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A healthier economy: BC’s opportunity to grow a domestic COVID-19 vaccine supply – The Globe and Mail

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An AbCellera scientist pipettes reagents for a protein biochemistry assay.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Vancouver’s adMare BioInnovations specializes in turning Canada’s world-leading research in life sciences – the technology that is driving the medical response to the pandemic – into commercial opportunities.

But in British Columbia, lab space is hard to find, recruitment is challenging, and government support is underwhelming. So the company, with its headquarters at the University of B.C., is expanding in Quebec, whose provincial government has aggressively courted such investments.

On April 20th, B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson will introduce a budget that could change that.

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Her government’s fiscal plan will help shape the economy that emerges from the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to help expand the province’s biotech and health sciences sector.

Or the province can continue to allow those resources to fuel innovation in other provinces and other countries.

“The world has turned its eyes to the potential of the life sciences industry,” said Gordon McCauley, president and chief executive officer of adMare. “Canada has a very, very strong research enterprise. It consistently punches above its weight. Now we need to make sure that we see that research enterprise and the industry continue to grow here, because we’ve just got so much potential.”

The Quebec government helped his company acquire a facility in Montreal, and it provided substantial operational funding. With the latest expansion of those labs, the Montreal facility is now three times the size of adMare’s Vancouver operation. “They made a very conscious decision that they wanted to see that ecosystem grow in Quebec, and they made it possible,” Mr. McCauley said. “That’s absolutely something we should be thinking about in British Columbia.”

On Wednesday, the global pharmaceutical giant Sanofi unveiled its plans to build an influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto, after the federal government and the province of Ontario committed to invest close to half a billion dollars in the project. The nearly 50-50 split of public and private investment will ensure that Canada has an operational domestic vaccine manufacturing plant by 2026 that can make enough vaccine for the entire population within about six months of the World Health Organization identifying a pandemic flu strain.

Sanofi owns what used to be Canada’s Connaught Laboratories, which was once the second-largest vaccine supplier and producer in the world. Karimah Es Sabar, who worked at Connaught before it was sold, has been watching Canada yield its position as an international leader in pharmaceutical and health sciences over the decades.

“We have great academic institutions and research institutions – that’s the watering hole where you get the science. And we have good entrepreneurs who spin out companies and build young companies and do startups,” she said. The next stage is where Canada falters – creating the business environment where those companies can grow.

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“Canada, in the last three decades, has really been a pipeline of innovation and creativity for other jurisdictions to pick up, and then build, and have the economic benefits.”

Ms. Es Sabar is the chair of the federal health and biosciences economic strategy table, as well as the chief executive officer of Quark Venture, a Vancouver-based investment firm that provides equity financing of biotechnology and health sciences companies.

While Quebec, and, to a lesser extent, Ontario are working to rebuild Canada’s life sciences sector, her home province of British Columbia is taking a laissez-faire approach. Why isn’t the same amount of investment going into B.C.? “Because of COVID, the federal government has recognized the importance of this, but the provincial government needs to play as well,” she said. B.C. hasn’t offered up the kind of matching funds that would encourage those private-public partnerships.

When Precision NanoSystems announced in February its plans to a establish a bio-manufacturing facility in Vancouver capable of producing 240 million RNA vaccine doses annually, it was with $25-million in federal seed money. The province was absent from the podium.

A B.C. government report published last summer estimated the province’s life sciences sector in 2018 employed 18,000 professionals and generated more than $5.4-billion in revenue.

Wendy Hurlburt, president and chief executive officer of the industry association LifeSciences BC, said the community is growing fast even without provincial assistance. But it could be doing far more if the climate were more accommodating.

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“Our sector has really been leading the way, certainly in Canada if not globally, on responses to COVID-19.” The research is important, but it is difficult to retain top talent when the jobs, outside of academia, are mostly elsewhere. “This is ultimately about trying to save lives, as well as returning our economy to a stronger place,” she said.

“We need to continue to invest in that research, but we also have opportunities to commercialize faster and better.” That means access to capital, and a streamlined regulatory environment. It requires a helping hand so companies can scale up rather than move out. “We have been talking to the B.C. government about how are we going to build out this infrastructure of labs. We’re losing companies because we don’t have labs, so they go elsewhere.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan recently boasted of his province’s contribution to the global pandemic response, pointing to companies such as Acuitas Therapeutics, which developed the novel and sophisticated delivery platform that was used for the mRNA-based vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Then there is Vancouver-based AbCellera, which, in partnership with Eli Lilly and Co., developed the first FDA-authorized novel antibody to treat COVID-19. (The federal government purchased supplies of the therapy in December, but the provinces, including B.C., have balked at distribution.)

While the Premier acknowledged that B.C. and Canada need to build a robust life sciences sector, he made no commitments about the coming budget. “I think all Canadians are now aware not just of our deficiency in the ability to provide vaccines for ourselves, but a whole host of other issues and products and services that Canadians, quite frankly, have started to take for granted,” he told reporters on March 24. “I think there’s a long discussion ahead of us as a community about how we address those issues.”

