Re-inventing the Biotech Industry’s Reputation: The impact of COVID-19

  • By Siréna Baudin
    • 21 Jul, 2022
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With Covid-19, Canadian biotech companies have suffered from a poor public image due to numerous medical supply issues, such as vaccines. However, in Canada, billions of dollars have been invested to get the sector back on its feet.

The combination of technology and biology (biotechnology) has led to the development of solutions that have helped improve the lives and health of everyone, and has become essential in today’s medical landscape.

The Canadian government’s priority during the pandemic is to provide a rapid and effective solution to the population, while preserving Canada’s competitiveness in the biotechnology and medical fields. As mentioned on the government website, steps have been taken to obtain and provide the best available science. This will be used both in vaccine research and in securing biomanufacturing opportunities to combat the current pandemic and to build resilience to future pandemics.

Canada is considered a dynamic center for biotechnology and medical research, with its renowned universities and large ecosystem of cutting-edge startups. Despite this, it is still an immature sector in need of investment and, above all, of manpower. Indeed, it is difficult to recruit and retain talent specialized in this field.

Canadian biotech companies have historically been small, generating a total of approximately $54 billion in 2018 (among more than 8,000 companies). With the pandemic, we are seeing strong growth and a record amount of venture capital in 2020. Now these companies are getting bigger, more competitive and are looking for a workforce that is struggling to keep up with the growth in demand. This phenomenon is accentuated by the flight of talent to our American neighbor.

While there has been a lot of investment in the sector, the landscape has lacked the government’s investment to support local job growth. The federal government was keen to correct this with its first comprehensive budget in 2 years, including “university research partnerships, hiring grants, more block grants and support for incubators and research centers”. With more than 33% of biotech employers reporting a skills shortage, and 20% of biotech companies having vacancies, a $2.2 billion resource has also been allocated to create a university talent pipeline in the sector. This expenditure will allow for the development of companies in the sector as well as the training and retention of local talent.

Despite the impact of the pandemic on the public image of the biotech sector in Canada, the government has been supportive of biotech companies through a number of funding initiatives and by encouraging the retention of talent.

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