Canada's strength within the life sciences sector stems from its pioneering research, development and innovation to improve healthcare delivery and patient care from coast to coast to coast. The country has the world's second-highest number of bio-technology companies — more than $918 million is currently invested in active R&D — with treatment protocols, pharmaceuticals and medical devices pushing global health forward with each new discovery.
With its large pool of life sciences professionals spanning a broad range of expertise, Canada is a compelling draw for international business and professional conferences seeking access to first-rate academic institutions, extensive research networks and numerous partnership opportunities. Planners wanting to incorporate thought leadership and technical tours at world-class labs and research centers into their conference schedules can choose from several beautiful cities across Canada.
Here's how six cities are becoming the gold standard for life sciences business events.
Halifax: A thriving ecosystem where research, business and infrastructure converge
Located on Canada's east coast, Halifax, Nova Scotia, offers many competitive advantages in the health and life sciences sector, including top research centers and state-of-the art hospitals conducting R&D for a booming industry. With seven universities in the city and 10 throughout the province, Halifax is also Canada's post-secondary capital, and planners can tap the expertise of more than 3,600 highly skilled people working in this field.
"Life science conference organizers will find Halifax home to a major medical complex, university research facilities, a broad talent pool, incubators, and established companies that combine into a unique ecosystem," says Jeff Nearing, vice president of sales at Discover Halifax. "Expertise in cancer care, medical technologies, natural health products, bioproducts, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and brain repair make Halifax Canada's East Coast life sciences hub."
Generating more than $300 million across 1,500 companies in Nova Scotia, Halifax's health and life sciences sector includes the Life Science Research Institute, an integrated facility that hosts Innovacorp — a venture capital organization that supports start-ups — the Brain Repair Centre — known for its success treating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease — and industry associations like BioNova. More than 100 multinational biotech companies have partnerships or facilities in Halifax including Novartis, Pfizer, GkaxiSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Researchers in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie's Zebrafish Core Facility are currently evaluating genetic modifications and therapeutic responses to transplanted human cells in zebrafish in real time. Because these tiny fish have a genetic system similar to humans, scientists are testing drugs and gathering insights into cardiac and neurological diseases, memory and breast cancer.
Halifax's world-class harborfront location provides the perfect setting for events, and the city's abundant natural resources give ocean science and technology researchers plenty of real-world testing conditions.
Recent conferences hosted in Halifax include the 2017 International Conference on Magnetic Resonance Microscopy, 2018's International Society for Heart Research and the upcoming International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology.
Toronto's collaborative, connected sector makes it a leader in genomics
Canada's largest combined life sciences sector employs 36,000 people, and is home to 50 companies, 37 research institutes and nine teaching hospitals. Renowned for its innovation in genomics, healthcare-related AI, neuroscience and regenerative medicine, Toronto benefits from $1 billion spent each year on public and private research carried out in the Discovery District, Canada's largest concentration of hospitals, research institutes, business incubators, and venture capital organizations.
"Toronto is the most diverse city on the planet," says Dr. Milos R. Popovic, director of research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at the University Health Network and chair of RehabWeek 2019. "This diversity of thought, ideas and culture has enabled us to become a leader in the technology field and in medical research."
Planners can tap Toronto's five universities and six colleges for speakers, in addition to leveraging the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, an international non-profit bringing together 600-plus leading research and life sciences organizations to securely share genomic and health-centric data.
“We wanted to emphasize the translational stage of stem cell biology at the meeting, and chose the perfect venue: Toronto really embraces diversity and innovation."
—Robert Deans, PhD, member of the Toronto Organizing Committee for the International Symposium of The International Society for Stem Cell Research
At Deep Genomics, a Toronto start-up, researchers employ AI to identify genetic mutations and study promising drug candidates for rare diseases. At the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Cancer TArgeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation study uses next-generation genome sequencing technology to create a province-wide database.
Toronto attracts many world-class conferences, including 2019's International Symposium of The International Society for Stem Cell Research.
