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The life sciences industry in British Columbia includes about 100 biopharmaceutical companies, 60 medical device manufacturing and distribution companies, and 30 bio products companies. Biopharmaceutical companies account for about 2,200 of the total employment of 2,700. Biopharmaceuticals generate roughly $800 million per year in revenues. Greater Vancouver is home to about 70 per cent of the B.C. life sciences industry and has a strong complement of established and next generation firms, including two of Canada’s largest and most successful life science companies: QLT and Angiotech Pharmaceuticals.
While most life sciences companies are small, they have become very successful through strategic partnerships with major international firms. For example, Neuromed has a $500 million partnership with Merck to develop pain management products. World renowned research is being conducted in four life sciences areas: oncology, infectious diseases, neuroscience and regenerative medicine.
Vancouver’s competitive advantage in life sciences is based on a talented workforce, government investment, and high quality university R&D and education programs.
Vancouver draws top-notch, international life sciences talent because of flexible immigration policies, its outstanding quality of life and strong R&D infrastructure. A fast-track immigration process expedites entry of highly-skilled workers into their fields of expertise.
Vancouver’s life sciences sector has flourished because of B.C. government investments in R&D of more than $1.6 billion since 2001. The $90 million B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund provides additional funding for early stage ventures in biotechnology and other high-technology sectors. The Government of Canada is providing $60 million in funding for four new centres of excellence in commercialization and research in B.C. – three in life sciences, and the fourth in an area that includes some life science-related applications.
The life sciences sector benefits from its West Coast location, which puts it in easy reach of life sciences collaborators and sources of venture capital in Washington State and California. Vancouver is home to the prestigious annual Bio Partnering North America conference, which attracted more than 400 companies from 26 countries in 2008.
In 2005, The Scientist magazine ranked the University of British Columbia (UBC) first in Canada, and ninth in North America, for producing high-quality patentable research. In 2006, the Milken Institute ranked UBC eighth in North America for technology transfer and commercialization. The university has spun-off more than 100 life sciences companies, creating more than 2,500 jobs and raising more than $2 billion in private investments. Simon Fraser University (SFU) has generated an additional 70 spin-offs. A biotechnology undergraduate degree is offered jointly by the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and UBC, while SFU’s Masters of Technology MBA offers a specialization in biotechnology.
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Research & Development
The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program is a federal tax incentive designed to encourage research and development in Canada. Qualifying non-Canadian companies are eligible to receive tax credits of 20 per cent of qualified expenditures. Canadian companies receive enhanced credits. The B.C. government adds a ten per cent tax credit for qualifying Canadian and non-Canadian corporations that conduct R&D in British Columbia.
The National Science & Engineering Research Council of Canada, one of three Canadian granting councils, has invested more than $6 billion over the last ten years in basic research, training the next generation of scientists, and university-industry partnerships. This investment has directly supported some 23,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows; funded more than 11,000 university professors every year; and helped more than 1,300 Canadian companies to invest in university research and training.
The National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) provides a range of technical and business-oriented advisory services to support growth-oriented Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises. This can include non-repayable contributions to Canadian firms interested in research to develop their services, products and processes. The program has contributed more than $570 million to more than 30,000 projects. In 2007-2008, approximately $13 million was available to firms in B.C.
British Columbia offers tax credits of 30 per cent to qualified resident investors who provide venture capital to small businesses conducting R&D on proprietary technologies. Investment must be made through a venture capital corporation or directly to an eligible business corporation. Early-stage ventures are also eligible for support from the B.C. government’s $90 million B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund.
B.C.'s International Business Activity Act (IBAA) allows incorporated Canadian companies with permanent establishments in B.C. a refund of income tax paid on international income from commercialization of certain life science patents. A company registered in the IBA program can receive a full refund of provincial tax on income earned on qualifying activities (75% for income earned on qualifying patents to a maximum of $8 million).
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Non-profit society that promotes B.C. as a centre for international business activity and encourages corporations to take advantage of favorable tax treatment under International Business Activity Act (IBAA).
A forum for life science and technology company CEOs.
B.C. Innovation Council
Crown Agency that fosters innovation and commercialization, in partnership with government, industry and academia. The Council provides research funding, scholarships and other resources.
B.C. Ministry of Economic Development
Provincial government department that promotes commerce and investment in B.C. and administers B.C.’s venture
B.C. Nanotechnology Alliance
Alliance of academic, government and industry partners supporting development of nanotechnology.
B.C. Technology Industry Association (BCTIA)
Non-profit organization that supports the growth of B.C.’s technology industries through a variety of programs and initiatives.
Developer of specialized research facilities, especially for start-up and post-secondary spin-off companies.
Industry association for the biotechnology industry.
National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Canadian granting council that invests in post-secondary students, post-doctoral fellows, basic research and university-industry research projects. It has an office in Vancouver.
National Research Council of Canada
Canadian government agency that provides support to small- and medium-sized businesses. It has an office in Vancouver.
B.C. Cancer Research Centre
Research arm of the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
B.C. Institute of Technology
Biotechnology program of B.C.’s polytechnic institute, including Canada’s first industry-oriented bioinformatics training facility.
Centre for Drug Research and Development
Non-profit that works with academic researchers, health organizations and private companies to help commercialize drug discoveries.
Child & Family Research Institute
Institute that researches children’s and women’s health issues.
Research organization that brings together governments, universities and private sector partners in major research projects.
International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries
Collaborative research and training organization focusing on spinal cord injury, and bringing together more than
300 researchers from academia and non-profits.
Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
B.C. government support agency for health research.
Prostate Centre at Vancouver General Hospital
The centre consolidates research and clinical expertise at Vancouver General Hospital.
Simon Fraser University (SFU)
Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology
Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITCAS)
University-Industry Liaison Office
Vice President Research
University of British Columbia
B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Biomedical Research Centre
Brain Research Centre
Canadian HIV Trials Network
Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics
Faculty for Medicine (Research)
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto/Monika Wisniewska