Biotech sector seeks more funds, better IP protection: studies

Canada’s biotech sector is looking for more government support in funding and policy changes, two recent reports indicate. There is also an underlying threat some biotech companies could leave Canada if their demands are not met.

Biotech companies have been complaining for a while that they are having a hard time remaining competitive in Canada, but the latest reports show things are getting tougher when it comes to raising capital and making a profit from research through extended exclusive patents.

A PwC and BIOTECanada survey shows the industry is counting on more government support at a time when funding is harder to find. “While the turnaround in the Canadian economy has helped the longer-term confidence level of survey participants, raising capital is still the number one issue — and it’s becoming more crucial,” says Gord Jans, PwC Canada’s national life sciences leader.

Eighty per cent of respondents say unfavourable industry and market conditions are the top challenge to successfully raising capital.

Peter Brenders, president of BIOTECanada, says the industry expects more incentives from government. “Of the 30 per cent of respondents who are considering relocating some or all of their businesses, 38 per cent said they will consider relocating for better incentives from foreign governments,” says Brenders.

Meanwhile, in another report, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s body in charge of intellectual property says Canada must improve and strengthen its intellectual property regime in the biotech sector to close the gap with other leading industrialized countries if it wants to keep and attract research and investment in the pharmaceutical sector. The report recommends giving lengthier exclusive patents for new drugs as an incentive for investment in the field. Biotech companies have complained the time window allowed before new drugs can be copied by generic companies is too small.

“Global investment in the pharmaceutical industry is very portable and competitive. . . . Failure to improve and strengthen [intellectual property rights] safeguards will see opportunities and jobs go elsewhere.”

The industry is no united though, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce report has led to a tough response by the generic manufacturers. “It is unfortunate that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has chosen to advocate on behalf of brand-name drug companies for longer periods of market exclusivity in Canada,” says Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Beyond these two latest reports, look for more in-depth coverage on the biotech sector in the February issue of InHouse magazine, online next week.

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