Canada needs to unlock the full potential of its innovations and accelerate the pace of commercialization to ensure a sustainable globally competitive health ecosystem with a robust innovation economy and improved health outcomes.

Karimah Es Sabar, CEO and Partner, Quark Venture

The health and biosciences sector today

The health and biosciences sector encompasses a wide range of companies, from the developers and manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biomedical innovations, to producers of digital health solutions and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, 3D printing, robotics and nanotechnologies.

At A Glance

Health and biosciences is a significant contributor to Canada's economy

  • Health and biosciences industry contributed $7.8 billion (0.45%) to Canada's annual GDP in 2016 as part of the broader health care ecosystemFootnote1 that represented 11% of Canada's annual GDP.Footnote2

Health and Biosciences markets are poised for growth

  • Digital health = $233 billion by 2020Footnote3
  • Brand and generic drugs = $1.5 trillion by 2021Footnote4
  • Precision medicine = $88 billion by 2023Footnote5
  • Other areas for potential growth include artificial intelligence, smart medical devices, robotics and big data solutions.

Canada has many strengths

  • Home to schools with top medical, and biomedical and software and computer engineering studies.
  • Has emerging innovation clusters of universities, entrepreneurs, researchers and capital in regenerative medicine, oncology, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, neurodegeneration, genomics and personalized medicine.
  • Is recognized worldwide for high-quality life sciences and health care solutions and public health care system.
  • Has attracted major AI investments and partnerships with leading firms like IBM, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Intel.

Canada ranks highly globally in key areas

  • #3 for quality and influence of stem cell and regenerative medicine researchFootnote6
  • #4 for highly cited metabolic disorder publicationsFootnote7
  • #6 for highly cited oncology publicationsFootnote8
  • #6 for clinical trial quality, expertise and ability to conduct complex studiesFootnote9

Canada faces cost pressures

  • The country's health care expenditures—per capita and as a percentage of GDPFootnote10—are on the rise but that spending isn't improving key performance indicators as Canada ranks 9th out of 11 countries on indicators of quality, efficiency and performance in health care.Footnote11

Priority themes

To enable Canada to be a global leader and hub of activity with improved performance in health care, Canada's Health and Biosciences Table has identified the following priority themes:

  1. Increasing access to capital and growing Canadian firms
    Canada's health and biosciences innovation ecosystem tends to succeed at producing start-up companies, but those companies often lack access to the capital they need to grow. As a result, many tend to be acquired by foreign entities instead of maturing on their own in Canada. To address this, Canada needs to diversify its pool of seed and early-stage venture capital firms and increase the availability of later-stage private equity funds. As a first step, Table members have committed to exploring the gaps in access to capital by firms.
  2. Enabling innovative Procurement, technology adoption and commercialization
    Canadians' health and the Canadian economy both stand to benefit from homegrown health and bioscience innovations getting out of the lab and into the marketplace. To realize these benefits, as a first step, Canada needs to strongly support the commercialization and accelerate the adoption of promising new technologies. However, a complex regulatory environment and a set of fragmented procurement processes in Canada's health care systems pose unique challenges and adoption at scale across Canada. The Table has committed to exploring international, national and provincial perspectives and best practices in areas including intellectual property, regulations and innovative procurement to enable the adoption and commercialization of technologies in Canada's health care system.
  3. Strengthening the health system with technology
    Digital and other technologies can help make the health system more efficient, effective and sustainable — while contributing to economic growth. Digital health systems could catalyze a $408 million boost in economic productivity,Footnote12 while better use of data and analytics could save the health system $10 billion a year through better clinical decisions, personalized care and new research.Footnote13 To strengthen the health system, Canada needs to progress in adopting digital health technologies, in which it lags behind other comparable countries. Table members are exploring lessons learned, including best practices, for implementing information systems of complete patient and citizen health care information.
  4. Ensuring the right skills and talent are available
    Skilled labour is essential to the growth of the sector — yet skills shortages are expected to be one of the biggest challenges faced over the next three to five years. This extends to the executive level, as leaders are often lured away from Canada to other markets. Overall, job openings for life science professionals are projected to exceed the labour supply from 2015‑2024.Footnote14 Meeting demand will require greater employment of traditionally underrepresented groups including women, who held just under a quarter of professional scientific occupations in 2015. The Table has set out to examine, through the use of available data, current and future skills needs, educational training needs, and attracting, growing and retaining homegrown and international talent, with a deep understanding of achieving diversity and gender parity.

Members of the Health and Biosciences Economic Strategy Table