One of Canada's biggest economic opportunities is to find solutions that will result in a greater number of Canadian ideas making it into the marketplace. Innovation -- the creation of a new product, new service or an improved way of doing something better than something that existed before -- is essential to create jobs into today's knowledge economy and ensure our future. Although Canada is the world's 11th biggest economy, according to the latest data from the World Intellectual Property Organization we rank 19th in the total number of direct resident trademark applications -- so we clearly have potential to strengthen our performance.
Innovators speak about a number of the barriers they face when developing their ideas and bringing them to their customers. One of the main issues cited is the difficulty of accessing capital throughout the research and development process. Some also mention the challenge of navigating the many innovation programs offered by Canadian governments.
A number of recent initiatives have been undertaken by the Government of Canada to help these innovators. These include:
• The Canada-European Union Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) that will help to modernize our intellectual property protections;
• Strengthening the Industrial Regional Assistance Program (IRAP) to help small and medium businesses;
• Refocusing the National Research Council to leverage its expertise in order to help business commercialize their ideas - including the life science sector;
• Western Economic Diversification has launched the WINN program to provide better access to venture capital in Western Canada; and
• Changes were made to the Canadian Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program SR&ED in order to assist Canadian business.
So why are we 19th? Some have suggested that our innovation challenges are linked to the good fortune of having such an abundance of natural resources - making us less dependent on innovation to drive economic activity and as a result less innovative than other countries. I disagree with this "cultural" argument because Canada has a rich tradition of innovation in a broad range of scientific disciplines and business sectors.
Yet this "cultural" argument has been top of mind for me as I participate in events this year to mark Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D) 100 year anniversary. I have become much better acquainted with the incredible contributions that Canadian researchers have made to the discovery and advancement of pharmaceutical and life science research.
Canadian life scientists, research institutions, government and industry share a proud history of improving human health and healthcare -- I think it is fair to say we've punched above our weight. To mark our 100th anniversary Rx&D partnered with Let's Talk Science (a national charity that delivers learning programs to engage children, youth and educators in science, technology, engineering and math) on a special project that is dear to my heart. Together we developed and launched Rx&D's Canadian Innovation Timeline. This timeline celebrates and promotes the incredible contributions Canadian researchers have made to the discovery and advancement of pharmaceutical and life science research. Canadians can take pride in many notable home-grown life science innovations including:
• The discovery of insulin and the first blood thinners in 1921
• The development of Pablum in 1930
• The first combined vaccines developed for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus in 1941
• Canada's contribution to polio vaccine success in 1955 with the safe cultivation of the poliovirus
• The development of Vinblastine for Chemotherapy in 1959
• The discovery of the first cancer tumour antigen in 1965
• The first child safety caps to prevent poisonings in 1967
• The identification of aspirin for stroke prevention in 1978
• The development of the antiviral drug 3TC (Lamivudine) for treatment of Hep B and HIV in 1989
• The introduction of SingulairTM to treat asthma in 1991
• The identification of early onset Alzheimer's genes in 1995
• The first meningitis vaccine in 2002
• The world's first use of palladium seeds for prostate cancer in 2004
• The first HIV preventative vaccine in clinical trials in 2011
Let's Talk Science has incorporated this timeline into their CurioCity educational program, providing teachers with classroom-ready resources for students in grades 8 to12. It is our shared hope that looking back at our past century of accomplishment will inspire the next generation of researchers and innovators.
While the international competition in research and development is formidable, anybody who gets to work with our young people knows that Canada's future is bright. They continue to rank globally at or near the top in math and literacy skills and our 15 year olds just ranked first in problem solving. Our universities and colleges are developing incredibly smart and energetic people into the work force. We need to continue to shape our national policy environment to create the conditions that will allow them to compete and to win.
We have a strong history of innovation in Canada and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! I remain very hopeful that the great country that produced Banting and Best, Michael Smith and Mark Wainberg has a few more exciting discoveries up its sleeve.
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