As Canadians are eagerly rolling up their sleeves to receive one of many Health Canada-approved vaccines, a gap in Canada’s preparedness to respond to future pandemics has become apparent. Past assessments of Canada’s biomanufacturing capabilities revealed that its capacity to produce pharmaceuticals and therapeutics is underdeveloped. Investment in this space could not only arm us against the next global health crisis but could provide a new avenue of economic recovery post-pandemic.
Biomanufacturing refers to a type of manufacturing that uses biology at the core of production. Instead of churning out automotive parts or plastics, these facilities produce high-value biological products, such as building blocks for novel vaccines (e.g. mRNA-based) and therapeutics (e.g. antibody-based). Beyond health applications, biomanufacturing technology can be applied to other industries such as agriculture. Here, these techniques can transform waste materials into valuable bioproducts (products created from biological sources) through a process commonly referred to as bioconversion.
By combining biology, engineering, and computer science concepts, biomanufacturing can create sustainable and efficient production processes. A 2020 McKinsey report
– The Bio Revolution
- proposed that developing these technologies could have a global economic impact of up to $4 trillion per year over the next 20 years. In the post COVID-19 economic recovery, Canada has the ability to develop robust biomanufacturing capacity courtesy of its world-leading research institutions, untapped biomass, and available infrastructure space.
Domestically, the challenges associated with COVID-19 have generated interest across provincial and federal governments to invest in biotechnology. A public consultation was recently launched by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED)
, to explore the country’s current biomanufacturing capacity. The goals of this consultation were to identify national strengths and weaknesses, avenues of improvement, existing resources, and the most appropriate business models and governance structures. Parallel to this, the provincial governments are also exploring opportunities for advancing biomanufacturing regionally.
Aligning with Canada’s need for growth in this area, Genome Alberta extends its support to provincial biomanufacturing. The organization recently partnered with Calgary Economic Development, Edmonton Global, and BioAlberta to respond to ISED’s consultation. This response highlighted Alberta’s expertise, resources, and current infrastructure that could be utilized when developing a national biomanufacturing strategy.