A study sponsored by the PEI BioAlliance has found that the bioscience sector was the province’s second-largest export industry in 2018, but CEO Rory Francis said in an interview that infrastructure and labour constraints represent obstacles to future growth.

Bioscience accounted for $214 million of GDP, or about 4.4 percent of the provincial economy, and $405 million of direct economic output, said the study by Jupia Consultants of Moncton. Workers made an average of just over $60,000 per year – about a 44 per cent improvement over the provincial mean.

Francis said the BioAlliance is preparing to announce several initiatives that it hopes will address the problems companies have been facing in accessing laboratory space and skilled workers.

“Growth does have consequences, and the consequence of what has been essentially a doubling of size of the sector over the 2012-2018 period has been that we’re out of space for early-stage companies to scale up manufacturing,” he said. “But the good news is that there are initiatives on the horizon.”

The life sciences segment now employs about 1,900 people in a province of just over 150,000, and Francis said the size of the industry is the result of an organized effort over 15 years from both the public and private sectors.

“You need the longer runway and you need the team to be all rowing together,” he said. “That’s the single most important aspect of what’s been going on here.”

Charlottetown-based Somru Adapts Platform for Infectious Diseases

A press release from the BioAlliance said that key players include the University of Prince Edward Island, Holland College and support organization BioFoodTech.

Francis also highlighted the role played by large corporations, such as drug manufacturer BioVectra and Charlottetown cannabis company Dosecann, which inject resources into the ecosystem by dint of their own activities.

To address shortages of laboratory and manufacturing space, he said that a new industrial park will eventually need to be built, complementing a now-full facility from 2012.

To alleviate a looming labour shortage, BioAlliance plans to help recruit skilled immigrants to P.E.I. and collaborate with local school systems and universities. The economic impact study said the bioscience sector is also attracting a high proportion of newcomers, with 43 percent of the companies surveyed having at least one founder who was not born in Canada.

Francis added that bioscience has proven relatively pandemic-proof, with sales at most companies remaining strong and about 1,800 workers continuing with their jobs.

“Certainly, there were lots of things that had to be done to make it all possible, but the markets for companies and their products did not seem to take a big hit,” he said. “It’s a resilient sector.”

Jupia’s study also revealed that the bioscience cluster contributed $63.8 million in tax revenue to governments in 2018. Bioscience companies are bringing national and international capital to P.E.I., it said, with $37 million in investment attraction in 2018.


Disclosure: The PEI BioAlliance and its EmerGence incubator are clients of Entrevestor.