The excitement over the burgeoning biotech sector in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent has obscured recent progress in the Canadian biotech industry. While attention has been focused on young European companies, Canada has experienced its own rebound in government-funded research and state-sponsored entrepreneurship and an upsurge in the number of new companies.

Indeed, the government estimates that more than 100 biotech companies have been formed in Canada since 1997 while at the top end, Canada has three companies valued at more than $1 billion, with one, QLT Inc., last year providing one of the global sector's key product approvals with its Visudyne verteporfin for wet age-related macular degeneration.

But just as in Germany, managers at the larger Canadian companies are warning that government largess won't create a sustainable sector. Rather, they argue that Canadian companies now must focus on consolidation and getting access to the deeper U.S. capital pool via listings on NASDAQ.

Government backing

During the mid-1990s, Canadian government funding for basic research went through a three-year decline, even as federal sources of funding in the U.S. began to rise. Departments at the federal level in Canada saw their budgets cut as much as 50 percent, with the primary biomedical research granting agency - the Medical Research Council (MRC) - losing 10 percent.