Why Canada is the perfect destination for life sciences events

Canada’s cutting-edge research across a range of life sciences subsectors is helping to create a healthier and happier world, while attracting top-tier international business events, writes Wendy Helfenbaum

(Photo credit: Destination Canada)

(Photo credit: Destination Canada)

Canada's strength within the life sciences sector stems from its pioneering research and development, and innovation in the delivery of healthcare and patient care, from coast to coast to coast. In March this year, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced a $92 million investment to drive innovation and scale-up training activities in the sector, supplementing Canada’s already generous spending in the arena.

With its large pool of life sciences professionals, spanning a broad range of expertise, Canada is a compelling draw for international business and professional conferences seeking access to first-rate academic institutions, extensive research networks and numerous partnership opportunities. Planners wanting to incorporate thought leadership, and technical tours of world-class laboratories and research centres, into their meeting or conference schedule can choose from several beautiful cities across Canada.

Here's how six cities are becoming the gold standard for life sciences business events.

Toronto: The heartbeat of Canada’s life sciences sector

Toronto is a global hub for life science research and business, employing more than 36,000 people in the sector and home to more than half of the top 100 world's top life sciences companies (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

Toronto is a global hub for life science research and business, employing more than 36,000 people in the sector and home to more than half of the top 100 world's top life sciences companies (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

 Canada’s largest combined life sciences centre employs 36,000 people and is home to more than half of the top 100 life sciences companies in the world, 37 research institutes and nine teaching hospitals. Renowned for its innovation in genomics, healthcare-related AI, neuroscience and regenerative medicine, Toronto  benefits from $1 billion spent each year on public and private research carried out in the Discovery District, Canada's largest concentration of hospitals, research institutes, business incubators and venture capital organisations.

"Toronto is the most diverse city on the planet," says Dr Milos R Popovic, Director of Research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at the University Health Network and chair of RehabWeek 2019. "This diversity of thought, ideas and culture has enabled us to become a leader in the technology field and in medical research."

 Planners can tap Toronto's five universities and six colleges for speakers, in addition to leveraging the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, an international non-profit bringing together 600-plus leading research and life sciences organisations to securely share genomic and health-centric data. 

“We wanted to emphasise the translational stage of stem cell biology at the meeting, and chose the perfect venue: Toronto really embraces diversity and innovation"

- Robert Deans, PhD, member of the Toronto Organizing Committee for the International Symposium of The International Society for Stem Cell Research

The city is no stranger to life sciences innovators. Toronto-based InteraXon developed brainwave-sensing technology for applications like the Muse meditation headband. At the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Cancer Targeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation study uses next-generation genome sequencing technology to create a province-wide database. 

Toronto attracts many world-class conferences, including 2019's International Symposium of The International Society for Stem Cell Research.

"We wanted to emphasise the translational stage of stem cell biology at the meeting, and chose the perfect venue: Toronto really embraces diversity and innovation," says Robert Deans, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer at BlueRock Therapeutics and member of the Toronto Organizing Committee for that event. "We had access to the top thought-leaders in the field."

Other groups that recently met in Toronto include the Society for Vascular Surgery, the Advanced Medical Technology Association. And, looking ahead, Toronto is set to host the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics in 2024.

Vancouver: Leading the way in cancer research and genome analysis

Much of Vancouver’s life-science activity is clustered in the University of British Columbia–Broadway Corridor (Photo credit: Destination Vancouver/Hubert Kang)

Much of Vancouver’s life-science activity is clustered in the University of British Columbia–Broadway Corridor (Photo credit: Destination Vancouver/Hubert Kang)

The city of Vancouver is a major hub for life sciences research, both nationally and globally. British Columbia’s life sciences industry includes about 310 companies — about 70 per cent of them located in Metro Vancouver — with a particular focus on areas such as oncology research; infectious diseases, including a focus on HIV, SARS and prions; neuroscience research; and regenerative medicine. The sector employs about 18,000 people across the province, with a $14bn impact on British Columbia’s GDP, with a mix of established and next-generation firms such as STEMCELL Technologies and Amgen’s BC-based subsidiary.  

Much of Vancouver’s life-science activity is clustered in the University of British Columbia–Broadway Corridor. Ranked as the top life science university in the country, UBC has commercialised more than 80 life sciences technologies and its Life Sciences Institute is home to 17 Canadian research chairs. The Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at BC Cancer is an international leader in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics for precision medicine. Its team of experts bring a range of expertise in an effort to advance the global understanding of cancer and other diseases and could make for insightful presenters at life-science events.

The sector employs more than 14,000 people across the province, generating more than $800 million in revenue annually, with a mix of established and next-generation firms such as STEMCELL Technologies and Amgen’s BC-based subsidiary.

Another of BC Cancer’s distinguished programmes is the Personalized Onco-Genomics Program, the first programme of its kind to deploy whole genome analysis to inform individual treatment planning for patients. The Centre for Clinical Genomics, dedicated to providing diagnostic genomic testing for the population of British Columbia, provides another research institute on the leading-edge of life sciences. The institution detects mutations in the 17 genes most commonly tested to screen for hereditary breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers, among other work.

