Category Archives: business

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

Now the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has announced its expert panel for the “International Science and Technology Partnership Opportunities” project, I offer my usual guess analysis of the connections between the members of the panle.

This project first was mentioned in my March 2, 2022 posting, scroll down to the “Council of Canadian Academies launches four projects” subhead. One comment before launching into the expert panel, the word innovation, which you’ll see in the announcement, is almost always code for commercialization, business and/or entrepreneurship.

A May 9, 2022 CCA news release (received via email) announced the members of expert panel,

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

May 9, 2022 – Ottawa, ON

Canada has numerous opportunities to pursue beneficial international partnerships focused on science, technology, and innovation (STI), but finite resources to support them. At the request of Global Affairs Canada, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine best practices and identify key elements of a rigorous, data-enabled approach to selecting international STI partnership opportunities. Monica Gattinger, Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“International STI partnerships can be crucial to advancing Canada’s interests, from economic growth to public health, sustainability, and security,” said Dr. Gattinger. “I look forward to leading this important assessment and working with panel members to develop clear, comprehensive and coherent approaches for evaluating partnership opportunities.”

As Chair, Dr. Gattinger will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in science diplomacy, global security, economics and trade, international research collaboration, and program evaluation. The Panel will answer the following question:

In a post-COVID world, how can Canadian public, private and academic organizations evaluate and prioritize STI partnership opportunities with foreign countries to achieve key national objectives, using indicators supported by objective data where possible?

“I’m delighted that an expert of Dr. Gattinger’s experience and knowledge has agreed to chair this panel,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I look forward to the report’s findings for informing the use of international partnerships in science, technology, and innovation.”

More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships:

Monica Gattinger (Chair), Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa

David Audretsch, Distinguished Professor; Ameritech Chair of Economic Development; Director, Institute for Development Strategies, Indiana University

Stewart Beck, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

Paul Arthur Berkman, Faculty Associate, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, and Associate Director, Science Diplomacy Centre, Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program, Harvard University; Associated Fellow, United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Karen Croteau, Partner, Goss Gilroy

Paul Dufour, Principal, PaulicyWorks

Meredith Lilly, Associate Professor, Simon Reisman Chair in International Economic Policy, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University [located in Ottawa]

David Perry, President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Peggy Van de Plassche, Managing Partner, Roar Growth

Caroline S. Wagner, Professor, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University

Jennifer M. Welsh, Professor; Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security; Director, Centre for International Peace and Security Studies, McGill University

Given the discussion of pronouns and identification, I note that the panel of 11 experts includes six names commonly associated with women and five names commonly associated with men, which suggests some of the gender imbalance (male/female) I’ve noticed in the past is not present in the makeup of this panel.

There are three ‘international’ members and all are from the US. Based on past panels, international members tend to be from the US or the UK or, occasionally, from Australia or Europe.

Geographically, we have extraordinarily high representation (Monica Gattinger, David Perry, Meredith Lilly, Paul Dufour, and Karen Croteau) from people who are linked to Ottawa, Ontario, either educated or working at the University of Ottawa or Carleton University. (Thank goodness; it’s not as if the nation’s capital dominates almost every discussion about Canada. Ottawa, represent!)

As usual, there is no Canadian representing the North. This seems a bit odd given the very high international interest in the Arctic regions.

Ottawa connections

Here are some of the links (that I’ve been able to find) to Ottawa,

Monica Gattinger (from her Institute of Governance profile page),

Dr. Gattinger is an award-winning researcher and highly sought-after speaker, adviser and media commentator in the energy and arts/cultural [emphasis mine] policy sectors….

Gattinger is Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, … She holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Carleton University. [emphases mine]

You’ll note David Perry is president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Meredith Lilly is currently at Carleton University.

Perry is a professor at the University of Calgary where the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is headquartered (and it has offices in Ottawa). Here’s more from Perry’s institute profile page,

… He received his PhD in political science from Carleton University [emphasis mine] where his dissertation examined the link between defence budgeting and defence procurement. He is an adjunct professor at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and a research fellow of the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. …

Paul Dufour also has an Ottawa connection, from his 2017 CCA profile page,

Paul Dufour is a Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy in the University of Ottawa [emphasis mine] and science policy Principal with PaulicyWorks in Gatineau, Québec. He is on the Board of Directors of the graduate student led Science Policy Exchange based in Montréal [emphasis mine], and is [a] member of the Investment Committee for Grand Challenges Canada.

Paul Dufour has been senior advisor in science policy with several Canadian agencies and organizations over the course of the past 30 years. Among these: Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre, and interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor to the Canadian Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D policy directions for the country.

