P.E.I. bioscience sector coming of age

Submitted by P.E.I. BioAlliance

Published on May 3, 2014

Russ Kerr, chairman of the P.E.I. BioAlliance

©Submitted photo

While still maybe not as much of a household name as Don Cherry, most Islanders would now acknowledge that P.E.I.’s bioscience sector is an important component of a growing and diversifying economy.

Over the past decade the P.E.I. cluster has tripled in size, employing almost 1,200 people and generating more than $124 million in annual export sales.

With a growing group of 38 companies, expanded research organizations, aligned government partners, and growing international networks, the chairman of the P.E.I. BioAlliance says that he expects to see an acceleration of the growth in revenues and job opportunities in the years ahead.

“We have really established a solid foundation of technical capacity and successful companies here in P.E.I.,” said Russ Kerr. “The private-public partnership that we have in place has been an essential part of our success to date.”

P.E.I. companies range from contract manufacturers for pharmaceutical products, to businesses developing natural and organic products for natural health products and functional foods, personal health care and cosmetics, to whose working on neurological diseases, and therapeutic and diagnostic technologies for human, animal, and fish health.

The P.E.I. cluster includes local startups like Island Abbey Foods, Somru BioScience, and Murphy Laboratories, as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded bioscience companies, including BioVectra, Novartis Animal Health, and Sekisui.

An ambitious multi-year strategy for the growth of the cluster is currently being pursued that could provide 1,500 jobs and generate more than $200 million in annual revenues by the end of 2015.

The initial decision to focus on the research, development, and commercialization of bioactives-based human and animal health and nutrition products has produced tangible results. This strategy, developed and coordinated by the P.E.I. BioAlliance, has prioritized the cluster’s choices as they relate to research platform development, company attraction, human resource development, infrastructure priorities, and support services.

Hosting International bioscience-based conferences in P.E.I. has helped attract the attention of global companies, researchers and investors. In 2013, PEI BioAlliance and partners hosted two major international conferences, both focused on areas of expertise and growth within P.E.I.’s bioscience industry. They were VetHealth Global 2013, the International Animal Health and Nutrition Business Conference, and the Biotechnology and Human Health Symposiuml, which attracted the world’s leading researchers and businesses working on treatment of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

The P.E.I. BioAlliance will host the Biotechnology & Human Health Symposium in Charlottetown again this July.

P.E.I. BioAlliance executive director Rory Francis says people are one of the keys to driving the P.E.I. bioscience cluster forward.

“One of the challenges within a rapidly growing industry, such as our bioscience sector, is to keep up with the increase in demand of qualified human resources — in the management, technical, process engineering, and scientific knowledge areas,” says Francis.

“Programs, such as Holland College’s two-year bioscience technology program, UPEI’s MBA biotechnology management stream and a proposed new engineering graduate program at UPEI are all steps in the right direction, as are successful recruitment and immigration initiatives when the required skills are not available locally.”

Francis says that the BioAlliance partners have created a great science and business environment for companies wanting to develop products and commercialize. Now the cluster wants to quickly build on the momentum and reputation that has already been established.

“It’s a global competition for market share, capital, and bright minds,” says Francis, “but Prince Edward Island is on that global map, and we intend to keep it there.”