OTTAWA - Seven years have elapsed since the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee (NBAC) published its fifth report at a high-profile press conference in Toronto, and its sixth report has just been released.

Biotechnology was hailed in the fifth report as a potential economic driver for Canada, provided that issues such as human resources, financing, and research and development support - among others - were addressed by the government.

Graham Strachan, chairman of the NBAC, told BioWorld International many of these issues have been addressed, but new problems have emerged as Canada's focus on biotechnology shifts from research and development to commercialization. Unless changes are made and new government policies adopted, Canada's time as a major player in the international biotechnology arena could be in jeopardy, Strachan said.

Titled “Leading Into the Next Millennium,“ the report is the result of a nine-month study and consultation with more than 100 national and international groups and individual experts. It focuses on six specific issues for the future development of Canadian biotechnology: leadership; commercialization; the science base and innovation; market access, intellectual property rights and regulation; the socio-ethical context; and the renewal of the advisory body.

The report identifies the country's weakness in genomics development, which is now at the leading edge of biotech research worldwide. Canadian researchers were strong in this area a decade ago, but elimination of the Canadian Genome Analysis and Technology Program, a C$22 million, five-year program - which was part of the Human Genome Project - has had a significant negative impact on the country's ability to participate in genome research.

Currently, the Canadian biotechnology industry has approximately 5 percent of the world's market for products and services and more than 100 promising products in the pipeline. Canada should therefore set for itself a goal of capturing 10 percent of global biotechnology sales (US$5 billion) by 2005, the report says. While doing this, the industry should match its top competitors in the ratios of research and development to revenue and revenue per employee, it adds.

Competition Has Grown Fast

In the early 1990s, Canada had as many biotechnology companies as Japan and the whole of Europe, the report notes. But competition in terms of the number of companies has grown fast from Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim. Canada comes in third, behind the United States and Europe.

Released as a Canadian Biotechnology Strategy renewal exercise under way in government, the report lists on its priorities a plan to deal with the shortages of highly qualified multidisciplinary scientists and business managers affecting the pace of development of Canadian biotechnology.

The NBAC consists of 19 senior executives from the industry and finance communities, consumer interest groups and academia. Its mandate is to provide advice to the Canadian government's minister of industry. *