North Bay has targeted biotechnology as an industry of opportunity by bringing in a world-renowned expert in biomedical research and public health to assist in the development of a possible biomedical cluster.
In late August, the city brought in Dr. Lowell Harmison to assist its biotechnology partners in assessing the best opportunities and strategies to capture jobs and grow businesses in this rapidly growing global field.
Earlier this year, the economic development commission partnered with Canadore College, Nipissing University, the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, N.E.C.O. Community Futures Development Corp. and representatives from senior levels of government to develop a two-year program to introduce the community to the international biotechnology sector.
“We’re trying to pull all that together and put it into a strategy of development and see if it can generate some new jobs in that sector,” says Nancy Creighton, executive director of North Bay Economic Development Commission. The strategy is similar to an effort launched five years ago that created 2,000 call centre jobs.
Harmison spent four days touring post-secondary and public-health institutions to evaluate some strategic approaches to this industry and assess the city’s prospects in breaking into the field.
A report analysing the city’s strengths, weaknesses and best ways to move forward is expected in October.
In June, Creighton and a local delegation, which included Canadore College professors Bill Procunier and Randy Moggach, attended Toronto’s BIO 2002, the world’s largest international biotechnology conference, for a market intelligence trip. They came away with some promising leads, including making contact with Harmison.
Harmison is a graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and holds a doctorate in chemical engineering and physics and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and physics. He has led the development of the HIV/AIDS blood test from the lab stage to its FDA approval and holds the first U.S. and foreign patents for the completely implantable artificial heart.
Though the city faces major challenges in its ability to commercialize the growing level of research and to develop, companies tend to cluster around universities and key locations such as Ottawa, Toronto and Guelph, says Creighton.
Forming associations with these established clusters is vital.
“Biotechnology is not just North Bay, it’s connections we make globally that are to commercialize activity we are undertaking.
“In this kind of research and development field you’re not an island, you have to do your work in association with people in Ottawa, Toronto and Sudbury.”
Creighton feels the city has enough assets in place, including excess fibre optic capacity, labs at the college and university, a new regional hospital project underway and some local practitioners conducting medical trials in the community who engage in some clinical drug testing for pharmaceutical companies
“It’s a process of recognizing who your champions are and supporting them through the ability to teach, the ability to practise clinically and the ability to do research.”