The world’s population is predicted to grow to almost 10 billion people by 2050. This means drastic global changes in human health, the environment, food security and economic fortunes have already started to impact our day to day lives. Demands for consumer goods, healthcare, energy and western based diets emanating from ever increasing populations in countries such as China and India are impacting economies, human health, the environment, and food and water supply like never before.
The status quo is simply untenable. Society must find ways to both mitigate and adapt to the reality of the pressures challenging our planet and population. We must live, grow, and manufacture, more efficiently and effectively. Finding solutions for these challenges is a daunting task. Yet, in addressing these significant health, environmental, economic and social challenges lies an important economic opportunity for those that can deliver solutions. Biotechnology will play a central role in delivering innovative solutions that will help societies and economies both mitigate and adapt.
To capitalize on the country’s strengths and drive innovation forward, it is imperative that the role played by all elements of the ecosystem, including universities, scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, partners, and end-users of the technology, are recognized and supported. To achieve success, all parts of the ecosystem must be healthy and functioning for the transformation of ideas to move from lab bench to commercial reality.
The potential of biotechnology to deliver game-changing and life-changing innovation to the challenges faced by society is significant. Importantly, Canada is home to a healthy and vibrant, pan-Canadian biotechnology ecosystem with clusters located in every province. In this context, the Canadian biotechnology industry is well-positioned to take advantage of the global challenge and deliver very significant economic and social benefits to this country.
The high-skilled worker who wants a well-paying job. An elderly person in need of a chemotherapy drug that works. The parents of a young child with a rare disease that has no good treatment options. Canada’s need to address climate change and reverse environmental degradation. A burgeoning global population that needs to grow more food.
What role can biotechnology play in helping us overcome some of the biggest challenges facing Canadians and the rest of the world?
Harnessing biological processes has the potential to dramatically alter outcomes, and Canada is well-positioned to be a major contributor to that change. Our country has an enviable record of achievements in biotechnology, many rising stars in the sector and the opportunity to do much more. Our leadership has enabled possibilities for Canada’s scientists, entrepreneurs, industry and healthcare providers to advance biotech-based products to improve the health, environment, economy and quality of life at home and around the world.
Harnessing biological processes has the potential to dramatically alter outcomes, and Canada is well-positioned to be a major contributor to that change.
To realize our potential and expand our contributions to the global biotech community, we must enhance the strengths of our national biotech ecosystem and minimize our shortcomings: a relatively small population and investment pool. To achieve success in the increasingly competitive global marketplace of biotech, discovery requires a skilled and well-educated workforce, a vibrant network dedicated to research and discovery, competitive recognition of intellectual property and ongoing, strong investment. With these pillars working in concert in an ecosystem committed to leveraging the promise that each pillar holds, Canada will build an economy that is focused on the future.
In short, we must embrace the opportunity to turn 21st-century knowledge into solutions for 21st-century pressures.
It is a classic scenario of challenge, risk and opportunity.
Foremost is the ongoing explosion in the world’s population, which will see us reach almost ten billion people by 2050—more than triple the number who were alive in 1950. Adding to the pressure from these sheer numbers is the growth of the middle class in China and India, and the demand on food, the environment and healthcare that growth will bring. The widespread adoption of a Western-style diet will cause a rise in the HONDA diseases—hypertension, obesity, non-compliant, diabetes and asthma—with attendant demands on the healthcare system. In addition, there are increased challenges from diseases like H1N1 influenza, SARS, Ebola and Zika, which pose a threat to public health because they spread easily across borders.
Massive population growth and parallel economic development require new solutions. The status quo is insufficient, so we must find ways to mitigate the problems and make adaptations. This includes reducing our environmental footprint, adapting to the irrevocable environmental change that has already occurred and developing new ways to grow food, manufacture and improve the health and social wellbeing of everyone.
The risk of ignoring these challenging realities for longer than we already have is too great. The cost in human life and to our economy is immeasurable.
Enter biotech, with an answer to the opening question. Solutions from the life sciences can, in fact, provide the needed mitigation and adaptation in agriculture, energy production, industry and healthcare.
Biotech has changed the way we grow and consume food, allowing us to create drought- and disease-resistant plants, crops that can be grown successfully in areas traditionally not suited to them and fruits and vegetables that have increased nutritional value and shelf life.
Few countries are as well
positioned as Canada to take
advantage of biotech’s potential.
Advances in biotech can also support the development of new energy sources and industrial applications that can help reduce the environmental impact of traditional manufacturing and industrial processes. And for Canada, which has seen a steady decline in employment related to the natural resources sector outside of the production of carbon-based fuel, biotech has the potential to reverse that trend.
In the realm of healthcare, biotech holds enormous promise. With the ability to map the human genome and edit genes comes the promise of precision medicine and the potential to treat disease, including the estimated 7,000 rare diseases that fall outside the traditional economic model for the pharmaceutical industry and for which there are currently treatments for only five percent. It also can help overcome the rise of HONDA diseases in developing nations that are adopting Western-style, animal protein-based diets as their economies grow.
STRENGTHS OF THE CANADIAN BIOTECH ECOSYSTEM
Few countries are as well positioned as Canada to take advantage of biotech’s potential. As well as our rich history of scientific discovery and development, we have a robust and diverse biotech ecosystem that extends across the country and includes clusters in every province. Included in these clusters are:
- biotech entrepreneurs and SMEs
- scientific, regulatory and legal expertise
- world-class universities, research institutes and hospitals
- multinational commercial companies
- a highly-educated workforce
- scalable Canadian companies
Which is not to say that Canada is alone in recognizing the potential of biotech or in being ready to take advantage of the opportunities biotech presents. Many other nations are moving rapidly to develop their domestic biotech industries and some—notably Israel, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom—have strategies in place to enable the commercialization of biotech through development and into the marketplace. Others are working at developing strategies. Their goal is to attract the investment that will be required to move biotech down the path to a mature sector that is fully functioning at scale.