Biotechnology Focus

Biotechnology Focus February 2013

Biotechnology Focus is Canada's leading authority on Canada's life science news. From biopharma and healthcare to ag-bio and clean tech, our readership includes life science professionals, C-level executives and researchers.

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THE LAST WORD By Don M. Enns What drives a competitive advantage? I Don M. Enns, President of LifeSciences BC n his recent book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, renowned Harvard historian, Niall Ferguson, provides a fascinating account of how western economies achieved their relative position of strength over the last few hundred years. In terms of factors that contributed to this position, he identifies the role of science and the phenomenal impact of modern medicine. There is no dispute that our advances in medical research has positively benefited society and contributed significantly to our current economic well being. However, Ferguson's work is really a retrospective of the past. The challenge confronting the life sciences field – and to a larger extent – all knowledge-based sectors, revolves around shaping our future in such a manner that we continue to improve social and financial outcomes, and if possible, maintain some form of competitive advantage. Recognizing there are numerous possible "futures," I would like to comment on six aspects that are critical to our collective future. Evolutionary business models: Gone are the days of proving a concept, seeking venture capital to advance the cause and then undertaking an IPO. Strategic partnerships are and will continue to be the foundation of business success. Furthermore, such success will be predicated upon vertical integration that attempts to add value to each step of the health delivery process. One has to wonder if accessibility to our health care system will be enhanced by dealing directly with the end user (i.e. patient, family, etc.), as opposed to traditional reimbursement approaches, which are currently under financial restraints. Capital formation and access: Federal and provincial governments in Canada have provided strong support to public research institutions in recent years. In British Columbia, approximately $1.9 billion has been allocated to health care research over the last decade. With the collapse of the capital markets in 2008 and changing business models, it has become clear that government has a role to play in bridging the gap between concept and commercialization, which usually involves a significant amount of capital. It is imperative that public and private institutions jointly explore capital formation and access in a manner that promotes entrepreneurship, encourages shared risk and meets the demands of a growing and aging population. Progressive and flexible health policy: Given the risk averse nature of public policy, there is little question that it lags behind scientific capability. For example, we are moving towards a $1,000 human genome sequence, yet Canada has not developed non-discriminatory legislation regarding genetic predisposition. Woven into this issue is the fact that we cannot develop a process which protects individual rights but allows for the mining of anonomized human health data that already exists in provincial databases. 30 BIOTECHNOLOGY FOCUS February 2013 Globalization: The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, currently being negotiated between Canada and the European Union, will be ratified in the coming weeks. It will not only remove significant tariffs, but will also impact the intellectual property ecosystem. This agreement will be a precursor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canada will become a participant of this year. It is these types of relationships which will define how we interact with our trading partners, and how truly global the macro economy has become. It is entirely possible for a virtual life sciences company to operate from Canada, and literally impact every corner of the globe. Technical convergence: Who would have thought 10 years ago that TELUS would be one of the most significant companies in healthcare today? Although molecules – and in particular, biologics – will continue to grow, the real opportunities are the interface between chemistry, molecular biology, digital media, nanotechnology, wireless technology and ICT. Public engagement: Policy largely reflects public sentiment, and perhaps the shortcomings in policy reveal a lack of public engagement, which may be the result of a lack of understanding and/or miscommunication. If the life sciences community is to realize its true potential, it is imperative that public education efforts are enhanced, sustained and proactive in nature. In an ideal world, the general public would follow progress in health research, much the same way as they do sport scores or movie releases, as opposed to becoming retroactively engaged only when they or a family member are faced with a health issue. It is incumbent upon industry, academia and government to enhance its efforts and engage the public regarding the advances in our sector. In light of recent challenges, it has been suggested that the life sciences community is moving through a desert on its way to a distant oasis. We have accomplished much and have put in foundational elements that will bode well for the future, yet as with any transition, our competitive advantage and contribution to the global community can only be maintained if we undertake deliberate, intentional and collective action. Don M. Enns is a 25-year veteran of British Columbia's biotechnology sector, and is President of LifeSciences BC. @ Got something to say? Please send your comments/letters to

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