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Economy

TSX extends gains as gold prices rise, set to rise for third week

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(Reuters) -Canada’s main stock index extended its rise on Friday after hitting a record high a day earlier as gold prices advanced, and was set to gain for a third straight week.

* At 9:40 a.m. ET (13:38 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange‘s S&P/TSX composite index was up 24.24 points, or 0.1%, at 19,326.16.

* The Canadian economy is likely to grow at a slower pace in this quarter and the next than previously expected, but tighter lockdown restrictions from another wave of coronavirus were unlikely to derail the economic recovery, a Reuters poll showed.

* The energy sector climbed 0.6% even as U.S. crude prices slipped 0.1% a barrel. Brent crude added 0.1%. [O/R]

* The materials sector, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, added 0.3% as gold futures rose 0.7% to $1,777.9 an ounce. [GOL/] [MET/L]

* The financials sector gained 0.2%. The industrials sector rose 0.1%.

* On the TSX, 117 issues advanced, while 102 issues declined in a 1.15-to-1 ratio favoring gainers, with 14.26 million shares traded.

* The largest percentage gainers on the TSX were Cascades Inc, which jumped 4.2%, and Ballard Power Systems, which rose 2.9%.

* Lghtspeed POS fell 5.6%, the most on the TSX, while the second biggest decliner was goeasy, down 4.9%.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Zenabis Global Inc, Bombardier and Royal Bank of Canada.

* The TSX posted 23 new 52-week highs and no new low.

* Across Canadian issues, there were 160 new 52-week highs and 12 new lows, with total volume of 29.68 million shares.

(Reporting by Shashank Nayar in Bengaluru;Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)

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Canadian economy likely to slow, but COVID-19 threat to growth low

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By Indradip Ghosh and Mumal Rathore

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The Canadian economy is likely to grow at a slower pace this quarter and next than previously expected, but tighter lockdown restrictions from another wave of coronavirus were unlikely to derail the economic recovery, a Reuters poll showed.

Restrictions have been renewed in some provinces as they struggle with a rapid spread of the virus, which has already infected over 1 million people in the country.

After an expected 5.6% growth in the first quarter, the economy was forecast to expand 3.6% this quarter, a sharp downgrade from 6.7% predicted in January.

It was then forecast to grow 6.0% in the third quarter and 5.5% in the fourth, compared with 6.8% and 5.0% forecast previously.

But over three-quarters of economists, or 16 of 21, in response to an additional question said tighter curbs from another COVID-19 wave were unlikely to derail the economic recovery, including one respondent who said “very unlikely”.

Canada is undergoing a third wave of the virus and while case loads are accelerating, the resiliency the economy has shown in the face of the second wave suggests it can ride out the third wave as well, without considerable economic consequences,” said Sri Thanabalasingam, senior economist at TD Economics.

The April 12-16 poll of 40 economists forecast the commodity-driven economy would grow on average 5.8% this year, the fastest pace of annual expansion in 13 years and the highest prediction since polling began in April 2019.

For next year, the consensus was upgraded to 4.0% from 3.6% growth predicted in January.

What is likely to help is the promise of a fiscal package by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late last year, which the Canadian government was expected to outline, at least partly, in its first federal budget in two years, on April 19.

When asked what impact that would have, over half, or 11 of 20 economists, said it would boost the economy significantly. Eight respondents said it would have little impact and one said it would have an adverse impact.

“The economic impact of the federal government’s promised C$100 billion fiscal stimulus will depend most importantly on its make up,” said Tony Stillo, director of Canada economics at Oxford Economics.

“A stimulus package that enhances the economy’s potential could provide a material boost to growth without stoking price pressures.”

All but two of 17 economists expected the Bank of Canada to announce a taper to the amount of its weekly bond purchases at its April 21 meeting. The consensus showed interest rates left unchanged at 0.25% until 2023 at least.

“The BoC is set to cut the pace of its asset purchases next week,” noted Stephen Brown, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics.

“While it will also upgrade its GDP forecasts, we expect it to make an offsetting change to its estimate of the economy’s potential, implying the Bank will not materially alter its assessment of when interest rates need to rise.”

 

 

(Reporting and polling by Indradip Ghosh and Mumal Rathore; editing by Rahul Karunakar, Larry King)

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Economy

CANADA STOCKS – TSX rises 0.78% to 19,321.92

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange‘s TSX rises 0.78 percent to 19,321.92

* Leading the index were Martinrea International Inc <MRE.TO​>, up 7.4%, Fortuna Silver Mines Inc​, up 7.1%, and Hudbay Minerals Inc​, higher by 6.7%.

* Lagging shares were AcuityAds Holdings Inc​​, down 6.7%, Ballard Power Systems Inc​, down 6.5%, and Northland Power Inc​, lower by 6.0%.

* On the TSX 165 issues rose and 60 fell as a 2.8-to-1 ratio favored advancers. There were 18 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 203.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Royal Bank Of Canada, Suncor Energy Inc and Air Canada.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.59 points, or 0.5%, while the financials sector climbed 0.86 points, or 0.3%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.27%, or $0.17, to $63.32 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.36%, or $0.24, to $66.82 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.8% for the year.

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