Op Ed: Life Sciences Need Spark
September 10th, 2015
When Scott Moffitt returned to Atlantic Canada after 12 years away, the life sciences specialist wrote a note to himself that “Atlantic Canadians must do a better job of understanding the meaning of the word ‘urgency.’”
Moffitt, the managing director of BioNova, Nova Scotia’s biotechnology and life sciences association, wrote his thought on a Post-it Note and stuck it in his day planner.
The note was a reminder that although this region’s life sciences sector is successful and full of potential, Atlantic Canadians risk losing out because of slow processes.
Life sciences companies work in areas such as drug and vaccine development, medical technologies and natural health products. Local strengths include neuroscience, marine biotechnology, biochemistry and biomedical engineering.
“I worked in the private sector while away,” Moffitt said. “I was in marketing and business development for life sciences companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific and Aquaresearch in Ontario and Quebec.
“When I came back, I felt we had to make things happen at a pace that matched what I’d experienced.”
Moffitt, who grew up in the Annapolis Valley, left Nova Scotia for better opportunities in 1998 after finishing university — he holds bachelor and master of science degrees from Acadia University.
When he first returned to the region in 2010, he worked at BioNova for two years, helping medical technology companies commercialize.
He then worked for Innovation PEI in Charlottetown, where he was responsible for the growth of the bioscience sector.
He returned to Nova Scotia and BioNova in 2013.
On first returning to the region, Moffitt noticed that in the 12 years he’d been away, Atlantic Canadian businesses had developed, with more of them achieving a high degree of complexity. But he felt the region was failing to match the fast pace of global business.
Pace matters because life sciences companies need to succeed in the competitive, rapidly evolving global marketplace.
Nova Scotia is home to around 50 life sciences companies that collectively market around 500 products. Another 300 potential products are in development.
“More than 90 per cent of Nova Scotia’s life sciences products are exported,” Moffitt said.
The sector is worth around $300 million and employs about 1,200 people. (The jobs figure doesn’t include those in research organizations, health care, etc.)
He said he has confidence in the region’s life sciences sector and his confidence is based on many factors.
“We have great health-care infrastructure and research capability along with a top-notch medical school and teaching hospitals,” he said.
“We have incubation services, technological assistance and funding programs from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, among others.
“We have an incredible opportunity to make the sector one of the pillars of the new economy as long as we understand we need to operate at speed.”
Moffitt said that without speed, businesses lose focus, exhaust their chances of finding support and funding and are passed by, either by competitors or by developments in the global market.
He believes Atlantic Canadians should focus on attracting capital and highly skilled people who know how to grow companies.
Financing and other support programs would foster faster company growth and more opportunity.
There should also be a focus on developing stronger external partnerships and collaborations.
“We also need to do a better job of telling how great we are,” he said. “When we go abroad to conferences, we are recognized as having great companies. Maybe we don’t believe in ourselves enough.”
Collaboration, both within Nova Scotia and the region, has improved recently but Moffitt feels more is needed.
“We all have a tendency to operate in our own silos. We’re all headed in the same direction, but more collaboration would build alignments in terms of vision and goals.”
Moffitt said his Post-it Note, now rather dog-eared, remains in his day planner.
“It’s getting better here, but there’s room for improvement.”