In its 2007 "Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage" Report (the "Report"), the Federal Government recognizes the importance of building a strong science and technology infrastructure to improve Canada's competitiveness and productivity. The Report acknowledges that while Canada has tremendous strengths, it also faces numerous challenges which need to be addressed comprehensively to enable the country to continue to build a competitive and sustainable economy. The Report sets out a strategy involving greater private sector investment, world-class research excellence and attracting, retaining and developing talented, skilled and creative people in the science and technology disciplines.
The Canadian government must be somewhat dismayed by Edmonton-based Biomara Inc.'s recent decision to move the company to the US and to establish new headquarters in the Seattle area. Biomara, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canada and on NASDAQ in the US, is a biotechnology company specializing in the development of innovative therapeutic products for the treatment of cancer. It has just under 80 employees, most of whom are based in Edmonton. From a financial perspective, Biomara is not particularly significant, with revenues of just over $4 million and net losses in the last two years of $18 million and $19 million. In 2007, its stock price slumped to under $1.00, resulting in NASDAQ threatening to delist the company.
However, Biomara is also Alberta's oldest biotech company, formed in 1985 as a spin-off from the University of Alberta. It has been estimated that more that $300 million of capital has been invested into the company over the years.
Biomara, which is changing its name to Oncothyreon, stated that its move out of Canada is designed to raise its profile in US financial markets and provide access to a larger pool of investment capital. While the company did advise that the relocation of Biomara's headquarters to Seattle is not expected to result in a significant change in its Edmonton operations, its CEO stated that moving to a major biotechnology hub such as Seattle will provide greater opportunity to attract and retain key personnel.
A sceptic might suggest that Biomara's decision to leave Canada was influenced by the fact that its recently-appointed CEO is from the Seattle area and that its new Chairman of the Board is also based in the US.
Nonetheless, Biomara's move highlights the importance of Canada executing as quickly as possible on the Report's strategies. In particular, the issue of increasing private sector investment in science and technology, and finding structures and incentives that can increase financial contributions by the private sector, must be addressed. A vibrant, sustainable and competitive science and technology sector in Canada requires no less.
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