MARS ramps up to exploit convergence of biosciences and other sectors

Guest Contributor
May 22, 2003

Critical mass of expertise

Toronto’s best bet for improving its commercialization performance for medical and biomedical research was officially unveiled with the launch of the Medical and Related Discoveries (MaRS) Discovery District project. The May 12 event brought together hundreds of prominent researchers, entrepreneurs and financiers from around the province to celebrate an ambitious venture that will bring on-line more than 60,000-sq-m of scientific, incubation and office space in the first phase alone. Phase one is already 60% leased (see box).

When completed by 2007, the two-phase project will offer 120,000-sq-m of space devoted to commercializing the vast amount of intellectual property emanating from the province’s universities and medical research institutes. In addition to providing prime real estate within walking distance of the Univ of Toronto, seven hospitals and 30 research institutes, MaRS’ real value lies in the networking of institutions and individuals who represent all the players in the complex process of commercialization. It also targets a whole range of technologies that are rapidly converging within the biosciences, including information technology, computing sciences, mathematics, nanotechnology and data management.

MaRS has attracted the support of numerous institutions and businesses as well as all levels of government. A breakthrough was achieved earlier this year when it secured a 30-year bond worth $100 million to finance construction. Considerable work has also been devoted to establishing a virtual network to other areas of medical research strength throughout the province, including a pilot project with the Univ of Guelph entitled MaRS LANDING (R$, January 20/03). Linkages are also being forged with Ottawa, Kingston, London, Waterloo and Hamilton.

“The purpose of MaRS is to enhance the commercialization of research and discovery and draw on terrific academic institutions. It’s a classical public-private partnership (and) of great significance for the economics of this city, this province and this country,” says MaRS board chair Dr John Evans. “This is the best buy almost anywhere in the world for top quality science at a low low cost.”

An early backer of the project is the Royal Bank of Canada (RBOC) along with the affiliated RBC Technology Ventures Inc. That support was reinforced in an address by RBC Financial Group CEO Gordon Nixon. But he also used the occasion to emphasize the problems Canada faces in achieving its innovation objectives and called for action by government and the financial community.


“We need to deepen the pool of investment capital if we are to build a successful bioscience industry in this country,” said Nixon. “We have to do much more to develop a financing system that can deal with the high risk and long lead times that characterize the world of bioscience ... At the very least we should remove barriers — for example, by allowing publicly traded bioscience companies to sell their unused R&D tax credits in flow-through shares, just as we already allow mining companies to do. Or alternatively, we should allow expenses to be treated as allowable expenses in limited partnerships.”



CMDF Ventures Inc

Royal Bank of Canada

RBC Technology Ventures Inc

Innovations Foundation (Univ of Toronto)


MDS Sciex

The Exceler@tor (Univ of Toronto)

University Health Network

Bluepoint Initiative

(Mount Sinai Research Institute)

Toronto Biotech Commercialization Centre

Strategic Health Innovations

Innovation Institute of Ontario

Ontario Innovation Trust

High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory

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