Challenges for future growth of Mississauga’s biotech sector

(AP Photo/Sang Tan, file)

Lack of government support, company consolidation and gridlock are major challenges preventing large growth of Mississauga’s biotechnology and biomedical sector, said former pharma exec Allan O’Dette.

“I think that government fundamentally underestimates the importance of the sector to Ontario,” said the president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “That they view it more as a cost driver instead of a productivity driver.”

O’Dette said real growth in the sector isn’t likely unless the government seriously gets behind and collaborates with companies to help attract global investment. “I think 110 per cent we can compete,” he said. “But global companies are consolidating and trying to find cost-effectiveness in their research, development and commercial enterprises.”

“Frankly, firms are going where they can achieve greater levels of effectiveness, efficiency and productivity,” he said.

O’Dette said Canada is a relatively small nation competing with other emerging economies around the world for capital. “Is it coming to Canada right now?” he said. “Probably not.”

However, the former executive for GlaxoSmithKline Canada emphasized the importance of global multinationals and their ability to invest capital in small emerging companies in the province. “They can train, develop and employ people in R&D, working in regulatory, the people who know how to commercialize products on a commercial and global scale,” he said.

O’Dette said growth in the sector increases the city’s position in research development discovery, but also drives productivity due to the province’s high percentage of spending on healthcare.

“Demand curvature on that is not going to change with the aging population and just the size and scope of baby boomers,” he said. “We really ought to be looking to innovative sectors like biotech and biomedical and device sector to be bringing innovation to healthcare to drive productivity.”

O’Dette recommended workforce training, identifying skills in newcomers and apprenticeship reform. “Some of the best jobs in the world are found in the biotech, biomedical sectors,” he said, calling the number of people working in the sector “pretty substantial.”

O’Dette also said the presence of large companies was important in helping employ and train people that would eventually help smaller firms develop.

O’Dette said Mississauga continues to appeal to businesses because of the high availability of human capital and large pool of talented people. “The Master’s in biotech program at UTM is amazing,” he said. “It’s a great feeder for the biotech, biopharma, innovation sector.”

He said transportation difficulties would make it hard to attract talent from outside Mississauga. “Frankly the gridlock around the GTA is a global embarrassment,” said O’Dette. “There’s nothing good to say about that. You can’t have someone who lives in Scarborough work in Mississauga. You can’t do it.”

However, he also cited the city’s quality of life and proximity to United States as appealing attributes to the area.

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