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Global R&D acceleration creates opportunity to grow pharmaceutical sector in Alberta, say experts

Health and Life Sciences
Published On
April 6, 2021

“Internationally, the biotechnology sector is more exciting now than it’s ever been,” said Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute in a livestream forum discussing the strengths of the research and development in Alberta’s pharmaceutical industry. “COVID-19 illustrates how rapidly we can adapt to difficult situations. It usually takes five to ten years to develop a vaccine – and with COVID-19 we’ve seen vaccines being approved in under a year.”

Dr. Tyrrell joined Nobel Laureate and director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, Dr. Michael Houghton, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs Economy and Innovation, Doug Schweitzer and Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) CEO, Andrew MacIsaac to talk about how the biotech sector has the power to transform the economy of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, and Alberta as a whole. The conversation was moderated by Edmonton Global’s VP, Strategy and Innovation, Lynette Tremblay

“Most Albertans aren’t aware of the building blocks in our province,” said Minister Schweitzer. “This goes way back to the investments made by [the provincial government] a decade ago, in attracting talent like Dr. Houghton and with the establishment of the Li Ka Shing Institute. Those decisions led to world-class research taking place right here in Alberta and we’re continuing that momentum with additional funding.”

The government of Alberta recently announced twenty million dollars in funding for the Li Ka Shing Institute.

“The pandemic has sped up opportunities in this sector,” Minister Schweitzer continued. “With the acceleration of research, this is going way faster than people had anticipated. The pandemic has led to breakthroughs and the breaking down of barriers to commercializing IP. First you have to look at how do we keep people healthy, but there is a development opportunity from a jobs creation perspective.”

“For the longest time, Alberta has had a really large pipeline of talent and a lot of grads from our post-secondary institutions end up at global pharmaceutical companies all over the world,” said API CEO Andrew MacIsaac. “There’s a lot of hidden gems here from an intellectual property perspective.”

These hidden gems could provide opportunities to invest in commercialization.

According to Dr. Michael Houghton Alberta already has all the ingredients needed for a successful biotech sector including:

  • World-class research happening within our universities and research institutes
  • Existing infrastructure and support including API, Edmonton Global and other economic development organizations
  • Government support and investment

“When I think back on the UK biotech wave in the 70’s and the one that happened in the bay area of California – both of which I was a part of – I’m totally convinced that Alberta will succeed in the biotech industry,” said Dr. Houghton. “I think we’re at the perfect time for personal investors, organizational investors and pharmaceutical companies to come here – that’s my message…It’s a great time to catch the Edmonton wave.”

“There’s a groundswell building here,” said Andrew MacIsaac. “And there’s an opportunity to do this for company after company after company.”

Andrew points to companies like Entos Pharmaceuticals and Providence Therapeutics, Alberta companies that have developed COVID-19 vaccines currently moving through clinical trials. Dr. John Lewis (CEO, Entos Pharmaceuticals) and Dr. Jared Davis (President, Providence Therapeutics) joined Edmonton Global in a previous live forum discussion.

Edmonton Global will be hosting another livestream exploring the expertise in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region around logistics for pharmaceutical products and the ability to get these critical goods to an international market. Be sure to follow Edmonton Global on our social channels (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) to stay up to date for upcoming events and to get alerted when we are going live.