OTTAWA — One of the continuing problems for the Canadian biotechnology community has been the lack of an embracing national organization designed to promote the growth of the sector.

The emergence in recent years of a variety of regional and national biotech associations has served to promulgate a confusing "potpourri" of interests and agendas.

The formation of BIOTECanada is designed to solve many of these issues, Joyce Groote, president of the new organization, told BioWorld International. In fact, it has been created to take Canadian biotechnology industries into the next millennium by providing a unified voice for biotechnology in all areas, including advocacy, regulations, human resources and communications, she added.

BIOTECanada represents the merging of the Canadian Institute of Biotechnology (CIB) and the Industrial Biotechnology Association of Canada (IBAC).

CIB, a federation of biotechnology associations and universities, has been involved in communication and education activities as well as human resource development and technology transfer since 1989.

IBAC was formed more than 10 years ago with a mandate to foster an environment supportive to the development, commercialization and acceptance of biotechnology products both in Canada and outside the country. In recent years, IBAC has been active in patent regulatory issues during the federal government's review of its legislation covering the patenting of brand-name drugs.

According to Groote, BIOTECanada will continue to provide services and programs to its growing membership, which will automatically include both CIB and IBAC members. The new national organization will maintain key functions by addressing the issues and challenges facing its expanded membership. In particular, these will include regulatory roadblocks, lack of expertise in emerging technologies, maintaining support for R&D, market acceptance of new products and processes and access to venture capital for early-stage companies.

Membership is drawn from academia, industry, regional biotechnology associations and the research community.

In the human resources arena, BIOTECanada will work with its partner, the Biotechnology Human Resources Council (BHRC), which is responsible for the development and implementation of a human resources strategy for the Canadian biotechnology industry.

BHRC was formed in 1997 following the recommendation of a Canadian human resources study in biotechnology, conducted in 1996, that examined the type of jobs that will be required in the future and the steps needed to ensure that human resource capabilities will be in place to drive the development of the industry. BHRC produces labor market information and career awareness programs and is coordinating national seminars targeted at biotech's most critical skill shortages.

New Group Will Promote Start-Ups

BIOTECanada will complement the work of the regional biotechnology associations by representing the industry at the national level and at international gatherings. The new organization also will work on behalf of the many early-stage companies in the emerging biotechnology industry. This community is developing rapidly.

According to the latest data from Canadian Biotech News, a publication monitoring the Canadian industry, there are now more than 400 dedicated biotechnology firms in Canada, nearly half of which have been established in the last three years.

BIOTECanada expects this critical mass of companies, together with its associated biotechnology community infrastructure, will be well served by a more effective and single national organization.