CTR EXCLUSIVE: The California-Canada Biotech Collaboration
Manitoba and British Columbia to seek research agreements with the Golden State
SAN FRANCISCO - 06/25/04 - Biotechnology in all its forms has proven to be one of the fastest growing areas for research and development in the world.
Driven by a growing acceptance of new agricultural technologies and a surge in medical research, bioscience - divided into four sub-sectors: agricultural biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and research and development - is being seen not only as a solution for the world's most chronic problems of disease and hunger, but as an engine to fuel national, regional, and local economies.
This is particularly true in the US, where, according to a recent report published by the Batelle Memorial Institute - a global science and technology enterprise that develops and commercializes technology and manages laboratories for its clients - 40 states are specifically targeting the biosciences for development.
At the same time, it said, while all 50 US states have technology-based economic development initiatives that are available to companies in the bioscience field, some 14 have expressly identified the biosciences as "a primary generator of economic growth and opportunity and have created a large number of initiatives to create a climate in which the biosciences can flourish."
Of those, the Columbus, Ohio-based Institute said, California and only two other states have a "sizeable" employment and economic development base in at least three of the bioscience sub-sectors with available venture capital, research facilities, and the technological resources to make the state a key player in the international bioscience arena.
According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the Washington, DC-based trade group that organized the recent BIO 2004 Conference in San Francisco, the state is home to more than 2,500 biotechnology companies and 87 private and public research institutions that in 2000 attracted more than $2.3 billion in grants from the National Institutes of Health, more than any other state.
In 2002, BIO reported that an estimated 1,300 public and private biotechnology companies were based in the US. Of these, an estimated 450 are headquartered in California.
San Diego and San Francisco - the latter often called the "cradle of the biotechnology industry" - are both seen as the epicenters of two of the most significant biotechnology clusters in the world, where strategic alliances have been formed to create several major initiatives aimed at fueling the continued international growth of biotech research and development.
In addition, interaction between academia and industry has been fueled by the creation of a number of bioscience research centers including the Bio-X Initiative at Stanford University; the statewide University of California Industry/University Cooperative Research Program; and planned research parks at the University of California campuses in Los Angeles, Irvine, Davis, and San Francisco; CalTech; research facilities at the California State University campuses in Pomona and Long Beach; and the network of Biotechnology Initiative Centers at six two-year colleges around the state.
Most recently, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce linked biotech and regional economic development by saying it would actively throw its weight behind an upcoming $300 million bond initiative to fund stem cell research "in an effort to create more biomedical jobs in the region."
But, many feel, the greatest potential for California's burgeoning biotech sector lies outside its borders in developing collaborative relationships with one of its most solid trading partners - Canada.
Currently, the Canadian biotechnology sector generates roughly $15 billion annually and employs more than 60,000 nationwide. By 2003, annual investment in biotech research and development approached $2 billion with three Canadian cities - Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto - ranking in the Top 20 North American cities for biotech and serving as home to more than 500 biotech firms.
Of the more than 60 countries represented at the BIO 2004 Conference, Canada had one of the largest delegations with more that 300 companies either individually exhibiting or represented by a number of national industry organizations, economic development agencies, and Initiatives.
Every Canadian province was represented at the conference as were such groups as BIOTECanada, the Canadian Rheumatology Research Consortium, the Vancouver Island Technology Park, and the Ontario-based Consortium for Agriculturally Renewable Energy and Environmental Research.
"We're very interested in what's going on in California and there is tremendous potential for collaborative efforts in biotech," said Carole Swan, associate deputy minister of Industry Canada, interviewed at the Canada Pavillion at the Bio 2004 conference. "We have a significant presence at this conference and we're taking a very proactive approach toward creating the right kind of environment for collaborative partnerships to form."
Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty were at the four-day conference to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between their respective governments to create a "North/South Bioscience Corridor that will assist companies in both Manitoba and Minnesota "in developing key collaborations to compliment their expertise and capabilities in health, agriculture, and environmental technologies."