Plenty of innovation is coming from the city's private sector as well. For example, Vancouver-based Augurex and its partners developed a 14-3-3 eta blood test called JOINTstat, which has been adopted by clinical labs worldwide.

With this wealth of life science resources, it is no wonder that Vancouver has numerous life science conferences on the books for the coming months and years. These include this year’s Connective Tissue Oncology Society annual meeting, expected to draw 1,000 attendees, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging annual meeting, expecting 5,000 attendees. In 2023, Vancouver is expected to welcome the Society for Neuro-Oncology’s annual meeting and the Union World Conference on Lung Health as well as the World Congress of Anesthesiology in 2028.

Montréal: Advancing AI in health

Montreal is home to four universities with 36 life sciences programmes, training more than 10,000 graduates each year, including McGill University, home to the McGill University Health Centre (Photo credit: Alexandre Choquette - Tourisme Montréal)

Montreal is home to four universities with 36 life sciences programmes, training more than 10,000 graduates each year, including McGill University, home to the McGill University Health Centre (Photo credit: Alexandre Choquette - Tourisme Montréal)

Montréal, Québec is Canada's top city for R&D investment and research centres in the life sciences sector, with five areas of excellence: neuroscience, cardiology, oncology, metabolic diseases and AI. With 44,000 people working at more than 650 organisations, including 12,000 researchers and professionals in 300 public and para-public research centres, Montréal is a catalyst for innovation in areas of research from cancer to genomics.

Some of the top research facilities in the city include McGill University Health Centre and the University of Montréal Hospital Research Centre, one of the largest hospital-based research centres in North America. Five universities with 36 life sciences programmes train more than 10,000 graduates each year.

Industry giants including MERCK, Pfizer, Medtronic, Abbvie and Novartis have headquarters in Montréal, a city known for its scientific excellence and collaboration between research, industry and government. 

Researchers from McGill University, along with an international team of more than 1,300 scientists and clinicians, recently concluded the ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Project (PCAWG), known as the Pan-Cancer Project, the most comprehensive map of whole cancer genomes. The study improves the fundamental understanding of cancer, identifying new pathways for diagnosis and treatment. This project will now be a valuable resource for future cancer genomics research.

Events slated to take place in Montréal include the AIDS 2022 conference, 2023 Annual Meeting and Exhibition for the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and the 2023 Congress of the International Council of Nurses. 

Edmonton: Expanding research in genetics and gene therapy

Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing at Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (Photo credit: Explore Edmonton)

Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing at Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton (Photo credit: Explore Edmonton)

Edmonton, Alberta, is a hotbed of innovation that fuels research in biotech, medtech, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Home to the University of Alberta, one of Canada's leading research facilities and Alberta Health Services — the largest integrated health system in Canada. The institution attracts more than $500 million annually in external research funding. In 2020, Dr Michael Houghton, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology, at the University of Alberta, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

Many of the city's hospitals have health research institutes, including the Cross Cancer Institute, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Genome Alberta Metabolomics Innovation Centre. The city is also home to Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and the SMART (Sensory Motor Adaptive Rehabilitation Technology) network facility.  The Edmonton Health Cities Initiative helps entrepreneurs navigate the health innovation sector in Edmonton to advance disruptive health innovations.

 “We picked Edmonton because it has a well-established medical genetics programme, and we rely on genetic counsellors in the host city to help pick the venue, create the scientific content and source local experts"

- Charlotte Fung, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors conference education committee

Edmonton's convention facilities and hotels are close to six education institutions, so planners can incorporate technical tours and entry to research labs, health accelerators and simulation centres to their event schedules. 
 
"We picked Edmonton because it has a well-established medical genetics programme, and we rely on genetic counsellors in the host city to help pick the venue, create the scientific content and source local experts," says Charlotte Fung, a Toronto-based genetic counsellor and co-chair of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors conference education committee.

"We relied on our genetic counselling colleagues from the Clinical and Metabolic Genetics clinic in Edmonton to identify and connect with local academic and industry expertise; they suggested Canada Research Chair in health law and policy Dr Tim Caulfield as our keynote speaker, and we're grateful he will deliver his presentation virtually in October." 

CAGC's conference returns to Edmonton in person in 2023, adds Fung, which will be a great opportunity to highlight the gene therapy work being done here. 

"There have been many advances in medical genetics and genetic counselling, and we're eager for updates from our medical and biochemical genetics colleagues," she says. "Edmonton provides a multitude of culinary and entertainment options for our attendees. There are direct flights from most major centres in Canada, and Edmonton is a wonderful city to enjoy in the fall."

