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Pierre Fitzgibbon
Economy and Innovation Minister of Quebec

19 December 2022

What is your vision for Quebec’s life sciences industry, as part of the umbrella vision you have over the economy?

In the next 10 to 15 years, we aim to bring Quebec into the limelight and give it a competitive advantage so it can shine internationally as a hub of innovation in selected fields. As the government, we need to act with intention and have an interventionist approach towards the life sciences field. Thanks to the investment made in public research and the strong foundation of AI and other technologies, we have cutting edge expertise in precision medicine. Moreover, Montreal places sixth in North America in terms of life sciences talent pool, having over 7,000 companies with 37,000 employees. 

In the following four years we are going to concentrate all our efforts into bringing to fruition the life sciences and innovation strategies we have recently put together. The focus is going to be both on credits (grants) and on tech funding. The life sciences strategy boils down to five major pillars: 

  1. getting research funds to address healthcare challenges. 
  2. building our human capital and attracting foreign talent. 
  3. supporting the creation of startups in medical technology and product innovation;
  4. attracting and completing important investment projects.
  5. finding ways to bring commercial ideas to the market.

Bottom line, we want to transform Quebec into a life sciences hub where innovation and technology can work hand in hand and give way to smart solutions for the social matters that need to be addressed. 

The Government of Quebec injected CAD$211 million for the 2022-2026 life sciences plan; what prompted this decision?

In the past, we used to have a lack of capital in Quebec and at that point we realized that it is our responsibility to pump some lifeblood into the market since the private sector was not comfortable enough to engage with  an investment risk. As such, besides the CAD$ 211 million you mentioned, we placed CAD$ 7 billion in general innovation strategies. The plan is to use these funds as grants in the inception phase of the projects when fundamental research usually goes to the pre-commercial stage. When it is time to pass to the commercial phase of the business, we provide incentives and sometimes even royalties. If a project is successful, we can get payback as investors. This incentive provides more money upfront for applied research, as well.

Where does Quebec position itself in the Canadian life sciences space, alongside other hubs such as British Columbia and Ontario?

Quebec represents 30% of the Canadian life sciences and healthcare technology business by revenue and number of companies. The goal is to build self-sufficiency for the medical field in Canada and the market is generous enough to share it between provinces. While both British Columbia and Ontario are valuable pieces of the puzzle, we feel like our advantage is represented by our edge in the development of Artificial Intelligence. We have a strong fundamental research bench that offers valuable data information to pharma companies. If we correlate the national health system database with the immense power of AI, we have the potential to develop some strong, and even revolutionary solutions. 

As minister, do you believe there is any challenge that should be addressed with urgency?

Health Canada and we are aligned in prioritizing innovation and working to find more ways to incentivize it and the Economy Ministry is more aligned than ever. When we first disclosed our 2022-2016 strategy, all eyes were on the potential benefits it could have on the healthcare system.

 

The public health sector in Quebec takes about 45% of our total expenditures so the only way we can continue to sustain it is through massive innovation.

 

All the sub-sectors that can benefit from our intervention will be a central consideration in our strategy and we will go above and beyond to provide the best resolutions. 

While talent is a challenge in life sciences around the world, Canada thrives in this sector. What is the secret sauce that keeps you on top?

Canada is a safe haven, and this is the main reason we attract foreign talent. We offer great university scholarships, workplace inclusion and a general sense of safety. In Montreal, there are two predominant languages: French and English and this diversity opens the door for various international students and research. This healthy cultural environment is highly attractive to many young people from around the world and, ultimately, success brings success.

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