James Till and Ernest McCulloch identified stem cells 50 years ago in Toronto, and their legacy is a vibrant community of scientists who are leaders in this field of research. But what does that mean in terms of producing products and therapies to heal and cure patients?
While Canada is an acknowledged leader in the field of regenerative medicine (RM) – harnessing the power of stem cells, tissue engineering and biomaterials to repair, regenerate or replace diseased cells, tissues and organs – it is lagging in commercializing these essential discoveries.
In 2009, a MaRS Market Intelligence report pegged the global market for regenerative medicine at USD$3.6 billion and conservative estimates suggest that it will exceed USD$11 billion within the coming decade.
How does Canada get its fair share of that market?
Over the next 10 years, Canada needs to become the preferred destination for the best intellectual property, minds and investors in regenerative medicine. It should have a dynamic and entrepreneurial start-up community and be the “go-to” place for new technologies and technology development in the world.
Canada already has the necessary academic infrastructure in place; what it needs to build is a relationship with industry so that promising discoveries in stem cell and biomaterial science can be commercialized through a capital efficient, public-private collaborative model.
Take, for example, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine’s (CCRM) industry consortium. The 20+ leading Canadian and international companies in CCRM’s industry consortium represent a significant number of global players in an industry that is still emerging. These companies advise on bottlenecks and opportunities (market pull), they provide capital, and they are a motivated receptor pool for new discoveries. They have the opportunity to in-license the research that moves through CCRM’s disclosure process and to co-sponsor development projects. This has the benefit of accelerating commercialization and mitigating risk.
It would be ideal if Canada already had a pool of companies that represented the key sectors in regenerative medicine, but that is not yet the reality. Canadians would have to invest billions over 20 years to create a Canadian version of CCRM’s industry consortium. In the meantime, we need to support Canadian leaders and attract the rest of the world here. By doing so, Canada will create an ecosystem of the “best of the best” to support the launch of strong, fundable Canadian biotechnology companies for the future.
The beauty of increasing Canada’s commercial output is that commercial success also means better treatments and cures for patients around the world.