Born in Montréal, Mr. Dufour was educated at McGill University [emphasis mine], the Université de Montréal, and Concordia University in the history of science and science policy, …

Role: Steering Committee Member

Report: Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments (April 2017)

Finally, there’s Karen Croteau a partner at Goss Gilroy. Here’s more from her LinkedIn profile page,

A seasoned management consultant professional and Credentialed Evaluator with more than 18 years experience in a variety of areas including: program evaluation, performance measurement, organizational/ resource review, benefit/cost analysis, reviews of regulatory management programs, organizational benchmarking, business case development, business process improvement, risk management, change management and project/ program management.

Experience

Partner

Goss Gilroy Inc

Jul 2019 – Present 2 years 11 months

Ottawa, Ontario [emphasis mine]

Education

Carleton University [emphasis mine]

Carleton University [emphasis mine]
Master’s Diploma Public Policy and Program Evaluation

The east coast

I think of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal as a kind of East Coast triangle.

Interestingly, Jennifer M. Welsh is at McGill University in Montréal where Paul Dufour was educated.

Representing the third point, Toronto, is Peggy Van de Plassche (judging by her accent in her YouTube videos, she’s from France), from her LinkedIn profile page,

I am a financial services and technology expert, corporate director, business advisor, investor, entrepreneur, and public speaker, fluent in French and English.

Prior to starting Roar Growth, I led innovation for CIBC [Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce], allocated several billions of capital to technology projects on behalf of CGI and BMO [Bank of Montreal], managed a European family office, and started 2 Fintechs.

Education

Harvard Business School [emphasis mine]

Executive Education – Investment

IÉSEG School of Management [France]

Master of Science (MSc) – Business Administration and Management, General

IÉSEG School of Management

Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) – Accounting and Finance

I didn’t find any connections to the Ottawa or Montréal panel members but I was mildly interested to see that one of the US members Paul Arthur Berkman is from Harvard University. Otherwise, Van de Plassche stands mostly alone.

The last of my geographical comments

David Perry manages to connect Alberta via his adjunct professorship at the University of Calgary, Ottawa (as noted previously) and Nova Scotia via his fellowship at Dalhousie University.

In addition to Montréal and the ever important Québec connection, Jennifer M. Welsh could be said to connect another prairie province while adding a little more international flair to this panel (from her McGill University profile page,

Professor Jennifer M. Welsh is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She was previously Professor and Chair in International Relations at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) [emphasis mine] and Professor in International Relations at the University of Oxford, [emphasis mine] where she co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. From 2013-2016, she served as the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, on the Responsibility to Protect.

… She has a BA from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada),[emphasis mine] and a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Oxford (where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar).

Stewart Beck seems to be located in Vancouver, Canada which gives the panel one West Coast connection, here’s more from his LinkedIn profile page,

As a diplomat, a trade commissioner, and a policy expert, I’ve spent the last 40 years as one of the foremost advocates of Canada’s interests in the U.S. and Asia. From 2014 to 2021 (August), I was the President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada [APF] [emphasis mine], Canada’s leading research institution on Asia. Under my leadership, the organization added stakeholder value through applied research and as a principal convener on Asia topics, a builder of enviable networks of public and private sector stakeholders, and a leader of conversations on crucial regional issues. Before joining APF Canada, I led a distinguished 30+ year career with Canada’s diplomatic corps. With postings in the U.S. and Asia, culminating with an assignment as Canada’s High Commissioner to India (Ambassador) [emphasis mine], I gained the knowledge and experience to be one of Canada’s recognized experts on Asia and innovation policy. Along the way, I also served in many senior foreign policy and trade positions, including as Canada’s most senior trade and investment development official, Consul General to Shanghai [emphasis mine]and Consul General to San Francisco. Today, Asia is vitally critical to Canada’s economic security, both financially and technologically. Applying my understanding and navigating the challenging geopolitical, economic, and trade environment is the value I bring to strategic conversations on the region. An established network of senior private and public sector officials in Canada and Asia complements the experience I’ve gained over the many years living and working in Asia.

He completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Queen’s University in Ontario and, given his career in diplomacy, I expect there are many Ottawa connections.

David Audretsch and Caroline S. Wagner of Indiana University and Ohio State University, respectively, are a little unusual. Most of the time, US members are from the East Coast or the West Coast not from one of the Midwest states.