"We wanted to emphasize the translational stage of stem cell biology at the meeting, and chose the perfect venue: Toronto really embraces diversity and innovation," says Robert Deans, PhD, chief innovation officer at BlueRock Therapeutics and member of the Toronto Organizing Committee for that event. "We had access to the top thought-leaders in the field."
Other groups that recently met in Toronto include the Society for Vascular Surgery, the Advanced Medical Technology Association. Looking ahead, Toronto is set to host the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics in 2024.
Ottawa's knowledge-based offerings and business events infrastructure makes it a top destination
Canada's capital city houses federal departments and agencies employing leading life sciences experts that are directly responsible for health regulation, protection, promotion and research funding. Nearly 6,000 people in 130 companies are active in this sector at world-class research facilities that support discovery, development, commercialization and expertise in health IT, mHealth, eHealth and medical devices.
Five of Canada's top hospital research institutes are located here, along with Canada's National Research Council and 35 Canada Research Chairs. Planners can access experts from the private sector, government and academia and within Ottawa's two national life science Networks of Excellence: The Stem Cell Network enables the transition of stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy, and the pan-Canada Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment develops, manufactures and conducts clinical testing of personal biotherapeutics.
“Ottawa is an ideal choice: It’s a safe city with 6,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the Shaw Centre, with museums and the ByWard Market down the street, so you can walk anywhere."
—Paul White, research scientist at Health Canada’s Environmental Health Sciences & Research Bureau
Other Ottawa success stories include the Spartan Cube, the world's smallest DNA analyzer, and a disruptive class of engineered viral immunotherapies developed by Turnstone Biologics.
The city's natural beauty and walkable, compact downtown is ideal for delegates wishing to explore national landmarks and museums, says one of the organizers for the 2021 International Conference on Environmental Mutagens.
"Ottawa is an ideal choice: It's a safe city with 6,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the Shaw Centre, with museums and the ByWard Market down the street, so you can walk anywhere," says Paul White, a research scientist at Health Canada's Environmental Health Sciences & Research Bureau.
Upcoming meetings include 2021's Stem Cell Network Conference and 2022's International Congress on Infant Studies.
Edmonton's strong genetics and gene therapy community
Edmonton, Alberta is a hotbed of innovation that fuels research in biotech, medtech, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Home to the University of Alberta, one of Canada's leading research facilities and Alberta Health Services — the largest integrated health system in Canada — Edmonton attracts more than $500 million annually in external research funding. Many of the city's hospitals have health research institutes, including the Cross Cancer Institute, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Genome Alberta Metabolomics Innovation Centre. The city is also home to Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, and the SMART (Sensory Motor Adaptive Rehabilitation Technology) network facility.
The city houses more than 12,000 health and life sciences sector businesses including Gilead Alberta, Entos Pharma and Fusogenix. At the University of Alberta, researchers led by Entos CEO John Lewis recently identified 11 gene targets that could help prevent the spread of cancer. This discovery may lead to creating therapies to block metastasis in several deadly cancers. Scientists will now test these genes and gene-products as drug targets.
“We picked Edmonton because it has a well-established medical genetics program, and we rely on genetic counselors in the host city to help pick the venue, create the scientific content and source local experts."
—Charlotte Fung, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors conference education committee
Edmonton's convention facilities and hotels are close to six education institutions, so planners can incorporate technical tours and entry to research labs, health accelerators and simulation centers.
"We picked Edmonton because it has a well-established medical genetics program, and we rely on genetic counselors in the host city to help pick the venue, create the scientific content and source local experts," says Charlotte Fung, a Toronto-based genetic counselor and co-chair of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors conference education committee.
"We relied on our genetic counseling colleagues from the Clinical and Metabolic Genetics clinic in Edmonton to identify and connect with local academic and industry expertise; they suggested Canada Research Chair in health law and policy Dr. Tim Caulfield as our keynote speaker, and we're grateful he will deliver his presentation virtually in October."
CAGC's conference returns to Edmonton in person in 2023, adds Fung, which will be a great opportunity to highlight the gene therapy work being done here.
