Health innovators say collaboration is key to attract global investments


By Hiba Kamal-Choufi

Alberta-based health innovators say building partnerships between post-secondary institutions in the province is integral to growing the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and attracting global investments. 

"There's a lot of collaboration that goes on between Edmonton and Calgary in the research areas, so our competition is the world," University of Alberta's Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology founding director Dr. Lorne Tyrrell explained during an online panel discussion hosted by Edmonton Global on March 29.

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Michael Houghton, who is currently the director of the Li Ka Shing Virology Institute, said the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta have teamed up to take on a number of research projects.

"One of them has been with the computational science department. We've come up with the algorithmic models to predict drug cardiotoxicity, also in hepatology," said Dr. Houghton.

He also noted that Alberta's research and talent infrastructure are key to attracting global investments.

“I am convinced that Alberta will succeed in the biotech industry," said Houghton. "I think we are at a perfect time for investors to look us over — (it’s a) great time for personal investors, organizational investors, and also pharmaceutical companies to come here.”

Health innovation experts say building partnerships is key to attract global investments. (Courtesy of Edmonton Global)

Health innovation experts say building partnerships is key to attract global investments. (Courtesy of Edmonton Global)

Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy and innovation, agrees it’s important for Alberta's research entities to work collaboratively to attract investments to the province.

"It is a global competition and it is how we partner together, how we leverage all of the assets in Alberta: the talent that we have and the research that's going on here, to put our best foot forward," he said.

Building partnerships between academia and the biotech industry in Alberta is also important to position Alberta as a hub for innovation.

"If we don't make this type of investment in Alberta, we end up losing many highly skilled people to other parts of Canada or other countries,” said Dr. Tyrrell.

Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) CEO Andrew MacIsaac said Alberta is a place where companies can recruit and grow in the long-term.

“We have seen companies incubated here that have gone on to very large market capitalization in a very short period of time," he said. "There’s a lot of value and investors started to realize that."

Tyrrell cited global companies like Gilead Sciences that choose to stay in Edmonton because of its strong talent infrastructure.

“We just need to repeat that, so that we build an ecosystem or eco-culture with several of these (companies) that will really augment the reputation of the city and the province and make this a great place to do business,” said Dr. Tyrrell.