Vibrant Biotech Scene: Toronto-Ottawa Industry Report

The State of Life Science in BC and Beyond

Two experts share perspectives on innovation, motivation, compensation, education, collaboration, and the future of the sector in B.C.
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Strong institutions & a deep talent pool make these Ontario cities major players in the international life sciences sector. Info & analysis.

Toronto and Ottawa lead the way as the life sciences sector booms in the province of Ontario. According to the Maple Business Council, a group that promotes cross-border trade and investment, Ontario’s life sciences sector is the largest in Canada, with 1,900 firms employing over 70,000 people, while generating over $65.2 billion in annual revenue.1 The success is attributed to a healthy ecosystem of education, research, investment and talent. Let’s take a closer look at the factors behind the innovations taking place in these two Canadian cities.

Global Players and Homegrown Innovators

Invest Ontario boasts that the province ranks in the top ten in North America for pharmaceutical establishments and employment, with “a cluster of top-ranked institutions, researchers, developers and manufacturers.”2 According to the independent agency, 10 of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies by revenue are doing clinical trials in the province.2 In fact, it’s a combination of major global players and home-grown innovators that are contributing to Ontario’s success in the industry.

Toronto Headliners

Companies are finding success in Toronto by bringing a wide range of innovations to the table. Areas of focus in the city include genomics, proteomics, stem cell research, photonics, drug research and development, and neurosciences.3

Cyclica is one example of a Toronto success story. Founded in 2013, the company saw their efforts in AI and data-driven drug discovery pay off when they were acquired by the American biotech company, Recursion, this year.4 Other Toronto success stories include the biopharmaceutical company Deep Genomics, who utilize AI and RNA biology to seek new treatments for genetic diseases,4 and ProteinQure, who accelerate and optimize the development of protein-based drugs using computational platforms.4 Yet another is Sanofi, one of the country’s top life science investors as well as Canada’s largest vaccine producer.4

Discovery District ‘Concentrating Brain Power’

Much of the city’s innovation occurs in the Discovery District, a downtown research park that bills itself as ‘2 square kilometers of concentrated brain power’.5 This district, alone, boasts over 2,000 medical care and research-related jobs and more than 30 specialized medical and related sciences research centres.5

Ottawa Headliners

Our nation’s capital city is another major life sciences hub, with 130 companies employing 6,000 highly skilled people.6 Investment Monitor touts Ottawa’s “leading researchers and companies in the areas of mobile health, viral vectors/oncolytic viruses’ development, medical isotopes, and point-of-care blood tests devices”,3 calling Ottawa “one of the favoured cities for life sciences companies in Canada.” 3

This city, too, is home to numerous innovators in the sector. Turnstone Biologics was founded to “advance the development of viral immunotherapies and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes therapies for treating cancers”.SHOEBOX is a leader in the evolution of hearing testing solutions for the occupational hearing conservation market.6 Abbot Point of Care’s handheld technology I-STAT performs rapid blood analysis at the patient’s bedside.6

Hospitals, Universities Bolster Provincial Ecosystem

Behind the province’s success is an ecosystem of innovation that propels the sector forward. 

The Maple Business Council reports that “the University of Toronto is ranked among the top 10 universities in the world for clinical, preclinical and health programs.”1 The U of T is an active contributor to the Discovery District, as are both York and the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University).5

Meanwhile, Invest Ottawa reports that “the Ottawa Hospital is one of our country’s largest research and learning hospitals, and the Ottawa Heart Institute is Canada’s largest cardiovascular research centre.”6

Keeping the Talent Pipeline Full

Some 65,000 graduates emerge each year in science, engineering, mathematics, and related technologies from 47 universities and colleges in Ontario.2 This number is expected to continue growing, which is good news for life sciences companies looking to invest in Toronto, Ottawa, and elsewhere in the province.

Roche Canada President and CEO Ronnie Miller cites this talent pool as a large factor behind the company’s investment in Ontario.

“I think the biggest asset Ontario provides to companies like us is its deep talent pool,” says Miller. “We have been very impressed with the quality of the people we have hired locally for the site and I think this reflects the fact that the province does wonderful research. It produces great scientists, and sometimes you need to look locally before you look globally.”2

Overall Toronto has about 30,000 professionals employed in the sector, while Ottawa has 6,000.6

Public Investment Mixes with Private

The Government of Ontario touts their ‘Taking Life Sciences to the Next Level’7 strategy that “aims to build on the sector’s momentum to further collaboration, innovation, and growth by securing new investments in next-generation health technologies, medicines, and biomanufacturing.”3 This, combined with Federal and private investment, promises to make the future of the life sciences sector in both Toronto and Ottawa a bright one.

As the emergence of new technologies make once unthinkable advancements more and more commonplace, Ontario stands poised to be a leader not only on a national scale, but internationally as well.

Cited Sources

1 Pinto, Chelsea Peet and Aaron. “Unleashing Innovation and Collaboration: Ontario, Canada’s Life Sciences Sector Leads the Way.” MAPLE Business Council, June 8, 2023.

2 “Life Sciences.” Invest Ontario. Accessed August 19, 2023.

3 Timthomas. “What Are the Top Cities for Life Sciences Companies in Canada?” Investment Monitor, January 25, 2023.

4 “Top Ontario Biotech Companies to Watch in 2023.” Invest Ontario. Accessed August 19, 2023.

5 Toronto discovery district. Accessed August 19, 2023.

6 “Life Sciences.” Why Ottawa, November 1, 2022.

7 “Taking Life Sciences to the next Level – Ontario’s Strategy.” Accessed August 19, 2023.