Halifax: Connecting researchers, industry and infrastructure

In addition to stunning coastal views, Nova Scotia boasts top research centres and hospitals, as well as six universities with significant resources in life sciences (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

In addition to stunning coastal views, Nova Scotia boasts top research centres and hospitals, as well as six universities with significant resources in life sciences (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

Located on Canada's East Coast, Halifax, Nova Scotia, offers many competitive advantages in the health and life sciences sector, including top research centres and state-of-the art hospitals conducting R&D for a booming industry. With six universities in the city and 10 throughout the province, Halifax is also Canada's post-secondary capital, and planners can tap the expertise of more than 22,000 people employed in the life sciences sector across the province.
 
Generating more than $300 million across 1,500 companies in Nova Scotia, Halifax's health and life sciences sector includes the Life Science Research Institute, an integrated facility that hosts Innovacorp — a venture capital organisation that supports start-ups — the Brain Repair Centre — known for its success treating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease — and industry associations like BioNova. More than 100 multinational biotech companies have partnerships or facilities in Halifax including Novartis, Pfizer, GkaxiSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Halifax's world-class harbourfront location provides the perfect setting for events.

Halifax's Dalhousie University is home to the Institute of Genetics, one of 13 institutes that make up the Canadian Institute of Health Research. The Institute of Genetics is headed up by Dr Christopher McMaster, who specialises in identifying genetic mutations that can treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy. He is also Director of the Cheminformatics Drug Discovery Lab, which uses sophisticated software to design and then synthesise new drugs, and serves as a Director of Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology (CCfV) at Dalhousie University developed Canada's first COVID-19 vaccine approved for trial.

Halifax is home to many life sciences innovators including ABK Biomedical, a medical device company dedicated to improving treatment options for patients with hypervascular tumours.

Recent conferences hosted in Halifax include the 2017 International Conference on Magnetic Resonance Microscopy and 2018's International Society for Heart Research.

Ottawa: Home to world-class facilities and expert faculties

Ottawa's Shaw Centre features more than 192,000 sqft of meeting space and a central location near the capital city's cultural and commercial attractions (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

Ottawa's Shaw Centre features more than 192,000 sqft of meeting space and a central location near the capital city's cultural and commercial attractions (Photo credit: Destination Canada)

Canada's capital city, Ottawa, houses federal departments and agencies employing leading life sciences experts that are directly responsible for health regulation, protection, promotion and research funding. Nearly 6,500 people in 130 companies are active in this sector at world-class research facilities that support discovery, development, commercialisation and expertise in health IT, eHealth and medical devices.

Five of Canada's top hospital research institutes are located here, along with Canada's National Research Council and 35 Canada Research Chairs. Planners can access experts from the private sector, government and academia and within Ottawa's two national life science Networks of Excellence. This includes the Stem Cell Network, which enables the transition of stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. The other Network of Excellence is the pan-Canada Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment, which develops, manufactures and conducts clinical testing of personal biotherapeutics. The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa researchers conducted the first made-in-Canada CAR-T cell clinical trial. CAR-T therapy uses patients’ own genetically engineered immune cells to attack their cancers.

“Ottawa is an ideal choice: it’s a safe city with 6,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the Shaw Centre, with museums and the ByWard Market down the street, so you can walk anywhere"

- Paul White, research scientist at Health Canada’s Environmental Health Sciences & Research Bureau

The city's natural beauty and walkable, compact downtown is ideal for delegates wishing to explore national landmarks and museums, says one of the organisers for the 2022 International Conference on Environmental Mutagens.

"Ottawa is an ideal choice: it's a safe city with 6,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the Shaw Centre, with museums and the ByWard Market down the street, so you can walk anywhere," says Paul White, a research scientist at Health Canada's Environmental Health Sciences & Research Bureau. 

Upcoming meetings include the 2022 International Congress on Infant Studies and 2023 International Society for Paediatric Oncology.

As this wealth of examples reflects, Canadian cities are brimming with life sciences knowledge ready to be shared with those that meet there. Events can tap into the country’s extensive innovation ecosystem by arranging enlightening site tours of best-in-class facilities, booking industry-leading keynote speakers and engaging in business-to-business exchanges. Accessing Canada’s sector-specific know-how is sure to elevate any event.

Additionally, Canada is home to over 60 industry professionals, across everything from destination marketing organisations to convention centres, who hold the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certification. This means that planners can rest assured that their medical meetings can move ahead efficiently and in compliance with the latest guidelines.

In Canada, life sciences leaders will find support from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as academia and innovation investors, and one of the world's easiest visa regimes. Further simplifying the business process is the pool of destination and sector experts provided by Destination Canada Business Events. The team’s sector-specific knowledge, as well as their mastery of the country’s event landscape, makes the Destination Canada Business Events team an immensely valuable resource for any planners looking to create a meaningful event, no matter the size. To learn about assets and opportunities, and arrange research trips and site inspections, go to businesseventscanada.ca

Experts in excellence

Destination Canada Business Events should be a first stop for life sciences executives and organisers.

Learn more about Canada’s strengths in the life sciences sector here or contact Destination Canada Business Events’ life sciences sector specialist, Pamela Wilton, at [email protected]

Canada is an ideal destination for business events in numerous innovative sectors. Click here to learn about Canada's leadership in sectors including technology, agribusiness, natural resources and more.