Chapter 4

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Due to its rich culture of scientific discovery and development, Canada has a networked ecosystem in every province, where small- and medium-sized biotech companies work with universities, research institutes and hospitals, regulatory authorities and multinational corporations to bring their concepts to market.

Traditional sectors of agriculture and health biotech are well represented across the country. Regional expertise in marine, resource management, renewable energy, nutraceuticals and the most rapidly growing industrial applications, such as biomaterials and biofuels, are driving new levels of economic value.



Entrepreneurs need more than a good idea. They need capital investment in their idea, mentoring to make it happen and equipment to test its feasibility.

The old business model of how large companies develop new products has changed. Much of what they used to do solely in-house, they have now outsourced. Pharmaceutical companies and other multinationals know that good technology is being developed in places around the world and they are tapping into it. They scour the world looking for products that they can bring into their existing pipelines via licensing agreements or acquisition. 

Incubators enable Canadian companies to attract the attention of product and IP scouts and drive expertise into a development cycle that is outside of academic institutions.

In Canada – and in many G20 countries – this is where biotech incubators play a key role. The biotechnology ecosystem is not linear. It is a dynamic entity with networked components, each of which is connected at multiple points. Incubators function as hubs for life science entrepreneurs, industry and academics to share ideas and for their work in product development to synergize.

Incubators enable Canadian companies to attract the attention of product and IP scouts and drive expertise into a development cycle that is outside of academic institutions, beyond the head office of a multinational. They are necessary for a competitive validated ecosystem of biotechnology innovation.

The equipment to translate research into an application is expensive, as is the specialized team that makes it happen. Incubators speed up this process for entrepreneurs and start-ups with good ideas.

And like any healthy ecosystem, these environments allow for cooperation as well as healthy competition.


JLABS Toronto
JLABS Toronto is the first Johnson & Johnson Innovation incubator to open outside the United States. This life sciences facility acts as an incubator for 40 early stage companies developing pharmaceutical products, medical devices and digital health platforms.

It is embedded in a part of Toronto that is already bursting with medical research and academic and commercial potential. It is a collaboration of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the University of Toronto, MaRS Discovery District, Janssen Inc., MaRS Innovation and the Government of Ontario.

The 3,700 square metre facility contains lab space, equipment and opportunities to tap into the expertise of fellow scientists, industry experts and capital funding advice. JLABS holds networking and education events and provides mentorship with investors. Companies involved at JLABS Toronto have no obligation to offer an equity stake, rights to the IP or even right of first refusal to J&J, though deals with the pharmaceutical manufacturer are possible. 

Partners at JLABS Toronto include: Appili Therapeutics, which aims to develop treatments for infectious diseases; AVROBIO has clinical stage gene therapies for patients with AML and Fabry disease; ExCellThera focuses on the development of technology to grow blood stem cells for therapeutic use; Immune Biosolutions, which creates polyclonal and recombinant chicken antibodies as research and diagnostic tools; KalGene Pharmaceuticals aims to develop therapies for Alzheimer’s and cancer; and Nanovista, which provides visualization agents that improve the performance of image-guided cancer therapy.

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The road from discovery, through development and on to commercialization takes capital investments, expensive equipment and expert mentoring. Biotech accelerators help innovators meet these challenges of translating promising research and discoveries from concept to the commercialization of effective products and therapies. They compress the time and costs of R&D and accelerate the business of bringing breakthroughs from the bench to the market.


MaRS Innovation
MaRS Innovation is a non-profit that helps innovators translate their most promising research to market. It specializes in early stage investing for emerging biotech companies. It acts on behalf of 15 of Toronto’s top universities, hospitals and research institutes, facilitating commercialization of research via industry partnerships, licensing or start-up companies. It negotiates agreements with industry and private investors.


Accel-Rx Health Sciences Accelerator
A national drug development and medical device accelerator that partners with BDC Capital to provide up to $1 million in funding for early-stage companies looking to bridge gaps in capital needed to further develop promising products and technologies. It helps build relationships between biotech innovators and experts in drug development, clinical trials, regulatory affairs, finance and venture funding.


Bioindustrial Innovation Canada
Based in Sarnia, Ontario, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada is a nationally focused not-for-profit accelerator for the commercialization of clean, green and sustainable technologies. It plays a key role in translating the strengths of Ontario and Canada in agriculture, forestry, chemical and automotive production into new, sustainable bioproducts and renewable energy.


The Centre for Drug Research and Development
The CDRD, headquarteredin Vancouver, is a national drug development and commercialization accelerator. It provides the expertise and infrastructure to transform the basic health research in universities into commercialized products improving human health. Its support advances the promising early stage drug candidates of Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises. It has been a recognized Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research since 2008. The CDRD works with more than 10,000 scientists at over 30 Canadian universities, as well as pharmaceutical giants, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson to develop funding partnerships to advance and bring to market breakthrough discoveries.


NEOMED Institute
NEOMED bridges the gap between innovation and application, in particular between academic research and the needs of the pharmaceutical industry for new drug candidates. It supports collaboration, innovation and creativity at two facilities in Quebec, one for small molecules and the other for biologics.

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