Canada: science powering commerce


Despite declining investments by big pharma in recent years, Canada has created a number of innovative ways to incentivize R&D throughout its vast geography. “Science powers commerce,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked in 2010. In those three words, the prime minister summarizes a massive effort by various stakeholders to create a “brain gain” in Canada to strengthen its positioning in the world of research and technology.

Chances are that Canada is not the first country that comes to mind when thinking of important pharmaceutical markets: dwarfed by its US neighbor, Canada, which has a population of 35 million, would seem to have a tiny market (USD 326.9 billion in the US versus USD 21.9 billion in Canada). Yet, according to IMS Health, the country has the seventh largest pharmaceutical market in the world.

As well as having one of the largest pharmaceutical sales market, Canada also has a thriving research community, a fact that is not widely known. “Canada has not been aggressive enough to sell itself,” said Reími Quirion, Chief Scientist of Quebec. “The world is small enough that if Canada does not promote itself, others will leave the country behind in the dust.’

Waiting for people to call us will not work.” Perhaps Quirion’s remarks are reflective of Canadians’ tradition of politeness and modesty; however, the country is taking steps to make a name for itself in the research segment as well. “Canada has gone from an era of ‘brain drain’ in the early and mid-1990s to an era of ‘brain gain’, with some of the most brilliant researchers from around the world now being attracted to this country because of its commitment to research,” says Gilles Patry, CEO of Canada Foundation for Innovation.

“The world is small enough that if Canada does not promote itself, others will leave the country behind in the dust.’

“With 0.5 percent of the world population Canada produces 4.1 percent of the peer review journals around the world and five percent of the most highly cited papers. As we say, Canada is really punching above its weight.” Now the challenge is spreading the word.

Last year, Forbes Magazine rated Canada the number one country in the G20 for doing business, and according to the World Bank, Canada leads all G7 countries in average economic growth between 2002 and 2011. According to American magazine Entrepreneur, Toronto and Vancouver are currently ranked as the eighth and ninth best ecosystems for startups worldwide.

Since 2006, the federal government has invested over CAD 9 billion (USD 8.71 billion) into science, a rare feat compared to many other countries since the economic recession. As former Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear states, this investment has been “a significant turnaround fostered by an attitude that was completely contrary to what many other countries were doing to battle their debts and the economic downturn.”

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