Canada’s province of Ontario has been rapidly developing its infrastructure for world class biomedical research. In a place that birthed the discovery and isolation of insulin in 1921, the first external cardiac pacemaker in 1950, and the discovery of stem cells in 1961, Ontario has historically been ripe with biomedical innovation. Today, with 24 academic research hospitals and dedicated research institutes for cancer, neurology, genomics, and cardiovascular disease, Ontario pushes on the cutting edge of research. Given such an intense focus on basic and clinically-relevant research, the provincial government supports the need to translate findings into commercial biotech ventures to heal patients as quickly as possible.
We spoke with Ontario’s Minister for Research and Innovation and Science, The Honourable Reza Moridi, on his views of the investments in the biomedical space in Ontario and the potential for commercialization. His business, academic, and scientific background has helped to provide him with the knowledge and experience required to bridge research and academic institutions with business and government. He’s passionate about helping to advance the role the research community plays in growing Ontario’s economy, and is actively planning to make Ontario a world-leader in cutting-edge innovation.
“Ontario is one of the powerhouses when it comes to life sciences research innovation, and indeed on the commercialization side as well,” said Minister Moridi.
“Innovation is a journey that starts with dreaming and imagination that ends up with sales and products and services. We are investing quite heavily. We have 24 academic hospitals where they conduct research in the life sciences and we have research institutes like the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Ontario Cancer Institute, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Ontario Brain Institute, and Ontario Genomics Institute.”
Ontario is using this rich infrastructure to invest in and to capture venture funding. Initiatives include the Ontario Venture Capital Fund in 2008 with $90 million of the fund’s $205 million coming from the province. In 2015, the government invested $50 million into Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund’s $300 million. And in life-sciences specific funding, Ontario’s Life Sciences Seed Capital Fund amounted to $10 million.
A major incentive to bring companies to Ontario is the tax incentive. “We provide 40-60% tax benefits to companies in Ontario for research and innovation. These inititatives make Ontario very competitive,” said Minister Moridi.
One of the major current benefactors include BlueRock Therapeutics, which received $225 million USD of foreign investments to commercialize regenerative medicine. Another example is the MaRS Discovery District, a hub of innovation in the heart of Toronto that attracts companies like Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS to develop emerging biotech firms.
“Knowledge-based funding in Ontario is paying off. Our indicators have shown that our policies have put Ontario on the right track to move from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy. It’s paying off to help economy growth and create jobs. Economically, $39 billion of our GDP is dependent on the life sciences sector, with about $8 billion dollars in exports. 60,000 jobs are all within the life sciences sector.”
For Minister Moridi, it starts with education and opportunity for Ontarians. Ontario introduced free university and college education for low income families, and are taking steps to encourage more participation from women and minorities in science.
“I would like to see Ontario lead the world in every aspect of life sciences and we have lots of potential to achieve that goal. The main asset of our province of Ontario is our highly educated and highly talented people. We are trying to create equal opportunity.”
“It’s very important that all of us in Ontario – the government and institutions – make sure the results of innovation go to the marketplace in the quickest possible time. The impact of our life sciences research has had major impacts on the quality of life of Ontarians, Canadians, and every person on this planet.”