One last comment about Paul Arthur Berkman, his profile page on the Harvard University website reveals unexpected polar connections,

Fulbright Arctic Chair [emphasis mine] 2021-2022, United States Department of State and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Paul Arthur Berkman is science diplomat, polar explorer and global thought leader applying international, interdisciplinary and inclusive processes with informed decisionmaking to balance national interests and common interests for the benefit of all on Earth across generations. Paul wintered in Antarctica [emphasis mine] when he was twenty-two, SCUBA diving throughout the year under the ice, and then taught a course on science into policy as a Visiting Professor at the University of California Los Angeles the following year, visiting all seven continents before the age of thirty.

Hidden diversity

While the panel is somewhat Ottawa-centric with a strong bias towards the US and Europe, there are some encouraging signs.

Beck’s experience in Asia and Berkman’s in the polar regions is good to see. Dufour has written the Canada chapter in two (2015 and 2021) UNESCO Science Reports and offers an excellent overview of the Canadian situation within a global context in the 2021 edition (I haven’t had the time to view the 2015 report).

Economist Audretsch and FinTech entrepreneur Van de Plassche, offer academic and practical perspectives for ‘innovation’ while Perry and Welsh both offer badly needed (Canada has been especially poor in this area; see below) security perspectives.

The rest of the panel offers what you’d expect, extensive science policy experience. I hope Gattinger’s experience with arts/cultural policy will enhance this project.

This CCA project comes at a time when Canada is looking at establishing closer links to the European Union’s science programmes as per my May 11, 2022 posting: Canada’s exploratory talks about joining the European Union’s science funding programme (Horizon Europe).

This project also comes at about the same time the Canadian federal government announced in its 2022 federal budget (covered in my April 19, 2022 posting, scroll down about 25% of the way; you’ll recognize the subhead) a new Canadian investment and Innovation Agency.

Notes on security

Canada has stumbled more than once in this area.The current war waged by Russia in Ukraine offers one of the latest examples of how state actors can wage damage not just in the obvious physical sense but also with cyberattacks. The US suffered a notable attack in May 2021 which forced the shutdown of a major gas pipeline (May 9, 2021 NBC news report).

As for Canada, there is a July 9, 2014 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news report about a cyberattack on the National Research Council (NRC),

A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.

For its part, the NRC says in a statement released Tuesday morning that it is now attempting to rebuild its computer infrastructure and this could take as much a year.

The NRC works with private businesses to advance and develop technological innovations through science and research.

This is not the first time the Canadian government has fallen victim to a cyberattack that seems to have originated in China — but it is the first time the Canadian government has unequivocally blamed China for the attack.

In September 2021 an announcement was made about a new security alliance where Canada was not included (from my September 17, 2021 posting),

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

I mention other security breaches such as the Cameron Ortis situation and the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML), the only level 4 lab in Canada in the September 17, 2021 posting under the ‘What is public safety?’ subheading.

It seems like there might be some federal movement on the issues assuming funding for “Securing Canada’s Research from Foreign Threats” in the 2022 federal budget actually appears. It’s in my April 19, 2022 posting about 45% of the way down under the subheading Research security.

I wish the panel good luck.

Canada’s science and its 2022 federal budget (+ the online April 21, 2022 symposium: Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation)

Here’s my more or less annual commentary on the newly announced federal budget. This year the 2022/23 Canadian federal budget was presented by Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Finance, on April 7, 2022.

Sadly the budgets never include a section devoted to science and technology, which makes finding the information a hunting exercise.

I found most of my quarry in the 2022 budget’s Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy (Note: I’m picking and choosing items that interest me),

Key Ongoing Actions

  • $8 billion to transform and decarbonize industry and invest in clean technologies and batteries;
  • $4 billion for the Canada Digital Adoption Program, which launched in March 2022 to help businesses move online, boost their e-commerce presence, and digitalize their businesses;
  • $1.2 billion to support life sciences and bio-manufacturing in Canada, including investments in clinical trials, bio-medical research, and research infrastructure;
  • $1 billion to the Strategic Innovation Fund to support life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms in Canada and develop more resilient supply chains. This builds on investments made throughout the pandemic with manufacturers of vaccines and therapeutics like Sanofi, Medicago, and Moderna;
  • $1 billion for the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), bringing the total available through the UBF to $2.75 billion, to improve high-speed Internet access and support economic development in rural and remote areas of Canada;
  • $1.2 billion to launch the National Quantum Strategy, Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, and the next phase of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to capitalize on emerging technologies of the future [Please see: the ‘I am confused’ subhead for more about the ‘launches’];
  • Helping small and medium-sized businesses to invest in new technologies and capital projects by allowing for the immediate expensing of up to $1.5 million of eligible investments beginning in 2021;

While there are proposed investments in digital adoption and the Universal Broadband Fund, there’s no mention of 5G but perhaps that’s too granular (or specific) for a national budget. I wonder if we’re catching up yet? There have been concerns about our failure to keep pace with telecommunications developments and infrastructure internationally.

