Editorial – 18-19

By Mark Henderson, Managing Editor

Canada’s beleaguered biotechnology industry received a major shot in the arm this week with the stunning market breakthrough of ID Biomedical Corp (IDB). The Vancouver-based vaccine developer signed supply agreements for flu vaccine potentially worth billions, and they’ll be delivering it with a state-of-the-art Montreal facility formerly owned by BioChem Pharma (see page 6).

There’s a good case to be made that IDB’s success was facilitated, at least in part, by the federal government’s longstanding support for the biotech sector. The production facility (subsequently acquired by Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc when that UK firm purchased BioChem in 2001) would likely never have been built without the financial assistance of Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC).

That’s right, TPC, the government program free marketers love to hate and until recently the favourite whipping boy of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative Party. But TPC’s detractors fail to appreciate its role as a tool for Ottawa’s industrial innovation policy, by investing in high-risk projects sectors that only occasionally pay dividends. IDB’s success in securing agreements to supply the US market with flu vaccine is the kind of pay-off that goes a lot way towards justifying that approach.

The Bloc Québecois also recognizes the critical role TPC plays in the aerospace sector and is lobbying hard for an increase to its budget (see page 4). Industry Canada’s evaluation of its programs and polices could not have come at a better time.