BC is home to the fastest-growing life sciences sector in Canada

BC is home to the fastest-growing life sciences sector in Canada

Wendy Hurlburt, President and CEO, Life Sciences BC, talked with CanadianSME about the importance of BC’s life sciences sector on a national level and the major areas of growth. She also talked about the biggest challenges for BC’s life sciences sector and how she plans on overcoming them.

Wendy Hurlburt President and CEO, Life Sciences BC

Wendy Hurlburt, a passionate global executive with more than 25 years of experience in the Life Sciences and Technology sectors, is the President & CEO of Life Sciences BC.

Wendy has held leadership positions in Johnson & Johnson, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, and Lexmark International where she provided strategic leadership across Finance, Business Development, Operations, IT, Privacy, Compliance, Regulatory, Quality, and Risk Management. Her global experience includes leadership roles across Canada, the United States, Europe, and South Asia.

Wendy has a BA in Finance & Economics from Western University Ontario, an MBA from Queen’s University, a Certificate in Strategic Leadership from the Sauder School of Executive Education, and is a Certified Privacy Professional (CIPP). Wendy serves on the Clinical Trials BC Advisory Board, the External Advisory Committee of the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes Science, and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade’s Government, Budget and Finance Committee. Previously Wendy served on the Board of the Centre for Research and Drug Discovery (adware BioInnovations) and chaired CDRD’s Finance & Audit Committee, co-Chaired of the International Association of Privacy Professionals Vancouver Chapter, and was on the GVBOT Women’s Leadership Council, most recently serving as the WLC Policy Chair.


What is the importance of BC’s life sciences sector on a national level and areas of growth?

BC’s life sciences sector has always played an important role, both at home and abroad, and this has been none more evident than in the last 20 months. This is due to BC’s strong foundation of research excellence, recognized alongside a strong community that values risk-taking entrepreneurship, investment, and nurturing skilled talent.

Our areas of growth in life sciences in BC include antibody discovery and development, digital health, medical devices, vaccine technology, and mRNA transfer modalities, among many other areas of excellence. Notably, our areas of excellence contributed to national and global health, as BC life sciences have created COVID therapeutics, vaccines, testing solutions, ventilators, and sss virtual health apps.

BC life sciences innovation has been at the forefront of developing solutions to address the impact of COID-19 – from AbCellera’s monoclonal antibody treatment to critical technology for COVID-19 vaccines to ventilators. BC’s innovation sector has been at the center of global solutions COVID-19.[i]

As I said in the BC business leaders’ post-election wish list (BIV Sept 27-Oct 3): “Life sciences will continue to be a significant driver of future growth, prosperity, and health in our country.”

And with growth, BC life sciences and biotech generate employment, with family-friendly jobs for sustainable income and security. In our sector profile June 2020, written in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada and the Province of British Columbia[ii] , our analysis shows that according to 2018 data, more than “17,300 people were employed in the sector, earning relatively high wages. The life sciences sector is one of British Columbia’s fastest-growing sectors, with employment increasing by 5.6% between 2017 and 2018.”


What are the biggest challenges for BC’s life sciences sector and how can we overcome that?

Our biggest challenges are space, talent, and investment. All these were recently put forward at our Invest in BC Investor Summit by Gordon McCauley, CEO of adMare BioInnovations, and Carl Hansen, CEO of AbCellera, as obstacles or potential limiting factors to the continued growth of the life sciences in BC.

In our annual Life Sciences magazine this year, Brigitte Petersen’s article, BUILDING A BIGGER LIFE SCIENCES SECTOR IN B.C.[iii]also identifies these issues. Referencing in the report Life Sciences BC co-wrote with GVBOT in July 2021,[iv]she also notes that inconsistent collaboration across levels of government, academia, research, and industry to scale companies and adopt innovation, and the lack of a coordinated data strategy are also obstacles to success.

LSBC is addressing these concerns through events such as the virtual investor summits and Career Connect Day, which seeks to connect emerging talent and the institutions responsible for nurturing this talent with potential employers, companies, and other stakeholders.

How can we create more life sciences companies and scale up the existing ones?

  1. Continue to invest in research, where discoveries are bornSupport early-stage company creation and growth through ensuring that we have a globally competitive environment to attract capital and talent, and ensure that we have commercial wet lab space for SME’sAttract, develop and retain talent – scientific talent, leadership and entrepreneurial talent

How can federal and provincial governments help to boost the life sciences sector?

Again, as mentioned in my post for BC business leaders’ post-election wish list (BIV Sept 27-Oct 3): “…Canadian life sciences need development of a comprehensive national life sciences strategy in alignment across governments, industry, and academia; investment in the development, attraction, and retention of critical talent; and a globally aligned, modernized and streamlined regulatory process.” Additionally, attention must be given to investment in talent and infrastructure (e.g. wet labs, manufacturing facilities).


Where does BC’s life sciences sector stand when compared to other developed markets?

BC is home to the fastest-growing life sciences sector in Canada. Additionally, life sciences is one of BC’s fastest-growing sectors. With more than half of the Canadian-listed venture companies, BC has a great reputation as an incubator for up-and-coming businesses.

(from the CEO Message in our annual magazine: Life Sciences 2021[v])

Despite the pandemic, the life sciences sector in BC continued to grow during 2020. The 2020 BC Capital Market Report from the BC Securities Commission shows that our biotechnology sector increased capital raising to $2.3 billion, an increase of 123 percent. Furthermore, the majority was raised by four of our LSBC members—AbCellera Biologics, Zymeworks, Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, and Xenon Pharmaceuticals[vi].

Compared to 2019, where BC biotech companies raised $700 million from the top four deals, in 2020 they more than doubled that to $1.5 billion.[vii] Startup Genome recently ranked Vancouver 21 (out of 280 global ecosystems) as the top life sciences start-up ecosystem in the world, the only Canadian city to be in the top 25 (as reported in a recent BC Business article).[viii]

A recent BIV article[ix] shows that Vancouver is also the third fastest-growing tech hub in North America adding 13k jobs over the last two years. For comparison, Toronto added 40,200 jobs and Seattle, 38,559 jobs.


[i] https://lifesciencesbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Life-Sciences-Reprot-2021_GVBOT_Final-1.pdf

[ii]  https://lifesciencesbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/lifesciencesinbc_sectorprofile_finalweb.pdf

[iii] https://lifesciencesbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/BIV-Life-Sciences-2021-magazine.pdf

[iv] https://lifesciencesbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Life-Sciences-Reprot-2021_GVBOT_Final-1.pdf,

[v] https://lifesciencesbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/BIV-Life-Sciences-2021-magazine.pdf

[vi] https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/b-c-sees-record-capital-raising-and-market-capitalization-during-covid-19-pandemic-841600721.html

[vii] https://biv.com/article/2021/02/wanted-investors-fund-bcs-second-life-sciences-renaissance

[viii] https://www.bcbusiness.ca/Vancouver-was-just-named-the-top-startup-life-science-ecosystems-in-Canada

[ix]  https://biv.com/article/2021/10/vancouver-third-fastest-growing-tech-hub-north-america-city-adds-13k-jobs-cbre

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