Moving on from ‘Key Ongoing Actions’, there are these propositions from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy (Note: I have not offset the material from the budget in a ‘quote’ form as I want to retain the formatting.),

Creating a Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency

Canadians are a talented, creative, and inventive people. Our country has never been short on good ideas.

But to grow our economy, invention is not enough. Canadians and Canadian companies need to take their new ideas and new technologies and turn them into new products, services, and growing businesses.

However, Canada currently ranks last in the G7 in R&D spending by businesses. This trend has to change. [Note: We’ve been lagging from at least 10 or more years and we keep talking about catching up.]

Solving Canada’s main innovation challenges—a low rate of private business investment in research, development, and the uptake of new technologies—is key to growing our economy and creating good jobs.

A market-oriented innovation and investment agency—one with private sector leadership and expertise—has helped countries like Finland and Israel transform themselves into global innovation leaders. {Note: The 2021 budget also name checked Israel.]

The Israel Innovation Authority has spurred the growth of R&D-intensive sectors, like the information and communications technology and autonomous vehicle sectors. The Finnish TEKES [Tekes – The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation] helped transform low-technology sectors like forestry and mining into high technology, prosperous, and globally competitive industries.

In Canada, a new innovation and investment agency will proactively work with new and established Canadian industries and businesses to help them make the investments they need to innovate, grow, create jobs, and be competitive in the changing global economy.

Budget 2022 announces the government’s intention to create an operationally independent federal innovation and investment agency, and proposes $1 billion over five years, starting in 2022-23, to support its initial operations. Final details on the agency’s operating budget are to be determined following further consultation later this year.

Review of Tax Support to R&D and Intellectual Property

The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program provides tax incentives to encourage Canadian businesses of all sizes and in all sectors to conduct R&D. The SR&ED program has been a cornerstone of Canada’s innovation strategy. The government intends to undertake a review of the program, first to ensure that it is effective in encouraging R&D that benefits Canada, and second to explore opportunities to modernize and simplify it. Specifically, the review will examine whether changes to eligibility criteria would be warranted to ensure adequacy of support and improve overall program efficiency. 

As part of this review, the government will also consider whether the tax system can play a role in encouraging the development and retention of intellectual property stemming from R&D conducted in Canada. In particular, the government will consider, and seek views on, the suitability of adopting a patent box regime [emphasis mine] in order to meet these objectives.

I am confused

Let’s start with the 2022 budget’s $1.2 billion to launch the National Quantum Strategy, Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, and the next phase of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Here’s what I had in my May 4, 2021 posting about the 2021 budget,

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $360 million over seven years, starting in 2021-22, to launch a National Quantum Strategy [emphasis mine]. The strategy will amplify Canada’s significant strength in quantum research; grow our quantum-ready technologies, companies, and talent; and solidify Canada’s global leadership in this area. This funding will also establish a secretariat at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to coordinate this work.
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $400 million over six years, starting in 2021-22, in support of a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy [emphasis mine]. This funding would provide $136.7 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, for mission-driven programming delivered by Genome Canada to kick-start the new Strategy and complement the government’s existing genomics research and innovation programming.
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide up to $443.8 million over ten years, starting in 2021-22, in support of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy [emphasis mine], …

How many times can you ‘launch’ a strategy?

A patent box regime

So the government is “… encouraging the development and retention of intellectual property stemming from R&D conducted in Canada” and is examining a “patent box regime” with an eye as to how that will help achieve those ends. Interesting!

Here’s how the patent box is described on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

A patent box is a special very low corporate tax regime used by several countries to incentivise research and development by taxing patent revenues differently from other commercial revenues.[1] It is also known as intellectual property box regime, innovation box or IP box. Patent boxes have also been used as base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) tools, to avoid corporate taxes.

Even if they can find a way to “incentivize” R&D, the government has a problem keeping research in the country (see my September 17, 2021 posting (about the Council of Academies CCA’s ‘Public Safety in the Digital Age’ project) and scroll down about 50% of the way to find this,

There appears to be at least one other major security breach; that involving Canada’s only level four laboratory, the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML). (See a June 10, 2021 article by Karen Pauls for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news online for more details.)

