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From Site Selection magazine, September 2023
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‘Sign of the Future’: Leaders Explain Why Their Life Sciences Firms Are Growing In Greater Montréal

Biotech Locations
Mila — the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute founded by AI and deep learning pioneer Yoshua Bengio in Montréal — is attracting talent and producing solutions with immediate applicability in bioscience.
Photo by Maryse Boyce courtesy of  Mila

by ADAM BRUNS
I

n May 2023 at the Effervescence conference convened by regional life sciences coalition Montréal InVivo, I conducted a series of interviews over several days with executives from across the life sciences spectrum, including Canadian Minister of Health the Honorable Jean-Yves Duclos, who previously served as director of the Department of Economics and a tenured professor at the Université Laval.

My first question: How does Canada’s health care system itself serve as an economic development attractant for global companies, whether or not they are life sciences companies?“First, it’s less costly and more efficient than what we see south of the border,” he said. “Americans on average would pay almost twice as much for health services as the average Canadian would pay … Businesses know that.”

Indeed, OECD figures issued in July 2023 show the average per capita health care cost in Canada is $6,319 compared to $12,555 in the United States.

Bioscience companies are flocking to Canada for a lot more reasons than its health care and equally affordable child care. They’re coming for innovation, and R&D is where it starts, including significant support from the federal government.

“In the life sciences we have been making significant progress over the last year and will be making even more in the next year,” Duclos said, thanks to a biomanufacturing strategy supported by C$2.2 billion in funding. ‘We have a strong academic community in Canada with great public universities that compare really well to many others outside of Canada, and they are accessible and affordable. The average middle-class Canadian knows they can send children to those universities.”

Among the booming life sciences locations in Canada is the Laval region where Duclos was an academic leader. Today it’s home to a plethora of growing companies, including Biodextris and a new Moderna manufacturing facility.

“We are seeing a sign of the future,” Duclos said. “Health care is one of the major challenges of humanity for the next generation of researchers and workers. What we’re seeing in Laval and other places in Canada is a sign we are moving forward. It’s good for Canadians and for other people on the planet.”

Here are a few insights direct from conversations with life sciences leaders making the world and the economy of this corner of Québec healthier by the day:

“There is a new generation of Montréal-based companies likely to put us on a next level as a real biopole, a real cluster … There is evidence on the ground that companies are popping up in the biotech sphere here because of the AI depth. Young men and women coming out of Mila [Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute) don’t have to go to Boston or San Francisco or Toronto. There are great new companies starting here that are biotech oriented but AI- and machine learning-driven.” — Lloyd M. Segal, President and CEO, Repare Therapeutics, which employs around 100 at its site in adMare BioInnovations’ Montreal Innovation Centre at Technoparc Montréal

*****

“Moderna sets the tone and finally confirms the strategy of the government of Quebec to have a life sciences strategy, which we have had since 2017. There was this desire to bring back biomanufacturing. Then of course the pandemic hit us. Then it was even more important to bring those activities back to Montréal … There was a big competition between us and Ontario. The talent piece really made a difference. There are 40,000 students in life sciences programs. So that was what we understood to be very compelling. What I see is the result of tag teams among the agencies and partners all connected to the life sciences strategy. We have a focus and it paid off. Now we will have this amazing facility that will manufacture vaccines. It will bring other investments to the same space.” — Stéphanie Doyle, Senior Director, Europe & Life Sciences & Health Technologies, Montréal International, on Moderna’s August 2022 decision to construct a C$180 million mRNA vaccine plant on property at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Biotech City in Laval

*****

“In the States it’s difficult to go see your neighbor … it’s always a competition. Here I can go across the street and see Corealis and say, ‘I need a tubing. Can you help me?’ ”
— Alain Carrier, General Manager of GSK R&D spinoff Biodextris, which is expanding to a new C$25 million CDMO operation in Biotech City in Laval

*****

“When I left nine years ago, we were about 400 employees in Canada and now we’re just under 2,000. We have headquarters in Switzerland and San Francisco [Genentech]. Montréal is perfectly in the middle of those time zones and has strong talent and areas of expertise, especially in how science and technology are merging, which is really important to the future of health care around the world. We’ve also found in a public health care system with research universities we have this research ecosystem that has emerged over the years: Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary, or we can go to PEI and meet CASTL [Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences]. We announced 500 jobs in 2020 in pharma technical roles supporting manufacturing around the world. We are halfway through that recruitment process and a good 95% of those hires are Canadian talent. The message is we have high talent and you don’t have to leave Canada to work in a global job anymore.

“Clinical trials are emerging across the country. A diverse population is important in terms of clinical trials. We have the ability to come into Canada, run research and connect it to all the bodies and clusters in Montréal and Toronto now competing with all the Bostons. We’ve become an important destination. — Roche Canada Pharma executive Brigitte Nolet, who spent nine of her 16 years at Roche in Switzerland and Belgium before returning to her home country last year to serve as president and CEO

*****

“The owners are in New York, our customers are global — they wouldn’t really care if we were not in Montréal. It’s just that we think we do the best kinds of services out of here. There is an emotional attachment, but it makes good business sense to continue to operate here economically, scientifically and quality-wise. We are 1,000 worldwide and 350 here. We’ll probably be topping 500 or 600 within four to five years in Montréal … It will take a village to make this project a success. But if it does, these 400,000 square feet will give back a huge amount of innovation and economic development in the life sciences.” — Martin LeBlanc, , Co–founder and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of CellCarta, at the May 2023 unveiling of Inspire Bio Innovations Montreal, a new life sciences and precision medicine hub in downtown Montreal that will be home to CellCarta’s head office

*****

“In Cambridge [Massachusetts], one problem I’m hearing about is public transportation or even commuting. It takes more than an hour to get to work. In Laval, it’s not an issue. Three is almost no traffic. Housing is also less expensive. Sometimes we are able to attract Americans to work and live in Québec … We have three phases of expansion coming up. Now we are about 50 employees. In two years we should double that, which means about triple our capacity … Our employees stay forever with us. We are very happy about that.” — Yves Roy, President, Corealis Pharma, on the company’s expansion in Biotech City in Laval

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

   

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