fact, the province already has a collaborative life science ecosystem, a wealth of experienced STEM talent and a strong track record of venture capital investment and support from the government.
Innovators in Medical Breakthroughs
Ontario has a long legacy of life science innovation that has played a vital role in the current and future regenerative medicine industry. In 1921, through the discovery of insulin, Doctors Frederick Banting, Charles Best, Bertram Collip and John MacLeod revolutionized the treatment of diabetes.
In 1963, Doctors James Till and Ernest McCulloch discovered the hematopoietic stem cell, ushering in a field of study that continues to offer the promise of novel treatments for unmet medical needs. And, in 1983, thoracic surgeon Joel Cooper conducted the first successful lung transplant in Ontario.
These revolutionary discoveries are just the tip of iceberg.
From discovering cancer stem cells in leukemia, to locating the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, and developing the world’s first artificial cornea, Ontario is home to many major and historic medical breakthroughs.
Today, Toronto-based biotechnology companies, research laboratories and medical institutes continue as trailblazers in health science research and medical tool development, making inroads into the prevention, detection and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, spinal cord injuries and others.
XOR Labs is one of the many medical device companies pioneering in the regenerative medicine field in Ontario. Founded in 2011, XOR Labs recognized that globally, an estimated 700,000 patients are currently in critical need of a lung transplant. However, less than 6,000 procedures are completed each year due to the limited availability of quality lungs. By creating the Ex Vivo organ repair technology, XOR Lab’s technologies enable donated lungs to be removed from a body, placed in a sterile chamber, oxygenated and provided with nutrition for an extended period of time. The technology’s protective system relieves stress and limits the amount of damage made to the organ while in transit. This system allows transplant teams to assess the lung and, if required, treat it with medication or sophisticated therapies like gene or cell therapy.
For the medical industry, this breakthrough means that lungs that previously may have been discarded can now be repaired to increase odds of a successful transplant with a reduced chance of rejection.
A Wealth of Life Science Talent
Exceptional talent drives success in the highly-competitive life sciences market, but it’s not always easy to find the scientific and business talent that companies need to innovate, commercialize and succeed on a global scale.
Ontario boasts a high concentration of business specialists with more than 40,000 skilled graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) each year. Six of Ontario’s universities have associated medical schools, including the University of Toronto—one of North America’s largest medical faculties—and four of the top Canadian research universities are located in the province.
A Collaborative Life Science Research Ecosystem
Ontario also has a unique life science research ecosystem that includes education institutions, world-renowned clinics, hospitals, technology incubators, a collaborative network of more than 150 research programs and access to funding through the government.
According to Gordon Keller, a Canada Research Chair in embryonic stem cell therapy, there’s more research concentrated in Ontario than just about any place in the world. In fact, the world’s top ten global pharmaceutical companies—including Siemens, Bayer, Philips, GE Healthcare and others—conduct clinal trials in Ontario, and Canadian industry patents are cited in other patents approximately 20 percent more than the global average.
Ontario’s 24 academic research hospitals have invested more than USD$1 billion in R&D, and employ 16,400 researchers and research staff across the province. The provincial government is also deeply invested in this growing field. In June 2016, Ontario partnered with Bioindustrial Innovation Canada to support a new hub in Sarnia-Lambton, investing USD$3 million over four years. The hub is expected to create 400 high-value jobs and strengthen the province’s industrial competitiveness.
More recently, Ontario invested about USD$37 million in the newly-established Vector Institute for artificial intelligence research led by Dr. Geoffrey Hinton—the “Godfather of Deep Learning”—which will help unleash the potential of AI to improve medical research and stem-cell research. In addition to these investments, Ontario has committed to supporting 75 projects at leading institutions across the province to help scientists discover new biomedical technologies, treatments and cures for diseases.
A Hotbed for Venture Capital Investment
Ontario’s excellence in life sciences is not only supported by the government, but nurtured by public and private investments and forged through collaborative partnerships. Due to access to global markets and its generous tax incentives that are 11 percentage points below the U.S. average, Ontario is a strong place to attract venture capital funding for life sciences companies.
The Conference Board of Canada and the Toronto Financial Services Association ranked Canada among the top four countries in the world in terms of access to public equity, private equity and venture capital.
Recently, Bayer made a USD$225 million Series A financial for the Toronto-based medical stem cell company BlueRock Therapeutics, which is one the largest ever for a biotech company. Additionally, GE Healthcare, Synaptive and others have made generous investments in a sector that generates more than USD$28 billion a year in revenue.
Combined with federal R&D credits, Ontario’s R&D tax creditscan reduce companies’ after-tax cost of every CAD$100 in R&D spending to between CAD$61 and CAD$37. Ontario’s R&D tax credits are the most generous among the OECD countries, making the region even more attractive to outside investors.
A Bright Future for Life Science Innovation
According to a report from Goldman Sachs, regenerative medicine is one of the most compelling areas for venture investment—and venture capital in companies pursuing regenerative medicine continues to grow by roughly 34 percent per year.
Innovation that leads to advances in life sciences requires a collaborative ecosystem of partners, such as hospitals, research centers, universities, technology incubators, start-ups, scientists and multinationals. And, every day they’re collaborating in Ontario, Canada.
Regenerative medicine has the promise to treat, manage and perhaps cure some of the most devastating and costly diseases in the world today, providing new hope for millions of people. And, Ontario is well poised to lead the charge.
Graphic 1: An Industry Snapshot
Graphic 2: Ontario’s R&D Cost Advantage
Bio: Dr. Reza Moridi currently serves as Minister of Research, Innovation and Science for the Province of Ontario. In his current role, he draws on his extensive political, business, academic and scientific experience to bridge the research and academic institutions with business and government.