As far as I’m aware, Ortis [very senior civilian RCMP intelligence official Cameron Ortis] is still being held with a trial date scheduled for September 2022 (see Catherine Tunney’s April 9, 2021 article for CBC news online) and, to date, there have been no charges laid in the Winnipeg lab case.

The “security breach” involved sending information and sample viruses to another country, without proper documentation or approvals.

While I delved into a particular aspect of public safety in my posting, the CCA’s ‘Public Safety in the Digital Age’ project was very loosely defined and no mention was made of intellectual property. (You can check the “Exactly how did the question get framed?” subheading in the September 17, 2021 posting.)

Research security

While it might be described as ‘shutting the barn door after the horse got out’, there is provision in the 2022 budget for security vis-à-vis our research, from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy,

Securing Canada’s Research from Foreign Threats

Canadian research and intellectual property can be an attractive target for foreign intelligence agencies looking to advance their own economic, military, or strategic interests. The National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, developed in collaboration with the Government of Canada– Universities Working Group in July 2021, help to protect federally funded research.

  • To implement these guidelines fully, Budget 2022 proposes to provide $159.6 million, starting in 2022-23, and $33.4 million ongoing, as follows:
    • $125 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $25 million ongoing, for the Research Support Fund to build capacity within post- secondary institutions to identify, assess, and mitigate potential risks to research security; and
    • $34.6 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $8.4 million ongoing, to enhance Canada’s ability to protect our research, and to establish a Research Security Centre that will provide advice and guidance directly to research institutions.

Mining

There’s a reason I’m mentioning the mining industry, from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy,

Canada’s Critical Minerals and Clean Industrial Strategies

Critical minerals are central to major global industries like clean technology, health care, aerospace, and computing. They are used in phones, computers, and in our cars. [emphases mine] They are already essential to the global economy and will continue to be in even greater demand in the years to come.

Canada has an abundance of a number of valuable critical minerals, but we need to make significant investments to make the most of these resources.

In Budget 2022, the federal government intends to make significant investments that would focus on priority critical mineral deposits, while working closely with affected Indigenous groups and through established regulatory processes. These investments will contribute to the development of a domestic zero-emissions vehicle value chain, including batteries, permanent magnets, and other electric vehicle components. They will also secure Canada’s place in important supply chains with our allies and implement a just and sustainable Critical Minerals Strategy.

In total, Budget 2022 proposes to provide up to $3.8 billion in support over eight years, on a cash basis, starting in 2022-23, to implement Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy. This will create thousands of good jobs, grow our economy, and make Canada a vital part of the growing global critical minerals industry.

I don’t recall seeing mining being singled out before and I’m glad to see it now.

A 2022 federal budget commentary from University Affairs

Hannah Liddle’s April 8, 2022 article for University Affairs is focused largely on the budget’s impact on scientific research and she picked up on a few things I missed,

Budget 2022 largely focuses on housing affordability, clean growth and defence, with few targeted investments in scientific research.

The government tabled $1 billion over five years for an innovation and investment agency, designed to boost private sector investments in research and development, and to correct the slow uptake of new technologies across Canadian industries. The new agency represents a “huge evolution” in federal thinking about innovation, according to Higher Education Strategy Associates. The company noted in a budget commentary that Ottawa has shifted to solving the problem of low spending on research and development by working with the private sector, rather than funding universities as an alternative. The budget also indicated that the innovation and investment agency will support the defence sector and boost defence manufacturing, but the promised Canada Advanced Research Projects Agency – which was to be modelled after the famed American DARPA program – was conspicuously missing from the budget. [emphases mine]

However, the superclusters were mentioned and have been rebranded [emphasis mine] and given a funding boost. The five networks are now called “global innovation clusters,” [emphasis mine] and will receive $750 million over six years, which is half of what they had reportedly asked for. Many universities and research institutions are members of the five clusters, which are meant to bring together government, academia, and industry to create new companies, jobs, intellectual property, and boost economic growth.

Other notable innovation-related investments include the launch of a critical minerals strategy, which will give the country’s mining sector $3.8 billion over eight years. The strategy will support the development of a domestic zero-emission vehicle value chain, including for batteries (which are produced using critical minerals). The National Research Council will receive funding through the strategy, shared with Natural Resources Canada, to support new technologies and bolster supply chains of critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt. The government has also targeted investments in the semiconductor industry ($45 million over four years), the CAN Health Network ($40 million over four years), and the Canadian High Arctic Research Station ($14.5 million over five years).

Canada’s higher education institutions did notch a win with a major investment in agriculture research. The government will provide $100 million over six years to support postsecondary research in developing new agricultural technologies and crop varieties, which could push forward net-zero emissions agriculture.

