Canada has a thriving biotechnology industry and globally, it is one of the industry’s leaders. The biotechnology industry in Canada is a blend of science and business to find new solutions for health, the environment, and agriculture. Canada’s biotechnology industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, which has been driven by academic excellence, support from the government, and entrepreneurship.

In this article, you will find statistical information on the biotechnology industry in Canada together with a brief definition and history of Canadian biotechnology.

Biotechnology Industry Statistics for Canadians

  • Canadian biotechnology industry is growing year-on-year and employs over 200,000 people. 83% of Canadian biotechnology companies have less than five employees.
  • Over half of the biotechnology companies in Canada have an annual gross revenue of less than $1 million.
  • More than 50% of Canadian biotechnology companies focus on bio-health as their primary sub-sector.
  • Almost 7/10 of biotechnology companies in Canada conduct research and development.
  • Over 50% of Canada’s biotechnology industry is in Ontario and Quebec.
  • Almost 70% of Canadian biotechnology companies started less than 20 years ago.
  • 90% of biotechnology jobs are found in Ontario, Quebec, and Western Canada.
  • Over 60% of the biotechnology employees are men.
  • Almost 90% of biotechnology employers consider problem-solving skills a key skill in potential employees.

Definition of Biotechnology

Biotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that develops technologies and products using biological processes, cells, organisms, and molecular analogues to improve both our lives and the health of our planet. Biotechnology is used in various sectors such as healthcare, industrial processing, agriculture, and environmental conservation and covers practices ranging from genetic engineering and bioinformatics to traditional methods such as fermentation and breeding.

  • Healthcare: develops medical treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics and conducts research in personalised medicine, genomics, and regenerative medicine.
  • Agriculture: biotechnological work within agriculture includes improving crop yields and resistance to diseases and pests. In Canada, agricultural biotechnology supports food security and sustainable farming practices.
  • Environmental Sustainability: develops biodegradable materials, bio-based alternatives to fossil fuels, and technologies to reduce pollution to combat climate change.

Brief History of Biotechnology in Canada

Biotechnology is often considered a modern science but its roots extend to ancient times when people experimented with fermentation and selective breeding. However, the modern era of Canadian biotechnology began in the 20th century when Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921. Their discovery established Canada as one of the pioneers in biotechnological research.

The biotechnology industry in Canada experienced rapid growth in the latter half of the 20th century, especially in the 1980s and 1990s when the industry started to become more formalised. Developments from this period include innovations in canola crops and advancements in vaccines. Many Canadian biotechnology companies that have grown into global players were also established during this period of rapid growth.

The Canadian Government has always been supportive of the biotechnology industry and funding and tax incentives have been integral to the industry’s growth as was the foundation of the Networks of Centres of Excellence in 1989 to facilitate collaboration between industry and academic researchers.

Biotechnology Industry in Canada

Canada is recognised globally for its cutting-edge research, development, and commercialisation of new technologies. According to BioTalent Canada, around 12,000 organisations were working in the biotechnology field in Canada employing approximately 200,000 people in 2019.

It is expected that the industry will experience modest growth between between now and 2029 which will lead to approximately 65,000 new jobs within the industry. Most of the new jobs will be created in the bio-health sector, followed by bio-idustrial and agri-bio sectors.

Most of the Biotechnology Companies in Canada Are SMEs

The majority of the companies in the industry are small to medium-sized (SMEs). In 2019, 83% of the companies reported having less than 50 employees and 55% of the companies generated annual revenues that were under $1 million.

Almost half of Canadian biotechnology companies have fewer than 10 employees with 24% having less than five employees and another 24% having 5-9 employees. 21% have 10-19 members of staff, 14% have 20-49, and 7% have 50-99 members of staff. Only 4% of the companies have between 100-199 employees and 6% have more than 200 employees.

The majority, 26%, of the companies make between $1 and $5 million in annual total gross revenue, while only 7% of them make over $50 million and 13% make more than $5 million but less than $50 million. 16% make less than $50,000, 17% make $50,000-$249,999, and 22% make more than $250,000 but less than a million. (Note that the percentages are rounded and do not add up to exactly 100%.)

Bio-Health Is the Biggest Biotechnology Sector in Canada

While many of the biotechnology companies in Canada are involved in multiple sub-sectors, over half of the companies are focused on bio-health. 54% of all the biotechnology companies are primarily bio-health companies. The next biggest sector within the industry is agri-bio with 21% of the companies reporting it as their primary biotechnology sector. 20% of companies prioritise in bio-industrial activities and 5% in bio-energy.

When we combine the primary and secondary sub-sectors of Canadian biotechnology companies then 56% are active in the bio-health field, 35% in agri-bio, 21% in bio-industrial, and 11% in bio-energy.

Almost 70% of Canadian Biotechnology Companies Engage in Research and Development

Most Canadian companies working in the biotechnology industry engage in research and development activities. According to BioTalent, 69% of the companies conducted at least some research and development work. 41% of all companies cite research and development as their primary or secondary business activity.

Ontario Has the Most Biotechnology Industry

All areas of Canada have some biotechnology industry but much of it is concentrated in two provinces: Ontario and Quebec. Ontario has 36% of all biotechnology organisations and Quebec has 20%. 28% of biotechnology organisations are in Western Canada, 9% in the Prairies, 6% in Atlantic Canada, and 1% in the territories.

