Life Sciences & Biotechnology

The life sciences sector in Alberta is estimated to be responsible for more than $1 billion in revenues each year and employs more than 12,000 people. It is also experiencing incredible growth and gaining global recognition for its innovation and R&D efforts.

That growth offers opportunities for investors looking for the potential that can be found in life sciences companies — and tremendous opportunities to positively impact Alberta’s economy.

In a recent survey of life sciences companies in the province, conducted by consultancy firm KPMG for BioAlberta, respondents indicated that the key opportunities in the industry are increased commercialization and scaling of companies within and outside of Alberta (27.2 per cent) and increased partnerships within Alberta’s ecosystem (26.7 per cent). Respondents also believe that accelerators and access to capital will help spur greater industry growth.

Moving forward, as the economy and businesses recover from the pandemic, as the province shifts towards normalcy, and as Alberta’s new and growing companies continue to establish themselves, respondents expect R&D spending, employee numbers, revenues and financing to increase in the coming years.

Revenue generated by the life sciences industry in Alberta

Jobs in the life sciences industry in Alberta

Life sciences companies in Alberta

is spent on research and development by life sciences companies in Alberta

Sources: Statistics Canada, Government of Alberta, Edmonton International Airport, Calgary International Airport


Managing Medications

McKesson Canada, a distributor of pharmaceuticals, opened a $175 million CAD, 316,000-square-foot distribution centre in northwest Edmonton in July 2022. From there, prescription and over-the-counter medications that arrive from manufacturers around the world are delivered to pharmacies and hospitals throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, northern British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

The facility is one of the largest in the country, and an important part of a robust pharmaceutical and life sciences sector in Canada. It has already been instrumental in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. A massive freezer sits in the middle of the facility, since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be kept well below freezing.

McKesson Canada CEO Rebecca McKillican says the facility has handled millions of COVID-19 vaccines. “It’s one of our marquee facilities in terms of what we’re able to do, not just from a volume perspective, but the technology investments that we have here,” she says.

Virus Protections

In November 2022, the University of Alberta received $11.5 million CAD from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to expand its capacity to discover and develop vaccines and treatments for emerging pathogens. The funding will be used for upgrades to three Containment Level 3 laboratories, allowing researchers to handle a wide variety of pathogens, including those that cause foreign animal diseases such as pseudorabies virus and avian influenza virus.

The federal funding will bolster the country’s biomanufacturing and life sciences sector by ensuring it has access to cutting-edge research equipment and personnel. The expanded facilities will be used by cross-faculty research teams from cell biology, medical microbiology and immunology, medicine, chemistry, oncology and mechanical engineering, all with a focus on managing the impact of infection.

Testing. Testing

In November, 2022, the University of Calgary announced the launch of the Alberta Centre for Advanced Diagnostics (ACAD), a new hub in the global push to advance diagnostic technology for health care. “Diagnostics, such as blood tests or throat swabs, are a critical tool for health-care providers,” said Dr. Ian Lewis, director of ACAD and associate professor in the Faculty of Science. “They play a role in70 per cent of treatment decisions, but many frontline diagnostics use outdated technology.”

ACAD will connect early-stage innovators with the facilities, equipment and health-care contacts needed to prototype new infectious disease diagnostics and evaluate them against established tools, reducing both the time and cost needed to commercialize prototypes. It will fast-track new technologies, spur the growth of Alberta’s health technology sector and help accelerate the adoption of new life-saving technology. “At ACAD, we’re going to improve infectious disease diagnostic tools that help improve patient outcomes,” said Lewis. The new research and testing centre was launched with an investment of $14.6 million CAD from the University of Calgary, regional development agency PrairiesCan, Genome Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.