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs program received $38.3 million in funding over four years beginning in 2023-24, with the government stating this could create 12 to 25 new chair positions.

To support Canadian cybersecurity, which is a key priority under the government’s $8 billion defence umbrella, the budget gives $17.7 million over five years and $5.5 million thereafter until 2031-32 for a “unique research chair program to fund academics to conduct research on cutting-edge technologies” relevant to the Communications Security Establishment – the national cryptologic agency. The inaugural chairs will split their time between peer-reviewed and classified research.

The federal granting councils will be given $40.9 million over five years beginning in 2022-23, and $9.7 million ongoing, to support Black “student researchers,” who are among the underrepresented groups in the awarding of scholarships, grants and fellowships. Additionally, the federal government will give $1.5 million to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, housed at York University, to address systemic barriers and racial inequalities in the Canadian education system and to improve outcomes for Black students.

A pretty comprehensive listing of all the science-related funding in the 2022 budget can be found in an April 7, 2022 posting on the Evidence for Democracy (E4D) blog,

2022 budget symposium

Here’s more about the symposium from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), from the Decoding Budget 2022 event page,

Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation

The CSPC Budget Symposium will be held on Thursday April 21 [2022] at 12:00 pm (EST), and feature numerous speakers from across the country and across different sectors, in two sessions and one keynote presentation by Dave Watters titled: “Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation”.

Don’t miss this session and all insightful discussions of the Federal Budget 2022.

Register Here

You can see the 2022 symposium poster below,

By the way, David Watters gave the keynote address for the 2021 symposium too. Seeing his name twice now aroused my curiosity. Here’s a little more about David Watters (from a 2013 bio on the Council of Canadian Academies website), Note: He is still president,

David Watters is President of the Global Advantage Consulting Group, a strategic management consulting firm that provides advice to corporate, association, and government clients in Canada and abroad.

Mr. Watters worked for over 30 years in the federal public service in a variety of departments, including Energy Mines and Resources, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Industry Canada (as Assistant Deputy Minister), Treasury Board Secretariat (in charge of Crown corporations and privatization issues), the Canadian Coast Guard (as its Commissioner) and Finance Canada (as Assistant Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Corporate Finance). He then moved to the Public Policy Forum where he worked on projects dealing with the innovation agenda, particularly in areas such as innovation policy, health reform, transportation, and the telecommunications and information technology sectors. He also developed reports on the impact of the Enron scandal and other corporate and public sector governance problems for Canadian regulators.

Since starting the Global Advantage Consulting Group in 2002, Mr. Watters has assisted a variety of public and private clients. His areas of specialization and talent are in creating visual models for policy development and decision making, and business models for managing research and technology networks. He has also been an adjunct professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, teaching International Negotiation.

Mr. Watters holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Queen’s University as well as a Law degree in corporate, commercial and tax law from the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University.

So, an economist, lawyer, and government bureaucrat is going to analyze the budget with regard to science and R&D? If I had to guess, I’d say he’s going to focus in ‘innovation’ which I’m decoding as a synonym for ‘business/commercialization’.

Getting back to the budget, it’s pretty medium where science is concerned with more than one -re-announcement’. As the pundits have noted, the focus is on deficit reduction and propping up the economy.

ETA April 20, 2022: There’s been a keynote speaker change, from an April 20, 2022 CSPC announcement (received via email),

… keynote presentation by Omer Kaya, CEO of Global Advantage Consulting Group. Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, Dave Watters will not be presenting at this session as expected before.

Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read)

This story got me to thinking about what happens when any kind of implant company (pacemaker, deep brain stimulator, etc.) goes bankrupt or is acquired by another company with a different business model.

As I worked on this piece, more issues were raised and the scope expanded to include prosthetics along with implants while the focus narrowed to neuro as in, neural implants and neuroprosthetics. At the same time, I found salient examples for this posting in other medical advances such as gene editing.

In sum, all references to implants and prosthetics are to neural devices and some issues are illustrated with salient examples from other medical advances (specifically, gene editing).

Definitions (for those who find them useful)

The US Food and Drug Administration defines implants and prosthetics,

Medical implants are devices or tissues that are placed inside or on the surface of the body. Many implants are prosthetics, intended to replace missing body parts. Other implants deliver medication, monitor body functions, or provide support to organs and tissues.