"There have been many advances in medical genetics and genetic counseling, and we're eager for updates from our medical and biochemical genetics colleagues," she says. "Edmonton provides a multitude of culinary and entertainment options for our attendees. There are direct flights from most major centers in Canada, and Edmonton is a wonderful city to enjoy in the fall."
Montreal: A major player in life sciences
Montreal, Québec is Canada's top city for R&D investments and research centers in the life sciences sector, with five areas of excellence: neuroscience, cardiology, oncology, metabolic diseases and AI. With 44,000 people working here at more than 620 organizations, including 12,000 researchers and professionals in 300 public and para-public research centers, Montreal is a catalyst for innovation in areas of research from cancer to genomics.
Some of the top research facilities in the city include McGill University Health Centre and the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, one of the largest hospital-based research centers in North America. Four universities with 36 life sciences programs train more than 10,000 graduates each year, and more than $1 billion in annual funding is dedicated to university research.
Industry giants including Merck, Pfizer, Medtronic, Abbvie, Novartis have headquarters in Montreal, a city known for its scientific excellence and collaboration between research, industry and government.
Researchers from McGill University, along with an international team of more than 1,300 scientists and clinicians, recently concluded the ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Project (PCAWG), known as the Pan-Cancer Project, the most comprehensive map of whole cancer genomes. The study improves the fundamental understanding of cancer, identifying new pathways for diagnosis and treatment. This project will now be a valuable resource for future cancer genomics research.
Events slated to take place in Montreal include the 2023 Annual Meeting and Exhibition for the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and the 2023 Congress of the International Council of Nurses.
Saskatoon: An emerging world leader shining a bright light on pioneering health research
Nestled in Canada's prairies, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is home to the country's only synchrotron particle accelerator: the Canadian Light Source. Scientists use this brilliant light source to gather information about the structural and chemical properties of materials at the molecular level. This tool was recently used to discover a recessive genetic disorder that could help patients with cystic fibrosis, and to better understand genetic mutations that cause irregular heartbeats.
The city attracts scientists from around the world who conduct research on the beamlines — in 2020, 1,172 users from 148 institutions and 16 countries collected data from the CLS, publishing more than 400 scientific papers.
Other highlights in Saskatoon's health science sector include progress towards potential new Alzheimer's and cancer-fighting drugs, breakthroughs in creating a universal blood type, research into preventing heart attacks and the fight against Covid-19. The University of Saskatchewan was home to Canada's first betatron used to treat cancer and the world's first non-commercial cobalt-60 cancer-therapy unit opened in Saskatoon.
“Saskatoon has a great history in nuclear sciences."
—Dr. Lidia Matei, local co-chair for 2022’s International Conference on Isotopes
Delegates attending a conference in Saskatoon can tour the football-field-sized CLS and speak to experts in the field.
"Saskatoon has a great history in nuclear sciences, including the CLS," says Dr. Lidia Matei, local co-chair for 2022's International Conference on Isotopes, to be held in Saskatoon. She is also the corporate business officer at the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, a not-for-profit organization that manages the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences owned by the University of Saskatchewan.
Matei's team plans to involve resources from USask and the University of Regina and encourage young scientists, senior scientists and industry experts to chair sessions and initiate nuclear topic conversations as panellists.
"The conference is an excellent opportunity to showcase Saskatoon as a very welcoming place for innovative businesses; we hope to attract large companies that operate in the industry and create new business opportunities not only for research, but also for development and commercialization," she adds.
The University of Saskatchewan houses another Saskatoon success story, the Next-Generation Sequencing Facility, a genomics facility that aims to advance basic and clinical research by providing access to high-throughput sequencing technologies and expertise.
In Canada, life sciences leaders will find support from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as academia and innovation investors and one of the world's easiest visa regimes. Further simplifying the business process is the pool of destination and sector experts provided by Destination Canada Business Events. The team's specific knowledge of this vast land makes Destination Canada Business Events team an organizer's first stop for tailoring the right package for their event, whatever the size. To learn about assets and opportunities and arrange research trips and site inspections go to businesseventscanada.ca
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