Chapter 2

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Generations of Expertise:

Canadian scientists and scientific discovery have helped lead the way globally in developing biotechnology solutions

Canada has always been a strong leader in biotechnology. From the discovery of insulin in 1922 to the genetic sequencing of the SARS virus, the first test flight of a jet using biofuel and the development of a potential Ebola vaccine, our discoveries and innovations in agriculture, environmental remediation, industrial applications and healthcare have benefited people at home and around the globe.


Connaught Laboratories
Connaught Laboratories was established by the University of Toronto in 1917 to produce diphtheria and tetanus antitoxins for the war effort. The discovery of insulin and the development of large-scale production techniques by Frederick Banting and Charles Best – work for which Banting was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1923 – cemented the lab’s reputation.
In the 1930s it developed a pertussis vaccine, the anticoagulant heparin and produced penicillin on an industrial scale to treat soldiers during WWII.

Our discoveries and innovations in agriculture, environmental remediation, industrial applications and healthcare have benefited people at home and around the globe.

It was the Connaught Labs that perfected techniques to cultivate enough poliovirus to allow clinical trials of the Salk vaccine to proceed in 1954. Vaccines against influenza, measles and smallpox were also developed there. The smallpox vaccine was used to help eradicate the disease worldwide.
The Connaught Laboratories are now owned by the vaccine company Sanofi Pasteur.


Demonstration that DNA Is the Genetic Material
In 1944, Canadian scientists, Oswald Avery and Colin MacLeod, along with their colleague, Maclyn McCarty, conducted the seminal experiment that demonstrated that DNA is the genetic material in cells. Their work helped lay the foundations for molecular biology.


Discovery of Stem Cells
Canadians James Till and Ernest McCulloch are recognized as the fathers of stem cell science for their groundbreaking work in the early 1960s at the Ontario Cancer Institute at Princess Margaret Hospital. The foundations they laid continue to be built with the work of the Canadian Centre for Regenerative Medicine and its industry and academic partners in Toronto.


Development of Canola
Canola was developed in the 1970s by government researchers in collaboration with academics at the University of Manitoba using traditional breeding techniques. Today, most of the country’s canola is genetically modified for herbicide and disease resistance and higher yields. It is the most profitable agricultural commodity in Canada, worth almost $27 billion to the economy and generating 250,000 jobs.
Canada remains a center for canola R&D, leading to recent innovations such as increased oleic acid content, which reduces trans fats in fried food and has changed how many leading fast food companies in North America fry their products.

Sustained research investment is aimed at future innovations to increase yield, make viable winter varieties and further refine oil and protein composition to improve the health benefits of canola as human food.


Discovery of the Cystic Fibrosis Gene
In 1989, researchers led by Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui at the University of Toronto, Hospital for Sick Children discovered the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, called CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). The identification of the first disease-causing gene is considered the most significant contribution in human genetics in the past half-century and is paving the way for new treatment options. Dr. Tsui has since created a database of mutations in the CFTR gene and a genetic map of chromosome 7. He was also instrumental in the formation of Genome Canada.


Genetic Sequencing of the SARS Virus
In 2003, researchers at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver were the first to sequence the genome of the virus that caused the SARS outbreak in China and Canada. Their work paved the way for the development of potential vaccines.
Michael Smith was a Canadian biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 for his work at the University of British Columbia on site-directed mutagenesis, a technique that furthered the investigation of the structure and function of DNA, RNA and proteins.


World’s First Biofuel Jet Flight
Agrisoma developed and markets a biofuel from an oilseed crop that was used in the first biofuel jet flight in 2012. Its Resonance™ brand carinata is an environmentally sound alternative to petroleum fuels and has the added benefit of producing a high-protein animal feed.


Experimental Ebola Vaccine
Following the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg developed an experimental vaccine that shows promise in animal studies to prevent Ebola infection. PHAC licensed the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine to NewLink, which is working with Merck to bring it to clinical trials and market. The vaccine received breakthrough status from the FDA and priority medicine status from the European Medicines Agency in 2016.

Building on this history of innovation and industriousness, Canada can continue to evolve as a global biotechnology leader. Canada can transition traditional industries into this bioeconomy while drawing on its strengths in biomedical research, a world-class regulatory system, a highly skilled and educated workforce and its strong business economy that boasts the lowest business operating costs among G7 countries.

Biotechnology strengthens the Canadian economy with its R&D and clinical activities and through the manufacture and export of its products and services.

The Canadian biotech ecosystem has many competitive advantages, including our proximity to the United States market, expertise leading clinical trials domestically and in the US and the stability of our political system. This is a safe haven for foreign and domestic investment in a turbulent world. There are 81,000 jobs and $1.8 billion in R&D in the Canadian pharmaceutical and medical device sectors alone.

Biotechnology strengthens the Canadian economy with its R&D and clinical activities and through the manufacture and export of its products and services. When this network results in the launch of a successful new product, it leads to high-skilled jobs, economic growth and solutions to healthcare and environmental challenges facing Canadians. The biotech ecosystem also plays a role in bringing innovation to the country’s mainstay industries, thus stabilizing as many as 250,000 jobs by making those industries more competitive.