As for what constitutes a neural implant/neuroprosthetic, there’s this from Emily Waltz’s January 20, 2020 article (How Do Neural Implants Work? Neural implants are used for deep brain stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, and mind-controlled prostheses) for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Spectrum magazine,

A neural implant, then, is a device—typically an electrode of some kind—that’s inserted into the body, comes into contact with tissues that contain neurons, and interacts with those neurons in some way.

Now, let’s start with the recent near bankruptcy of a retinal implant company.

The company goes bust (more or less)

From a February 25, 2022 Science Friday (a National Public Radio program) posting/audio file, Note: Links have been removed,

Barbara Campbell was walking through a New York City subway station during rush hour when her world abruptly went dark. For four years, Campbell had been using a high-tech implant in her left eye that gave her a crude kind of bionic vision, partially compensating for the genetic disease that had rendered her completely blind in her 30s. “I remember exactly where I was: I was switching from the 6 train to the F train,” Campbell tells IEEE Spectrum. “I was about to go down the stairs, and all of a sudden I heard a little ‘beep, beep, beep’ sound.’”

It wasn’t her phone battery running out. It was her Argus II retinal implant system powering down. The patches of light and dark that she’d been able to see with the implant’s help vanished.

Terry Byland is the only person to have received this kind of implant in both eyes. He got the first-generation Argus I implant, made by the company Second Sight Medical Products, in his right eye in 2004, and the subsequent Argus II implant in his left 11 years later. He helped the company test the technology, spoke to the press movingly about his experiences, and even met Stevie Wonder at a conference. “[I] went from being just a person that was doing the testing to being a spokesman,” he remembers.

Yet in 2020, Byland had to find out secondhand that the company had abandoned the technology and was on the verge of going bankrupt. While his two-implant system is still working, he doesn’t know how long that will be the case. “As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” he says. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”

Science Friday and the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Spectrum magazine collaborated to produce this story. You’ll find the audio files and the transcript of interviews with the authors and one of the implant patients in this February 25, 2022 Science Friday (a National Public Radio program) posting.

Here’s more from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article by Eliza Strickland and Mark Harris,

Ross Doerr, another Second Sight patient, doesn’t mince words: “It is fantastic technology and a lousy company,” he says. He received an implant in one eye in 2019 and remembers seeing the shining lights of Christmas trees that holiday season. He was thrilled to learn in early 2020 that he was eligible for software upgrades that could further improve his vision. Yet in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he heard troubling rumors about the company and called his Second Sight vision-rehab therapist. “She said, ‘Well, funny you should call. We all just got laid off,’ ” he remembers. She said, ‘By the way, you’re not getting your upgrades.’ ”

These three patients, and more than 350 other blind people around the world with Second Sight’s implants in their eyes, find themselves in a world in which the technology that transformed their lives is just another obsolete gadget. One technical hiccup, one broken wire, and they lose their artificial vision, possibly forever. To add injury to insult: A defunct Argus system in the eye could cause medical complications or interfere with procedures such as MRI scans, and it could be painful or expensive to remove.

The writers included some information about what happened to the business, from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article, Note: Links have been removed,

After Second Sight discontinued its retinal implant in 2019 and nearly went out of business in 2020, a public offering in June 2021 raised US $57.5 million at $5 per share. The company promised to focus on its ongoing clinical trial of a brain implant, called Orion, that also provides artificial vision. But its stock price plunged to around $1.50, and in February 2022, just before this article was published, the company announced a proposed merger with an early-stage biopharmaceutical company called Nano Precision Medical (NPM). None of Second Sight’s executives will be on the leadership team of the new company, which will focus on developing NPM’s novel implant for drug delivery.The company’s current leadership declined to be interviewed for this article but did provide an emailed statement prior to the merger announcement. It said, in part: “We are a recognized global leader in neuromodulation devices for blindness and are committed to developing new technologies to treat the broadest population of sight-impaired individuals.”

It’s unclear what Second Sight’s proposed merger means for Argus patients. The day after the merger was announced, Adam Mendelsohn, CEO of Nano Precision Medical, told Spectrum that he doesn’t yet know what contractual obligations the combined company will have to Argus and Orion patients. But, he says, NPM will try to do what’s “right from an ethical perspective.” The past, he added in an email, is “simply not relevant to the new future.”

There may be some alternatives, from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article (Note: Links have been removed),

Second Sight may have given up on its retinal implant, but other companies still see a need—and a market—for bionic vision without brain surgery. Paris-based Pixium Vision is conducting European and U.S. feasibility trials to see if its Prima system can help patients with age-related macular degeneration, a much more common condition than retinitis pigmentosa.

