Despite some public fears, the new president of the organization representing most of Canada’s 361 biotech companies has no qualms about living in a biotech world.
In fact, Janet Lambert likens the industry today to the IT world of 20 years ago. “Now, we can’t live without our personal computer. How did we get along without it? And we will be saying the same thing about biotechnology,” said Lambert, who was in Calgary last week to meet with some of Alberta’s leaders in the field.
Twenty years ago, the public was suspicious of IT and spoke about it in terms of Big Brother, said Lambert in an interview. “There wasn’t an understanding of the uses, the benefits and the promise.”
In the same way, once the benefits of biotechnology become more real in the near future, the public will become less worried, she said.
“The things they (biotech firms) are doing are on the verge of improving our lives so dramatically,” she said, indicating the new products will speak for themselves.
Information and good communications will be key, she said.
“It’s up to associations like ours to get a science-based rather than emotional or fear-based message out.”
One of the problems the industry faces is disseminating information about itself because it is so varied, embracing medicine, food, environmental protection agents and aquaculture.
Canada is second only to the U.S. in its biotech revenue (about $1.9 billion annually), number of companies and the number of people employed in the field. We surpass all European countries, including the U.K.
Alberta has about 10 per cent of the industry with 35 companies, 28 of which are in Edmonton and the rest in Calgary, says Myka Osinchuk of BioAlberta, which is affiliated with BIOTECanada.
It takes seven to 10 years for a product to go through the Canadian regulatory review process, during which time it meets the scrutiny of three government bodies — the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.
BioAlberta said that in this province by 2005 it will employ 2,500 people and be making $500 million in sales, with an estimated 10-per-cent annual growth.