Engineering Biology: A platform technology to fuel multi-sector economic recovery and modernize biomanufacturing in Canada
Led by Ontario Genomics and written collaboratively by the National Engineering Biology Steering Committee, this White Paper discusses how engineering biology is a national opportunity to advance Canada’s knowledge-based economy and create high-quality jobs and training opportunities. It will also ensure that Canadian biotechnology companies and manufacturers are competitive in the growing global market.
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Engineering biology tools and technologies are disrupting global markets and creating incredible opportunities for the most innovative organizations. Leading G20 jurisdictions including the US, UK, Australia, and China, as well as Singapore, are investing greatly in the development of engineering biology and are reaping benefits both economically and in the fight against COVID-19.
Now is the time for Canada to leverage its tremendous advantage and capacity to cement its leadership and collaborate across sectors, to bring together genomics and molecular biosciences with engineering, automation, miniaturization, and artificial intelligence and the application of engineering principles to biological systems. Canada must take advantage of its existing strengths by building state-of-the-art and robust engineering biology capacity to ensure that we can export our products to the world and decrease our reliance on imports.
Using engineering biology as a technology platform, Canada can capitalize on existing industry capacity, align academic expertise, and lead in the following three “vertical pillars”:
Low-carbon manufacturing: Expanding engineering biology applications in low-carbon industrial biotechnology will rejuvenate industries and protect jobs, “green” the economy by reducing GHG emissions and waste, move us towards carbon neutrality, all while growing Canadian global competitiveness in this important export sector. Priority Opportunity: Circular Bioeconomy for Biomaterials and Minerals.
Food security: Expanding Canada’s status as agricultural innovators and one of the leading exporters of sustainable agricultural and agri-food products and strengthening our leadership in plant-based and alternative proteins through engineering biology technology. Priority Opportunity: Protein Biomanufacturing.
Advanced Engineering Health Technologies: Expanding Canada’s expertise in developing and manufacturing advanced diagnostics, vaccines, and biologics will help revitalize Canada’s life sciences industry and make healthcare more effective while fighting the current pandemic, fueling economic recovery, and preparing for future disease outbreaks. Priority Opportunity: Advanced Biologics.
Canada already has the fundamental elements necessary to create a world-leading engineering biology ecosystem – with renowned academics and innovative companies and development of biofoundry infrastructure for research, testing, and scale-up. However, the organization of a coherent network is lacking, and the fragmented approach taken so far has hindered the realization of Canada’s full potential in this field. We need to build a cohesive and fully integrated network that encompasses the Canadian engineering biology community to facilitate the discovery-to-commercialization pipeline across sectors, the creation of innovative start-ups, the renewal of traditional industries, and the development of talent and skills required for the biomanufacturing jobs of the future.
We are calling for the following actions:
Funding an inclusive engineering biology innovation ecosystem in partnership with industry that leverages current and future Canadian capacities across industry, academia, and government towards accelerated product development.
Building on recent investments in vaccine development and manufacturing to include multi-functional biofoundries and scale-up facilities in strategic geographic areas;
Creating legal, ethical, and regulatory conditions that enable the rapid and safe approval of innovative technologies;
Supporting outreach and community engagement for consumer trust and accelerated adoption of new technologies;
Developing talent and skills that prepare the Canadian workforce for the future biomanufacturing economy; and
Seizing the opportunity for collaboration and partnership across funders and organizations both nationally and internationally.
The full integration of engineering biology into Canada’s economy necessitates a truly national, inclusive, and cooperative strategy and action plan. By building biological systems to meet Canada’s needs and by helping our largest industry sectors innovate and transition, we will create a stronger and greener Canadian economy. Can-DESyNe, Canada’s engineering biology network, was conceptualized and built to do just that by connecting the right players together to solve big problems. While focusing on opportunities in verticals where Canada can lead, the network facilitates horizontal sector integration of engineering biology technologies providing impetus and opportunities for industries to work together. By doing so, common supply chains and research facilities can lead to more value creation across industries without the need for sector-specific infrastructure and highly qualified personnel (HQP) will be able to move readily between industries. With this network, Canada will be better positioned to drive biomanufacturing-fueled pandemic and economic recovery and nurture the existing seeds of engineering biology while creating a forward-looking, sustainable bio-based economic future for Canadians.