Economic Strategy Tables to inject industry priorities into government policy making and future funding

Mark Henderson
June 13, 2018

Final reports out soon


The potential payoff of the Liberal government’s bold initiative for tapping industry expertise to provide input on six key tech sectors will be known soon as the six Economic Strategy Tables (EST) prepare their final reports for submission.

The six tables – chaired and populated by senior industry executives who have been developing their recommendations since last fall – target high-growth sectors deemed as having the best prospects for achieving innovative economic growth and global advantage. The six ESTs are in agri-food, advanced manufacturing, health/biosciences, clean tech, digital industries and resources for future growth.

“We’re focused on low hanging fruit that will make a big difference by 2025,” says Karimah Es Sabar, chair of the EST for health and biosciences and CEO and Partner with Quark Venture Inc, a Vancouver-based venture capital firm with more than $500 million in capitalization. “This (initiative) aims to move the needle. There are six tables aligned (in) areas of strength. All are tech driven to put us on a technology/innovation pathway.”

The EST initiative is being coordinated by the department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) but other departments are engaging on an as-needed basis.

“What’s really encouraging about my table, this is an ISED initiative but it’s hand-in-glove with Health Canada. It’s health and economic development together for the first time,” says Es Sabar. “We want to double the health and bioscience sector and become a top-three global hub … double the number of companies, double the growth of firms, go from $12.7 billion in (sector) revenues to $25.4 billion and double exports.”

Since commencing their work last October, EST members have convened on a regular basis, met with ISED minister Navdeep Bains, DM John Knubley and other officials and submitted brief interim reports in February. Draft recommendations are due in July with the tables wrapping up their work by September – in time to align with the next federal Budget.

As noted in the health and biosciences table’s interim report, the sector includes a wide range of industry types, ranging from “developers and manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biomedical innovations, to producers of digital health solutions and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, 3D printing, robotics and nanotechnologies.” The report also outlined four key themes identified by table members:

  • Access to Capital and Firm Growth
  • Innovative Procurement, Adoption and Commercialization
  • Digitization and Emerging Technologies
  • Skills and Talent

A working group has been assembled around each theme area, and Es Sabar outlined their progress and identification of barriers at the recent 2018 BIO International Convention in Boston. She says the issue of skills and talent is particularly critical as Canada’s bench strength of managerial, entrepreneurial and investment talent is thin.

“Skills shortages hurt competitiveness … We need to repatriate Canadians residing in the US. We told the government this as part of our priorities and imperatives,” says Es Sabar. “We need a healthcare environment and business that recognizes they are mutually reinforcing with agile regulations and a streamlined approach to approvals. Infrastructure must be nationally robust, patient centric with the public system as an early adopter.”

Es Sabar notes that while the ESTs are focused on their respective tech sectors, there’s been considerable overlap and “cross fertilization” with approximately 50% of the issues raised by her table that are common to all six.

“This is not a report, it’s a state of play. This is where we are and this is where we have to get by 2025. We need a collective commitment. Industry will step up if they see government moving in the right direction,” says Es Sabar. “The feds get it. I’ve been very impressed. There are big challenges ahead and we need to change … We used to have a world class healthcare system, but it didn’t evolve with the times. It’s got to become national. We can’t do it by region or province … We have world class research and great programs, but we are reluctant to evolve with 2.0 or 3.0 versions.”

While the work of the ESTs is undoubtedly important to suggesting ways for improving future productivity and competitiveness, Canada has produced many reports that touched on similar issues. Yet Canada’s performance continues to slip, according to numerous international rankings. Es Sabar says this initiative feels different.

“When I took it on, I said to John Knubley, ‘I’ve been involved in so many reports over the years – the National Research Council, Naylor, etc. People don’t want another report. It’s been done so many times.’ I was reassured this was not just another report,” she says. “What encourages me is the government has taken a different view this time. The table chairs are all from industry and the members are industry CEOs. They are driving it.”


Key Themes in Health & Biosciences Interim Report

  • Innovative Procurement, Adoption and Commercialization - Task Force looked at proposals that build and support an ecosystem that enables innovative procurement, adoption and commercialization while improving patient health outcomes, increasing innovation and economic development/growth, creating new investments in health technologies and applications, and promoting faster innovation, adoption and diffusion. Discussion included a value-based health system approach; creating a federal health innovation agency with joint health and economic development mandates; expanded role for the Pan Canadian Health Organizations to support innovation; patients’ access to their digital health records; national standardized and integrated patient and cost outcomes data; and regulatory agility.
  • Digitization and Emerging Technologies - Task Force proposals concentrated on a complete patient health care information system, and a privacy and data governance framework. The outcome of a national health care information system could facilitate a more effective and efficient heath care system, including improved patient-oriented care, reduced costs and research opportunities that will generate economic value. Such a framework could align jurisdictional privacy and security regimes, easing the navigation of regulatory requirements to allow access to, and optimal use of data.
  • Skills and Talent - Task Force proposals centred on the need for increased academic-industry collaboration on skills development, internships and work-integrated learning, and talent training/attraction and retention. The desired outcome is access to various skills along the SME life-cycle, skills and talent match between graduates and industry and sustained world-class talent.
  • Access to Capital and Firm Growth - Task Force proposals examined Canadian institutional and pension fund investments, and explored how existing programs can be modified or leveraged. Proposals are being refined to enable the following outcomes: access to capital at all stages of development, creation and scale of Canadian-based life sciences companies, support for Canadian anchor companies, increased domestic and foreign investments, and a simplified process to listing on exchange markets.


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