Top Cities for Biotechnology in Canada

Toronto’s “Discovery District” is home to various life sciences facilities that include hospitals, research facilities, and venture capital organisations. The biotechnology sector in Toronto employs around 30,000 people and contributes over $2 billion to the local economy.

Montreal is home to McGill University and Université de Montréal which are known for scientific excellence. The city has six research laboratories and is a world leader in areas such as oncology, neurology, virology, and immunology.

Vancouver is the centre of biotechnology in Western Canada. There are over 70 biotechnology companies within the Greater Vancouver Area and the city is known for its supportive startup ecosystem.

Most Canadian Biotechnology Companies Are Less Than 20 Years Old

Based on data from BioTalent, most biotechnology companies, 69%, are less than 20 years old. 22% of the companies were founded less than five years ago, while 16% have been in operation between five and ten years. Most Canadian biotechnology companies, 31%, have been in business between 11 and 30 years. Only 9% of the companies were established over 50 years ago and another 9% is between 31 and 40 years old. The remaining 13% are between 21 and 30 years old.

Even though most of the companies are still fairly young, the proportion of older companies is growing. For example, the proportion of companies that are older than 25% has increased by 8 percentage points since 2013. This is a great sign for the biotechnology sector, demonstrating that companies are staying in business longer and that the industry is expanding and healthy.

Biotechnology Industry Employment

The majority of Canada’s biotechnology jobs are found in Ontario, Quebec, and Western Canada. These three areas account for 90% of the industry’s jobs with 38% in Ontario, 28% in Quebec, and 24% in Western Canada. 5% of the jobs are in the Prairie provinces and 5% in Atlantic Canada. Bio-health, at 58%, has the most jobs within the industry. 21% of the jobs are in the bio-industrial sub-sector, 14% in agri-bio, and 7% in bio-energy.

While there are a range of job opportunities within the industry, most roles fall into the research and development category at 26% followed by manufacturing and production at 22%. 14% of the jobs are in management, finance, and administration while distribution and logistics; marketing and communications; and quality control and assurance each represent 5% of the workforce. 3% of the employees are in information technology roles and 2% look after legal and regulatory affairs. The remaining 17% cover various other roles.

Biotechnology Employees Are Mostly Male

The biotechnology industry has some work to do to improve diversity in the workplace. It is a male-dominated industry with men accounting for 66% and women for 34% of the workforce. 17% of the employees are internationally educated professionals and 9% are recent immigrants. 20% come from visible minorities and only 1% are Indigenous People.

These figures show that the industry is less diverse than the overall workforce in Canada where women account for 47.5% of the employees. People with disabilities make up 10% and Indigenous People 3.5% of the workforce. Only the proportion of employees from visible minorities is similar at 22% of the overall Canadian workforce, while there are fewer recent immigrants in the overall workforce at just 4%.

Employment in the Bio-Health Sub-Sector Will Grow the Most

Between now and 2029, the bio-health sub-sector is expected to see the most growth. Its employment figures are expected to grow by 6.8%. The bio-industrial sub-sector will also see its workforce grow by 4.3%. However, agri-bio and bio-energy sub-sectors will see their employment numbers decrease by 1.6% and 4.7% respectively.

The Industry Will Experience Job Shortages in the Future

It is expected that the biotechnology industry will experience challenges in filling all the new jobs created between now and 2029. Between 2021 and the end of 2024, the growth rate of vacancies is expected to be around 1.5%. Between 2025 and 2029, the industry’s jobs will continue growing at a rate of around 1%. Based on these predictions, the industry will employ over 233,000 people by the end of the decade.

Historically, Canadians under 25 years old have been critical to the labour supply across all industries. However, the share of youth in the population has been declining in Canada. This age group accounted for 33% of the population in 2000 and by 2029 it will account for 26%. On the other hand, the proportion of individuals aged over 55 continues to increase. As more people are leaving the workforce and fewer are entering it, this will mean the industry will need to attract more immigrants to fill job openings.

The most severe shortages are most likely to be in the bio-manufacturing and processing sector where predictions suggest that employers will only be able to fill around 25% of job openings.

What Do Employers in Biotechnology Look For?

Most biotechnology jobs require at least an undergraduate degree while some require a postgraduate degree. Employers in the industry are most likely to hire students of biological and biomedical sciences, followed by engineering and multidisciplinary studies.

The most highly rated skill in potential employees is problem-solving with 86% of the companies naming it as a key skill. It was followed by collaboration skills at 78%, communication skills at 75%, and adaptability skills at 73%

Conclusion

Canada has a constantly growing and evolving biotechnology industry with a long history. The industry has an important role globally in developing new practices and technologies in the fields of health, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.

However, the industry is likely to face some challenges in the future, most notably in filling job openings in the growing industry. Employers in the industry look for problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills in prospective employees. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Biotechnology refers to industry that develops technologies and products using biological process in healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.

The biotechnology industry employs over 200,000 people in Canada. Most of the jobs are found in Ontario, followed by Quebec and Western Canada.

The biotechnology industry in Canada has excellent job prospects. It is estimated that the industry will experience staff shortages by the end of the decade, so it is a good industry to get into.

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