Survey: Quebec's biotech industry in peril

Once Canada's envy, Quebec's biotechnology industry is a shadow of its former self and in danger of disappearing, according to the Montreal Gazette. A recent survey by BioQuébec of its members showed 70 percent of companies have less than one year of cash to operate their business--that's up from 50 percent last year. "Slowly, but surely, the industry is dying," said Yves Rosconi, the CEO of St. Laurent-based Theratechnologies, who serves on the executive of BioQuébec. "We're in danger of losing the whole bio-pharmaceutical sector very rapidly."

The sector, which includes drugmakers and medical researchers went from a high of 158 locally owned companies in 2003 to just 92 last year, according to figures to be released later this month in Beyond Borders, the annual portrait of the industry by Ernst & Young.

Rosconi laid the blame on the Quebec government, saying it should get rid of its approval process for all new drugs already approved for sale by Health Canada. He said it can take a year and a half to get a drug to market in Quebec after it has received all regulatory approvals because the government has to decide whether it will cover the cost of the drug. Rosconi said the government should fast-track all drug approvals and ask pharmaceutical companies to invest in local biotech firms in return for getting their drugs on the market sooner.

However, not everyone is discouraged by the situation. Peter Brenders, the president and CEO of BIOTECanada, said toward the end of last year, a few foreign companies invested in Canadian companies. And several companies, including Rosconi's Theratechnologies, are expected to receive approval from the FDA to market their drugs this year.

Earlier this month, Quebec-based Æterna Zentaris' perifosine received a fast-track designation from the FDA, according to MarketWatch. Perifosine rights have been licensed to Keryx BioPharmaceuticals for North America and to Handok for Korea. Æterna Zentaris holds the rest of the world rights.

- see the Montreal Gazette's coverage
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