OTTAWA, Ontario - The Ontario government wants to position its biotechnology sector as a one of the world's leading places to conduct R&D.

In 1999, as part of this strategy, it created a C$20 million (US$13.5 million) Biotechnology Commercialization Centre Fund to boost Ontario's competitiveness in the biotechnology industry. The government said the contribution would leverage up to C$20 million in additional community partnership money.

The funding is aimed at assisting in the creation of regional commercialization centers to house start-up biotechnology firms from Ontario's universities, hospitals, research institutes and private industry. Several months on, it was revealed the fund has been allocated to three centers, located in Toronto, London and Ottawa.

Speaking at the Ottawa Life Sciences Centre, Jim Wilson, minister of Energy, Science and Technology, said that the Ontario government will invest up to C$5.4 million to help create the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre to boost competitiveness and create jobs in the biotechnology industry. In addition, he announced seed funding of C$200,000 to help to create a BioProducts Institute that will link research institutions across Canada to promote the development and growth of the bioproducts industry.

The project leader for both centers is the Ottawa Life Sciences Council. Wilson told BioWorld International the investment will help transform a former farm animal research site into an advanced bioprocessing facility to attract companies interested in using plants and animals to create new health-based products.

The government investment in the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre leverages a further C$9 million in private and public funds. The center is to be housed in a new building to be built in the Ottawa Life Sciences Technology Park as well as the nearby new Bioproducts Institute.

Commercialization centers are recognized as a potent economic development tool and many countries are using them as part of a broad strategy to aggressively promote early stage biotechnology company development, Wilson said.

Ontario is home to 30 percent of Canada's biotech industry, with its strengths in health sciences, bioinformatics and agri-food technologies. The province's biotechnology industry generates C$400 million a year, and employs over 3,000 people. Forty-two percent of Canadian R&D expenditures in biotechnology take place in Ontario. Small, niche technology firms represent 60 percent of the industry (approximately 42 firms in Ontario), employ 32 percent of the work force, and account for 17 percent of biotechnology sales.

The Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre is expected to support growth of 27 new firms and create 170 jobs over the next five years. The London Biotechnology Commercialization Centre received C$5 million from the fund, which was matched by the City of London, and the University of Western Ontario donated the land.

To create a biotechnology commercialization center in Toronto, the Ontario government is providing up to C$9 million. The project leader is the Toronto Biotechnology Commercialization Centre (TBCC), a consortium of public and private sector research groups that represents most of the medical research organizations in Toronto, including the University of Toronto. TBCC has been working with the City of Toronto and the private sector to match the provincial funding to develop and finance the project. The group has a plan to build a 10,000-square-meter center near the University of Toronto and the main research hospitals. The Greater Toronto Area has the fourth largest regional concentration of biotech firms in North America.

"If we are successful in our partnership initiatives, it is expected that we will grow Ontario's C$400 million biotech sector to C$1 billion in the next five years," Wilson said.

"Commercialization centers are recognized as a potent economic development tool and many countries are using them as part of a broad strategy to aggressively promote early stage biotechnology company development," Wilson said.

Based on our projections, the three centers will support the growth of 185 new biotechnology firms and create almost 4,500 new jobs over the next five years, Wilson concluded.

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