Living the life (science) in Ottawa

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Living the life (science) in Ottawa

By Lesley Mackay, Vice-President Meetings and Major Events, Ottawa Tourism.


Twenty-five major conferences devoted to life sciences will be held in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, between 2019 and 2022.  Their delegates will feel right at home and in good company: Ottawa has emerged as a true leader in life sciences, with close to 4,000 people employed and 140 companies active in the sector – plus world-class research facilities and institutes that support innovation, discovery, development and commercialisation.

As the country’s capital, Ottawa is home to Canada’s national government, including departments and agencies that employ leading life sciences experts and are directly responsible for health regulation, protection, promotion and research funding. Five of Canada’s top hospital research institutes are located in the city, along with Canada’s National Research Council and no fewer than 35 Canada Research Chairs. Two major national life science Networks of Excellence are also based in Ottawa: the Steam Cell Network, Canada’s premier research organisation dedicated to enabling the transition of stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy; and Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment, a pan-Canadian network of expertise and infrastructure for the development, manufacture and clinical testing of personal biotherapeutics.

The city has become a leader in cardiovascular and other related areas of health research, with an ecosystem of high-calibre scientists and clinicians active in this area. Many conduct their research and trials at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canada’s largest cardiovascular research centre and ranked in the top three percent of worldwide research institutions based on the quality and impact of their scientific publications. Research in this area is also being conducted at Carleton University, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the National Research Council.

Oncology and paediatric oncology research are, likewise, a major area of focus in Ottawa, with world-leading research and clinical trials being conducted on stem cell therapies, nerve transfer and double virus-therapy at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. That’s just one of seven major clinical trials that have been conducted in the city over the past several years.

Big Data has entered the life sciences scene in Ottawa, with the recent launch of the Bruyère Centre for Individualised Health to improve the health of aging and vulnerable populations. It brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines to determine how Big Data can help and support patients with individualised care.

With all of that research, expertise and innovation happening in Ottawa, the city has also become a hotbed of private sector life sciences research, development and commercialisation. During 2015-16 alone, the University of Ottawa spun off seven life sciences companies, including Turnstone Biologics, which has raised over CAD$65m in venture capital funding to support its novel oncolytic viral immunotherapies for cancer. Clearwater Clinical, another homegrown Ottawa life sciences success story, has transformed costly and outdated equipment used in hospitals across the country with leading-edge devices that enable medical professionals to securely capture, manage and share high quality patient information. And the i-Stat System for performing rapid blood analysis at the patient’s bedside was pioneered at Abbott Point of Care’s Ottawa location.

The life sciences are alive and thriving in Ottawa – and that is increasingly becoming a draw for major associations, societies and companies involved in the sector. Major conferences coming to Ottawa include the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the Society for the Study of Reproduction, the International Society for Hip Arthroscopy, International Society of Paediatric Oncology, International Association of Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Societies, and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society – to name but a few. They not only recognise that Ottawa is a centre of life sciences expertise, but also that as a G7 capital, it puts their event on an international stage.

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