We’re well into a new year but in many ways, it feels like 2021 all over again. The COVID-19 pandemic remains, the future still feels uncertain, the challenges for economic recovery ahead feel enormous. But there is reason for optimism about the Edmonton region’s economic future — thanks to some exciting opportunities on the horizon.
A little over a year ago, I took on the role of vice-president of external relations at the University of Alberta. The job has given me a unique position from which to view the economic potential of transformative research and new technologies. The U of A is at the forefront of incredible shifts happening in several industries, such as hydrogen, biopharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence and food and agriculture. Big things are happening here that will benefit the Edmonton region, and I want to share those opportunities with you.
Due to the health challenges we continue to face, biomanufacturing — particularly the production of medicines — is very much on my mind.
In Canada, we import an astonishing 85 per cent of all our vaccines and therapeutics — more than four times the number we did in the 1970s. This dependency made us vulnerable during the pandemic because it delayed our access to COVID-19 vaccines; but we have the solution right here in the Edmonton region.
The U of A’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, led by Nobel laureate Michael Houghton, has teamed up with industry-led Edmonton non-profit Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation to create the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative. CCDI aims to turn Edmonton into one of Canada’s leading hubs for biomanufacturing. Our region is the perfect place for this partnership to thrive.
Between our Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and world-renowned Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, led by acclaimed researcher Lorne Tyrrell, we are home to Canada’s largest collection of virologists. Our region has one of Canada’s largest chemical manufacturing clusters — expertise that can be used to scale up production of pharmaceuticals into consumer-ready products. Add to that our province’s strong agricultural industry, and we are poised to provide the raw ingredients for many new life-saving therapies.
Once the initiative is fully funded, it would create 500 to 1,000 high-paying jobs — not to mention additional employment in support and spin-off industries.
This is only the beginning! CCDI will build a pipeline of talented scientists, provide an exciting new industry for people to retrain into, and create a stable and potentially lucrative revenue source for our region and province.
CCDI is one of the transformative shifts taking place in our region. Although challenges remain, our business community is part of a large and incredible story of resilience. During the pandemic, companies large and small became more resourceful and creative, and adapted to conditions we could never have anticipated.
Our entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. By continuing to work together to advance our region, I believe our future will be bright and prosperous.
Elan MacDonald is past chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and a founding director with Edmonton Global. She also sits on the boards of Covenant Health, Atlas Biotechnologies and Alberta Ballet. She is the vice-president (external relations) of the University of Alberta.