Key Takeaways from the 2017 Cantech Investment Conference

On January 18, 2017, investors, analysts, and entrepreneurs converged on the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the 2017 Cantech Investment Conference. Exhibitors at the conference spanned a number of industries from cybersecurity to specialty finance to cannabis.

One of the key themes of the conference was that although the "age of the unicorn" may have come to an end, the adoption of innovation is now deeply entrenched and integral into the way companies need to do business to survive. Not only are corporations outsourcing their research and development to start-ups and small tech companies, but they are increasingly having to innovate over new hurdles in order to compete in a world where competitive lines between companies are consistently being redrawn – a world where advancements in technology means that Amazon is no longer competing only with the likes of Walmart and Target, but also with FedEx and UPS.

These technological advancements are becoming particularly salient in the biotech sector. This year, the conference introduced an inaugural 'Biotech Alley', which featured a number of biotech and life sciences companies. In a panel entitled "Undervalued Emerging Biotech Companies Developing Breakthrough Therapies", Eden Rahim, Portfolio Manager of the Bio-Tech Plus Fund at Next Edge Capital Corp. spoke with representatives from three TSX/TSX-V listed biotech companies (ProMIS Neurosciences, Inc. [TSX: PMN], RepliCel Life Sciences Inc. [TSXV: RP], and Critical Outcome Technologics Inc. [TSXV: COT]),  about the important trends in biotech in Canada. Panel discussion touched on the following key areas:

  • One of the trends in biotech in recent years has been the marriage of informational or process technology with the development of novel therapeutics. Companion technology, whether it be a new computational software that helps identify molecular structures or epitopes, the development of a standardized manufacturing or delivery process, or the use of a proprietary algorithm, has been supporting drug development by speeding up the time and decreasing the cost required to identify targets, increasing target specificity, improving quality control and streamlining the drug delivery process. 
  • Precision medicine was identified as a key theme in the future of healthcare. The ability to sequence entire genomes for the cost of about $100 on a lab desk was discussed as a very real near-term possibility, potentially revolutionizing the way that therapeutics are developed, diseases are diagnosed, and treatment administered.
  • The difficulty Canadian biotech firms face raising capital at the pre-clinical or early clinical stage in Canada, compared to other jurisdictions such as the U.S., emerged as a core discussion point. The panel discussed that in Canada, valuations are often lower than comparable companies in the United States and there tends to be more difficulty raising capital, the unintended positive consequence being that Canadian companies are forced to find more efficient ways to deploy capital. That said, the panel also noted that capital is increasingly being raised in Canada from less conventional sources, such as angel investors, family offices, and patient foundations focused on finding solutions to specific healthcare problems.

As usual, the Cantech Investment Conference provided an opportunity to take the pulse of developments in the Canadian tech industry.