There are misconceptions about commercializing biotechnology in Ontario, explains Michael Cloutier, founding partner of Accelera Canada Ltd. But in this article, Cloutier dispels these myths while giving us the inside scoop on what it takes to grow a new biotech venture in the province.

Misconception #1: Commercializing in Ontario is difficult for smaller players, especially those looking to market rare disease treatments

"The truth," says Cloutier, "is that getting a new rare disease treatment into the hands of physicians and patients quickly in Canada is a matter of ensuring that all interested stakeholders are focused and engaged in accelerating the product's accessibility."

"That means everyone is doing the necessary groundwork, including having early conversations with governments, private insurers and health care professionals so they grasp the value of the product to the patient."

Esbriet, a treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is a good example of how an emerging biotech company, government, third-party insurers, patients, their advocacy groups and health care professionals worked together to expedite access to a product, says Cloutier. The drug reached full market access in about 20 months.

Misconception #2: Because of it's single-payer system, Ontario must be financially restrictive

This idea emerges from the assumption that a single-payer system must drive prices down and therefore make it difficult to succeed in the market, says Cloutier. There is also the notion that provinces, as a group, may negotiate a price that would be unacceptably discounted to companies based in the U.S. or Europe – or even, for that matter, in Canada.

"They think that the Ontario government – the public payer – is negotiating prices far below an acceptable level, so they shouldn't risk entering the marketplace," he says. "But that simply isn't true. There are actually a number of players in the system, including private insurers and patients willing to pay out of pocket for innovative medications."

In fact, Canada has 138 different health insurance providers, and 24 million Canadians (about two-thirds of the population) have supplementary or private health insurance. In 2015, insurance companies paid out $32.2 billion in health insurance benefits to Canadians for prescription drugs, which represented 30% of national drug spending.

Misconception #3: It's just too hard to launch a product and bring it to Canada – it's not worth the work or risk

"In reality, it's much easier than many companies imagine because there is demand here for products to commercialize", says Cloutier, whose firm provides guidance and counsel to mitigate market entry risks.

“Small biotech firms outside Canada may not realize that there are a number of small Canadian companies looking for products to license – companies who want to be the ones that make something available to Ontarians and Canadians," he says. "These companies are based in Ontario and are excited to take these assets on because they're meaningful for Canadian patients, caregivers and health care professionals."

An important factor that helps companies looking to launch in Ontario is ready access to top talent.

"This province has the best and largest pool of talent in the country for biotech companies, no matter what business area you're talking about – scientific, medical, clinical, regulatory, market access or supply chain distribution," says Cloutier. "That's a big selling point."

For companies looking to conduct clinical trials, expertise is critical – and plentiful here. "Some of the best scientists, clinicians and health care practitioners in the world are in Ontario, which has multiple centres of excellence, including not just Toronto but also London, Hamilton, Ottawa, Kingston and others," says Cloutier.

But that's not all….

Ontario and Canada are attractive from a corporate tax perspective, says Cloutier – and Ontario cities are appealing destinations for international organizations that may require ex-pat employees, because people love living here.

Cloutier and his team work closely with clients to design their market access strategies, offering a knowledgeable perspective on the reimbursement prospects for their particular product - weighing the public market versus the private insurance market versus the cash market. But eventually, the conversation comes around to other aspects of growing a business in Ontario – such as taxes and lifestyle.

"We have an amazing education system, great health care and great communities. It's safe, it's clean, it's just a wonderful place to live," says Cloutier.

Accelera Canada specializes in tailored end-to-end commercialization in Canada for emerging biotech ventures, offering insider knowledge and resources to guide market entry from regulatory, pricing and market access issues to advocacy, strategic alliances and analytics. It also offers CEO services to help firms navigate the Canadian market with confidence.

Biotech firms large and small are prospering in Ontario – find out why

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