Biotechnology | A booming sector

From the manufacture of vaccines to the production of active ingredients, Quebec biotechnology companies operate in the shadow of the pharmaceutical giants. The community is in turmoil, but faces many challenges, including the integration of its innovations into the health system.

Posted at 8:00 a.m.

Emilie Laperriere

Emilie Laperriere
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“The sector has experienced great growth in recent years,” says the new CEO of BioQuébec, Emmanuelle Toussaint. The number of companies in the field of biopharmaceuticals, medical technologies and natural health products has increased by 7% in two years, she points out.

With the pandemic, the organization has also observed an increase in investments.

New companies have emerged in the biotechnology and life sciences industry. It’s good news.

Emmanuelle Toussaint, General Manager of BioQuébec

However, inflation could put a brake on these investments in the coming months. In the opinion of the big boss of BioQuébec, we will surely see a consolidation of certain existing companies.

“The ecosystem is very dynamic,” said Arianne Trudeau, project director of Médicament Québec. Montreal has the distinction of having great strength in artificial intelligence. It encourages both life sciences companies to integrate AI into their processes and the AI ​​community to turn to health applications and drug discovery. »

Despite the departure of the big pharmaceutical companies in the early 2000s, the city relies on numerous university research infrastructures, small and medium-sized companies as well as start-ups, such as ExcellTherra, which wants to reinvent cell therapy.

Quebec as a whole is recognized for its expertise in treatments for cancer and rare diseases, as well as in precision medicine. “We expect the sector to grow even more, especially with the arrival of big players like Moderna and Smokepound Biologics,” adds Arianne Trudeau.

A handful of challenges

Those who focus on research and development may have problems accessing information. “Getting the data needed for research, to conduct it efficiently too, is a challenge. There is strong pressure from the industry to have better access to this data,” says Arianne Trudeau.

Integrating Québec innovations into the health system can also be long and costly for businesses.

We have a lot of young shoots. On the other hand, the capacity of our local ecosystem to integrate their innovations, to ensure that what is developed in Quebec is used here must be improved.

Arianne Trudeau, Project Director of Médicament Québec

Pharmaceutical manufacturing, which is coming back to Quebec, needs infrastructure for its production. “SMEs in this sector need premises and do not necessarily have the means to build new facilities. To partially remedy the problem, adMare BioInnovations hosts emerging companies through its acceleration program,” emphasizes Emmanuelle Toussaint.

The biotechnology sector, like many others, is affected by the lack of specialized labour. To retain and attract talent, various initiatives have nevertheless been implemented.

The “valley of death phenomenon” also affects businesses. “We are very good in terms of new ideas in Quebec. However, developing a new drug takes a lot of time. Often, companies lack either the capital or the support to go through all the steps here. »

Result: certain phases are carried out in other provinces or other countries, and start-up companies are sold to foreign interests.

Funding, the sinews of war

Funding is always an issue, especially for start-ups, admits Emmanuelle Toussaint. “It’s a necessity, we must have more funding,” she said.

However, the general manager of BioQuébec believes that the outlook is good for the industry. “We have the support of the governments. Only in Quebec, there was the update of the Quebec Life Sciences Strategy and the launch of Quebec strategy for research and investment in innovation in the last year. We see that the sector is a priority. »

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Biotechnology | A booming sector

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