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Didier Leconte
VP Investments - Life Sciences & Technology
Investissement Québec

06 January 2023

What is Investissement Québec's mission and role played in the development of its life sciences ecosystem?

We are an economic development organization that supports companies all around Québec by offering assistance, insights and expertise in various fields such as exports, productivity, innovation, and supply chain, to name a few. We also offer multiple financing programs, as well as debt and equity financing. From seed and business creation all the way through growth, expansion, and globalization, we cover the complete chain.

The Québec’s biotechnology "big bang" happened with the company BioChem Pharma in the early ‘90s. In addition to its own success, it spurred an ecosystem of specialized funds, entrepreneurs and professionals, some of whom are still active in the landscape. Not surprisingly, further to the technology bubble burst, the industry suffered years of more difficult times, but its resilience, and the presence of institutional investors, a strategy to foster VC investments starting in the early 2000, and a sector driven strategy paid off in the early 2010s and beyond. During all these years, Investissement Québec participated in various ways including investing in specialized funds and more recently in 2021 by adding a direct investment team dedicated to the sector.

Can you tell us about your background and what made Québec and the life sciences business so appealing to you?

I was born in France and moved to Québec in the mid-1990s while working in the natural gas business. Engineer by training, I worked in the commercialization of innovation, and in the late 2000s I started working with medical devices & bio-technology discoveries. The thought that my work has a meaningful impact got me hooked and then I turned to investments in this sector. I joined Investissement Québec a year and a half ago to help establish the direct investment team as the latest piece of support for the life sciences business.

How does Québec's life sciences ecosystem currently compare to where it needs to be, given competition from other regions?

 

Three pillars are required to support a thriving life sciences industry: talent, infrastructure for research and services, and capital.

 

Quebec used to host big pharma R&D centers and over time, these businesses built up a vast infrastructure of service providers. The knowledge and expertise that CROs (Contract Research Organisations) and CDMOs (Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations) have gathered translates into drug development experience, which is a major asset. Talent is also available within our numerous academic institutions and medical research centers. A testimony of these elements is the recent announcement from Moderna to establish its Canadian biomanufacturing plant in Québec. This is the result of long discussions with multiple stakeholders in which Investissement Québec has been key.

Regarding capital, there is never enough funding for the life sciences, however Québec was proactive in setting up funds in the early 2000s, and it is the only Canadian province with major institutional investors in the sector.

What do you expect the impact of direct investments in fostering growth to be?

The government is investing CAD$ 7.5 billion in a research and innovation strategy covering all sectors. Québec has more specific plans to support life sciences  including a matching financing program BioMed Propulsion or the Eureka investment fund, which IQ manages on behalf of the government in partnership with the private sector, that puts forward CAD$ 100 million for pre-seed investments funds. Companies have the chance to receive support at every stage of their development, and as they rise up the corporate food chain, they gain access to more private funds.

Investissement Québec makes direct investments to help companies grow and unlike private funds, we are not looking for a short-term return of investment, therefore we can continuously provide reinvestment and expansion solutions. Attracting companies and investments from the private sector in Québec or abroad is also key. For instance, we believe that the decision of Moderna will have a great impact in the Québec ecosystem, fostering collaborations on multiple fronts. Our goal is to support Québec’s ambitions to put itself at the forefront of the Life Sciences industry in the world.

How does Canada walk the line between encouraging innovation and ensuring medicine accessibility to those who need it?

Canada is made up of multiple provinces that have their own way of looking at market prices & innovation. Québec boasts some of the best access to medication in North America. Under the Act respecting prescription drug insurance (RLRQ, chapter A-29.01), every person living in Québec must be covered by a public or private drug insurance plan.

Québec wants to foster the integration of innovation and accelerate access to innovative medical therapies, and has put aspect in its latest Life Sciences strategy released in 2022. 

Québec can count on the Health and Social Services Innovation Office. The mission of the Health and Social Services Innovation Office is to establish a vision and provide guidance for innovation strategies and activities. It coordinates efforts to accelerate the adoption of innovations in the health and social services network and acts as a special liaison with many stakeholders. The Québec government is committed to maintaining and increasing the capacity of the Innovation Office.

Are there any particular jurisdictions that you are supporting Québec companies to conduct business with and expand into?

This is a global market, but we cannot ignore the most active jurisdictions i.e. North-America, Europe and Asia. Investissement Québec has a global presence, we are in many countries so we can help companies to connect, export, and find capital as well. In the U.S. we are collaborating with major hubs in the sector like Kendall Square, bringing companies there, helping them connect. In Europe we have connections everywhere, for instance collaborations in France and Belgium, and we are connecting companies for conducting clinical trials in Québec, for example. We are also building bridges and growing our relationship with Asia, working with companies in Japan, South Korea and others. In fact, we adapt our services to help companies on a case-by-case basis and provide the resources that each of them needs while promoting abroad what Québec has to offer.

The life sciences branch of Investissement Québec is still relatively young – what is your ambition for the organization in the near-term future? 

We want to help build world-class companies. We strongly believe Québec has all the ingredients to develop leaders in drug development. Within a year Investissement Québec has built a team and defined a strategy of investment. Our plan is now to invest over CAD$ 200 million in three years in equity. If we bet on good entrepreneurs, stellar science and add local and foreign co-investors, we can help maintain and grow the ecosystem nurturing a virtuous circle. And we will do that in collaboration. This is a market where you will never win alone, so collaboration is key.

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