May 01, 2006
According to the Biotechnology Council of Ontario, Canadian biotechnology firms still lag behind their international competitors. In 2000, Toronto business and community leaders concerned about the problem put together a plan to establish MaRS, a centre dedicated to developing Canada’s medical and related-sciences industries. Located in what the City of Toronto Economic Development Office calls the largest medical and biotechnology cluster of any metropolitan area in North America, MaRS is adjacent to the University of Toronto, various teaching hospital and research institutions, Queen’s Park and Bay Street.
Today, MaRS is a hub of innovation for medical scientists doing high-level research to come together with business experts, venture capitalists and other related support services. They are joined by supporting firms that help them bring their products to market or commercial viability. These products include pharmaceutical and therapeutic products, as well as medical devices or other products in the life sciences industry, like diagnostics or medical CAD software.
Torys, with its significant life sciences group, is helping to drive the growth of the industry. Its approach differs significantly from that of others firms because it leverages the experience of its U.S. life sciences lawyers based in New York. Torys brings unique experiences and techniques, with clients ranging from independent inventors to start-ups to mature biotech firms to fully integrated major pharmaceutical companies.
Torys is trying to get emerging Canadian life sciences companies to think globally, not locally. “All companies have to go through the United States at one point or another,” says Cheryl Reicin. “In 2005, C$720 million was raised in financing for the sector in Canada. In the United States, it was US$19 billion.” And with the cost of bringing a drug to market now in the $1.6-billion range, the total financing in Canada last year would have been far less than what was needed for only one product. “There’s no way that a Canadian biotech company can go any place without going over the border, says Charyl. “From day one, these companies need to start looking south.”
That’s not to say that Canadian companies should sell their technology to U.S. firms. Rather, says Cheryl, Canadian companies need to think from an international perspective because prospective drugs will be sold throughout the world, not just in Canada. “We’re very pro-Canadian in keeping companies here. Canada has superb technology that can compete with any in the world,” she says. “But in terms of commercialization, that’s where this country lags. So we’re advising start-ups that they must think of themselves as global companies and go to the United States to obtain financing.”
Since Torys has a full-service New York office, it can provide seamless legal services on both sides of the border, thereby opening other avenues for emerging Canadian life sciences companies to commercialize their products. Torys also has contacts in all related industries in both countries. “We’re introducing venture capital clients in Canada to some of the top venture capitalists in the United States and creating partnerships,” say Eileen McMahon. “So we’re expanding access to money that local venture capital firms will now be able to have.”
With years of experience in the field, Cheryl, Eileen and their colleagues are more than just legal advisers for life sciences companies. “We approach everything in a unique way,” says Eileen.“We try very hard, from the inaugural meeting, to be strategic advisers who will help these companies with their business structure and help them decide where to invest whatever money they have.”