Metro Vancouver, a hub of scientific innovation and research, continues making waves in the global life sciences industry.
In fact, BC is Canada’s fastest-growing life sciences sector, employing roughly 20,000 people at over 2,000 companies.
With advancements in vaccine technology, cancer treatment, gene editing, and antibody discovery, the region has positioned itself at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development.
Add in serious capital—$1.3 billion raised in 2021—BC’s life sciences sector has never been more robust.
However, despite many accomplishments, the life sciences industry in Metro Vancouver faces challenges that could hinder its growth, including high operational costs, limited access to wet lab space, and talent acquisition difficulties.
This is all according to a comprehensive report titled “Life Sciences in Metro Vancouver: Shaping a Globally Prominent R&D Hub.”
The report, from Invest Vancouver, highlights the region’s achievements and identifies key recommendations to further boost its growth in the life sciences industry. Based on extensive interviews with regional firms and an analysis of 20 years of economic data, the report aims to raise awareness of the industry’s successes and solidify its reputation as a research and development powerhouse.
“It’s time for Metro Vancouver to claim its reputation as Canada’s life sciences research and development hub,” said Jacquie Griffiths, President of Invest Vancouver.
Skilled Talent Shortage
One of the key challenges faced by the life sciences industry in Metro Vancouver is the shortage of skilled talent.
As the industry expands and becomes more specialized, there is a growing need for a larger pool of highly trained workers. The overall growth of the industry and the scaling up of firms necessitate additional skillsets.
To address the talent shortage, Invest Vancouver stated it will actively promote talent attraction strategies.
This includes showcasing the specific strengths of the industry in the region to potential investors. A regional “pitch deck” and investor-oriented materials will be prepared and used at industry events and in day-to-day efforts.
The goal of this initiative is to influence location decisions of potential investors and encourage them to invest in the region’s life sciences industry, the organization said.
Additionally, local training programs and recruitment efforts from outside the region will be implemented to add more people to the talent pool.
Relative Cost of Doing Business
The relative cost of doing business in a globally competitive industry like life sciences is a concern, particularly for early-stage, pre-revenue firms.
Access to financial capital can be challenging, and cost containment is crucial for startups facing uncertainties in the economy, the report posits.
To help firms control costs and maintain cost-competitiveness, Invest Vancouver will work with stakeholders to identify opportunities for cost containment through economies of scale.
It is noted that the government can also play a role by providing support, including replicating successful models from other cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax.
“Coordination across government, our industry associations, and investment attraction agencies can help us overcome barriers to unlocking further growth in an industry that is increasingly paying a prominent role in our regional economy,” believes Kenneth Galbraith, CEO of Zymeworks.
Lower returns may be acceptable to the government, which can benefit from long-term gains in terms of employment and tax revenue generation.
By reinforcing investment attraction efforts and fostering conditions that help firms succeed, the entire life sciences industry in Metro Vancouver can potentially thrive, according to the report.
Where’s My Wet Lab Space, Dude?
Another major hurdle faced by the life sciences industry in Metro Vancouver is the acute shortage of wet lab space—which refers to specialized laboratory spaces where chemicals, drugs, or other material or biological matter is tested.
This is particularly crucial for young firms emerging from the region’s universities and accelerators, the report states.
Indeed, a lack of wet lab space currently acts as a bottleneck constraining the potential growth of the industry.
To tackle the shortage of wet lab space, the government and other stakeholders need to invest in the development of public sector-supported wet lab spaces, Invest Vancouver says, as private developers may not prioritize wet lab spaces due to higher profits from alternative projects.
By providing more wet lab spaces, particularly for the earliest stage firms, Metro Vancouver’s life sciences industry can overcome a significant bottleneck to its growth.
“Building supported or partially funded wet lab spaces would maintain the industry’s position as a research and development hub and spur growth,” says Griffiths.
Trajectory in Peril?
The life sciences industry in Metro Vancouver has a promising future trajectory, supported by a robust life sciences ecosystem and a pool of specialized talent.
However, to continue its growth trajectory, the industry needs to address challenges such as a talent shortage, the relative cost of doing business, and a shortage of wet lab space.
Active talent attraction efforts, cost containment strategies, and investments in public sector-supported wet lab space may be key solutions to these challenges, according to research from Invest Vancouver.
By fostering a conducive environment for the life sciences industry to thrive, Metro Vancouver can cement its position as a global hub for life sciences innovation and contribute to economic growth and prosperity in the region.
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