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How will the world deal with the ever-increasing demand on its food and health resources? The current population of seven billion people is already putting great pressure on what is available. With estimates pegging the population to cross the nine billion mark by the year 2050, food and health requirements will only rise.

“How do we do all that, and how do we keep our economies growing in such a way that we do not continue to degrade our planet on which we depend?” says Andrew Casey, president and CEO of BIOTECanada. “All those challenges require solutions. It’s imperative, in fact, that we find solutions. And the solutions for many of those challenges can be found in biotech.”

Even though it’s a thriving industry, Canadian biotech has to depend on outside markets for the oil that keeps its engine humming. Smaller companies that have the innovation need to find investments and partners. And that is probably the single biggest challenge for the industry: to bring an idea to a point where it can be sold and commercialized.

“We’re doing a pretty good job of attracting capital,” says Casey, “but some of the troublesome pieces that are worrying are how we’re treating intellectual property and patents that we allow for different inventions. We have to make sure our court system isn’t invalidating patents because when they start to do that investors will put their money in another country where they value the patent and keep it in place for its full lifetime.”

Biotech companies need to make appearances at trade shows and conferences because networking is a big part of success for any company. The government pitches in by giving good tax incentives.

“We have government programs in place in terms of its outreach to potential partners and investors who are outside the country,” says Casey.

In the opinion of Robert Henderson, president of BioTalent Canada, securing investment capital is contingent on the strength of marketing and sales skills.

“Our┬áresearch┬áhas found that there are crucial skills that are needed within the bio-economy: everything from business development and marketing and communication skills to finance and leadership,” he says. “We’re finding a lot of the people who are in the small and medium enterprises are very well-equipped scientifically but in people skills and business acumen, there are serious gaps.”

That being said, there are some areas in biotech that are experiencing phenomenal growth, like the area of medical devices. According to Henderson, one of BioTalent Canada’s showcase employers┬áSynaptive Medical┬áhas employed almost 50 people in the last six months

“Again, a lot of the post-docs and PhDs are very well schooled in the science, but a lot of times they haven’t been schooled well in the business of science,” explains Henderson. “Which is why programs, like some of the ones we have, of┬áonboarding new graduates,┬áskills transfer and alternate careers, apprentice programs, and┬áwage-subsidy programs┬áare so important.”

Henderson believes that an inability to close a deal effectively puts a negative impact on the perceptions of venture capitalists and potential business partners regarding the Canadian biotech industry.

Andrew Casey agrees that when an outside investment comes to Canada, it drives in more money and tells companies that they can take things to the next level. Despite these challenges, he thinks the future of biotech is phenomenal.

“Canada has pockets of expert companies in biotech both on the east and west coasts. So we have all the pieces there, and we have the ability to knock it out of the park.”

Photo: Alex011973/Thinkstock