Leading Health and Life Sciences in Nova Scotia

See original article in LINK Magazine
In late October 2015 leaders from the life sciences community across Atlantic Canada gathered at BioPort Atlantic, the annual life sciences industry event to discuss the future of the sector. The conference provided a forum to inform and inspire the next generation of life sciences entrepreneurs to develop their ideas, commercialize their technologies and build links within the region and abroad. The outcomes of those discussions shed light on the future economic growth of the sector, hinting at a sustainable and competitive economic landscape for companies in the region.
Ron Keefe
In Atlantic Canada, the commercial life sciences cluster employs thousands of people, generating over $500 million in sales revenue each year. One of the area’s most successful leaders Ron Keefe, CEO of Prince Edward Island based BioVectra Inc. attended BioPort this year as the keynote speaker. A former lawyer, Mr. Keefe made a career change and joined drug manufacturer BioVectra after seeing potential for significant growth in the global biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. That decision would pay off a decade later when BioVectra was sold to Questcor Pharmaceuticals of Anaheim, California for $100 million.
During his time at BioPort Atlantic Mr. Keefe discussed the opportunities and obstacles that new entrepreneurs face in Atlantic Canada. As the CEO of the Regis Duffy BioScience Fund Inc., a private venture fund targeting science based businesses he knows one of the biggest struggles for new entrepreneurs is raising investment capital – a common issue in the region. In spite of the area’s challenges Mr. Keefe spoke optimistically about the future of the sector and the resilience of aspiring entrepreneurs.
“With limited resources Atlantic Canadians have persevered with a renewed entrepreneurial spirit and I really truly believe we will have a changed economy over the next ten years.”
To support entrepreneurs entering the market Mr. Keefe hopes to see an increased investment in infrastructure by government. With the creation of incubation centres and pilot scale facilities for the manufacturing sector he believes new entrepreneurs would have a strong foundation of support to innovate and bring their products to market faster – something he says would have benefited BioVectra in their early days.
Another local leader who came to inspire and motivate attendees at BioPort Atlantic was Marc St-Onge, Founder of Ascenta Health Ltd. and current CEO and Founder of Ascenta Skin. Appointed as the Honorary Conference Chair, St-Onge kicked off the conference with some key insights from his journey through entrepreneurship. He attributed much of his success to building a strong brand culture which helped him to sell his omega-3 fish oil supplement to customers seeking improved health and wellness.
St-Onge became committed to both validated science and healthy living after dealing with his own health struggles. Combining his entrepreneurial and research background, he seized opportunities to create sustainable and health focused products. Through Ascenta he was able to attract a growing market of people who were eager to support a health focused brand making it easier to attract talent, investors and sell his products. “Culture makes your organization solid, a company’s culture is their biggest asset” says St-Onge.
Michael Fergusson
To end off the conference attendees were introduced to a new presentation topic with a focus on healthcare’s digital future. The Digital Health presentation was added as an introduction to the emerging digital health sector focusing on areas of opportunity for Atlantic Canadian companies to solve health related issues using new technologies. With the region’s growing IT sector and flourishing health/life sciences industry the digital health presentation was a popular session for attendees.
Michael Fergusson, CEO and Founder of Vancouver based Ayogo lead the discussion on digital health at the conference. His company Ayogo created a technology that offers a digital platform for healthcare organizations that helps patients manage chronic illness. The company was named one of the 100 most innovative mHealth companies in the world, and Fergusson was recently named Ernst & Young’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
During his speech he spoke about the psychology behind the process of creating a tech solution for a healthcare issue. Through research he has learned to improve engagement with technology by appealing to people’s emotions and normal habits rather than to build a technology without those considerations. He attributed much of Ayogo’s success in the digital health space to this philosophy and hoped to impart that knowledge on Nova Scotia’s budding digital health community.

Each year BioPort Atlantic aims to educate, build awareness and generate and discuss opportunities to grow the life sciences industry in Atlantic Canada. As the sector has evolved the conference agenda has evolved with it, continuing to bring the latest topics and speakers to the region and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.