Doer told the CalTrade Report that he was planning to meet with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the recently concluded Western Governor's Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to discuss the possibility of crafting a similar agreement with California.
"There are several areas of interest in addition to biotech that we want to work with California on," said Doer. "Renewable energy and environmental technology are very important and there are definite opportunities for collaboration. We recently signed an agreement on developing hydrogen fuel cell technology with Iceland and we see California as a leader and partner in developing this, as well."
Also planning discussions with the Governor was Gordon Campbell, premier of British Columbia.
"We have very close relations particularly with the San Francisco Bay Area and an agreement that would firm up a more effective relationship between the state and British Columbia is something we'd be very excited to see happen," Campbell said.
"We [British Columbia and California] share more than just a time zone and a life style. We have a common desire to share learning and experience to build mutually beneficial future," he said. "A number of companies in British Columbia have achieved much in the area of research on Alzheimer's, for example, and a lot of that work was done in collaboration with companies based in California."
According to Campbell, British Columbia "is looking at a variety of ways in which we compliment one another," alluding to several joint biotech research projects currently underway between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Northern British Columbia, and several universities and private-sector research centers in California.
"We hope that we'll soon be signing an agreement that will bring us even closer together," he said.
The California-Canada biotech connection "is a critical collaborative effort that we are actively looking to expand and enhance," said Colin Robertson, Canadian consul general in Los Angeles. "It's high on our list of priorities and we're expecting some solid developments to achieve that goal within the very near future."
One Canada-based company looking to create a California "bio-link" is Lombard Life Sciences, a two-year old Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company that manages the $90 million Western Life Sciences Venture Fund that creates and develops early stage biotechnology companies in Canada utilizing licensed technology acquired from university research centers around the world.
"We look at a licensing agreement as a partnership. It's not a 'give us your technology and we'll see you in twenty years' sort of thing," said Dr. Donald Back, Lombard's chief operating officer. "Scientists make good science; they're not necessarily good business people and that's where we come in."
While the company currently doesn't have any California-based schools on its partner list, the company "is seriously looking to establish technology-transfer relationships with academic institutions in California," he said, singling out the academic biotech clusters of San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles "to be of particular interest."
Lombard, he said, "works in the gap between research and development to provide the commercialization know-how that gets a developed technology into the hands of the people who can do the most good with it."
The fund the company currently manages was bank-rolled by the governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and is expected to swell with the recent announcement that the federal government in Ottawa will soon match a fund-to-fund set-aside of $270 million to underwrite biotech research and development across the country.
One Canadian company planning to expand its horizons by adding to its already active California's biotech profile is Aventis Pasteur Ltd., one of the country's largest biotechnology firms employing more than 1000 people involved in the development of vaccines and therapeutic products to combat 17 diseases.
The Toronto-headquartered company, which had a significant presence at the BIO 2004 conference, has said it will invest up to $350 million in cancer research alone over the next several years, including a $60 million grant from the Canadian government's Technology Partnerships Canada program.
"California is certainly a hotbed in terms of biotech development and to maximize our effectiveness, we need to collaborate and create partnerships," said J. Mark Lievonen, president of Aventis Pasteur and past chairman of BIOTECanada, the country's largest biotech industry trade organization.
"Our plans call for us to access significant pieces of intellectual property to achieve our goals and, in this business, no one can claim to have all the pieces of the puzzle," he said.
"We've already signed several agreements with firms in California and we're currently in talks with several other companies here to collaborate even further," Lievonen said. "There's tremendous potential here and it's exciting to be able to tap into it."
The "California-Canada biotech connection," said Colin Robertson, Canadian consul general in Los Angeles, "is a critical collaborative effort that we are actively looking to expand and enhance. It's very high on our list of priorities and we're expecting even more solid developments to form-up within the very near future."
"This is important," he said. "The world is depending on us"
(This story is the second in a two-part series on the trade relationship between California and Canada based on interviews done at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's BIO 2004 Conference, held June 6-9 in San Francisco.)
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