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If you build it, they will stay: Ending Ottawa’s biotech brain drain

uOttawa Advanced Medical Research Centre

Ottawa enjoys a global reputation for medical research and innovation, but for that to continue, more lab space and investment will be needed.

“I have discussions with the CEOs of Canadian companies who question, on a monthly basis, whether they should be moving to the United States,” says Dane Bedward, a leading expert with over 30 years of experience in the global medical and life sciences sector.

He joined the fundraising Council of Champions for the University of Ottawa’s new Advanced Medical Research Centre (AMRC).

This spring, the University of Ottawa will break ground on its largest-ever investment: the AMRC. It will feature 350,000 square feet of advanced research space with a dozen state-of-the-art facilities not found anywhere else in the region.

It will also house the Health Innovation Hub, where researchers, clinicians, investors and entrepreneurs will team up to accelerate the discovery and commercialization of new therapies.

“We need to be able to get researchers to commercialize their intellectual property. But we also need to support them with the space and the equipment they need to make these discoveries. It’s quite expensive,” Bedward explains. “You can’t do it from scratch by yourself.”

Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo can relate.

He’s the CEO of Ottawa-based Virica, a biotech company that manufactures specialized products for researchers who use viruses to develop vaccines and treatments for cancers and genetic diseases.

Virica’s products have properties that make drug manufacturing more cost-effective.

“We’ve had multiple situations where we almost left, mostly related to lab space. I couldn’t find lab space,” recounts Diallo. “Ottawa is not well developed in the life sciences. The culture and the setup are not conducive to the longer and more capital-intensive biotech life cycle,” he adds.

Scheduled to open in 2026, the AMRC intends to fill that gap. Diallo says the partnerships that will grow out of the AMRC are overdue. “There’s a lot of pressure for scientists like me, for example, to also be strong entrepreneurs.

You need to know everything about starting a business, from product marketing to human resources, finance and fundraising. But scientists are not trained this way. We don’t learn this through our PhDs and postdoctoral studies,” he explains.

Dane Bedward echoes these sentiments. “With the support that universities now are starting to give to their researchers with intellectual property, I think we’re going to create that environment to keep them here,” he says. “We don’t blow our own horns enough.

There’s so much grey matter here, but so many inventions that have come out of Canada get gobbled up and taken outside Canada.”

Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo says the AMRC will provide huge opportunities for the next wave of Ottawa’s biotech entrepreneurs. “If that space is not there, those companies will for sure leave or not launch at all,” Diallo reiterates.

For more information on the AMRC and how to support Canadian research and health-care innovation, please contact uOttawa’s Jonathan Bodden at or 613-614-3571.