Daniel Palanker, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University who licensed his technology to Pixium, says the Prima implant is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the Argus II. But he argues that Prima’s superior image resolution has the potential to make Pixium Vision a success. “If you provide excellent vision, there will be lots of patients,” he tells Spectrum. “If you provide crappy vision, there will be very few.”

Some clinicians involved in the Argus II work are trying to salvage what they can from the technology. Gislin Dagnelie, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has set up a network of clinicians who are still working with Argus II patients. The researchers are experimenting with a thermal camera to help users see faces, a stereo camera to filter out the background, and AI-powered object recognition. These upgrades are unlikely to result in commercial hardware today but could help future vision prostheses.

The writers have carefully balanced this piece so it is not an outright condemnation of the companies (Second Sight and Nano Precision), from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article,

Failure is an inevitable part of innovation. The Argus II was an innovative technology, and progress made by Second Sight may pave the way for other companies that are developing bionic vision systems. But for people considering such an implant in the future, the cautionary tale of Argus patients left in the lurch may make a tough decision even tougher. Should they take a chance on a novel technology? If they do get an implant and find that it helps them navigate the world, should they allow themselves to depend upon it?

Abandoning the Argus II technology—and the people who use it—might have made short-term financial sense for Second Sight, but it’s a decision that could come back to bite the merged company if it does decide to commercialize a brain implant, believes Doerr.

For anyone curious about retinal implant technology (specifically the Argus II), I have a description in a June 30, 2015 posting.

Speculations and hopes for neuroprosthetics

The field of neuroprosthetics is very active. Dr Arthur Saniotis and Prof Maciej Henneberg have written an article where they speculate about the possibilities of a neuroprosthetic that may one day merge with neurons in a February 21, 2022 Nanowerk Spotlight article,

For over a generation several types of medical neuroprosthetics have been developed, which have improved the lives of thousands of individuals. For instance, cochlear implants have restored functional hearing in individuals with severe hearing impairment.

Further advances in motor neuroprosthetics are attempting to restore motor functions in tetraplegic, limb loss and brain stem stroke paralysis subjects.

Currently, scientists are working on various kinds of brain/machine interfaces [BMI] in order to restore movement and partial sensory function. One such device is the ‘Ipsihand’ that enables movement of a paralyzed hand. The device works by detecting the recipient’s intention in the form of electrical signals, thereby triggering hand movement.

Another recent development is the 12 month BMI gait neurohabilitation program that uses a visual-tactile feedback system in combination with a physical exoskeleton and EEG operated AI actuators while walking. This program has been tried on eight patients with reported improvements in lower limb movement and somatic sensation.

Surgically placed electrode implants have also reduced tremor symptoms in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Although neuroprosthetics have provided various benefits they do have their problems. Firstly, electrode implants to the brain are prone to degradation, necessitating new implants after a few years. Secondly, as in any kind of surgery, implanted electrodes can cause post-operative infection and glial scarring. Furthermore, one study showed that the neurobiological efficacy of an implant is dependent on the rate of speed of its insertion.

But what if humans designed a neuroprosthetic, which could bypass the medical glitches of invasive neuroprosthetics? However, instead of connecting devices to neural networks, this neuroprosthetic would directly merge with neurons – a novel step. Such a neuroprosthetic could radically optimize treatments for neurodegenerative disorders and brain injuries, and possibly cognitive enhancement [emphasis mine].

A team of three international scientists has recently designed a nanobased neuroprosthetic, which was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience (“Integration of Nanobots Into Neural Circuits As a Future Therapy for Treating Neurodegenerative Disorders“). [open access paper published in 2018]

An interesting feature of their nanobot neuroprosthetic is that it has been inspired from nature by way of endomyccorhizae – a type of plant/fungus symbiosis, which is over four hundred million years old. During endomyccorhizae, fungi use numerous threadlike projections called mycelium that penetrate plant roots, forming colossal underground networks with nearby root systems. During this process fungi take up vital nutrients while protecting plant roots from infections – a win-win relationship. Consequently, the nano-neuroprosthetic has been named ‘endomyccorhizae ligand interface’, or ‘ELI’ for short.

The Spotlight article goes on to describe how these nanobots might function. As for the possibility of cognitive enhancement, I wonder if that might come to be described as a form of ‘artificial intelligence’.

(Dr Arthur Saniotis and Prof Maciej Henneberg are both from the Department of Anthropology, Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Polish Academy of Sciences; and Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit, Adelaide Medical School, University of Adelaide. Abdul-Rahman Sawalma who’s listed as an author on the 2018 paper is from the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative, Al-Quds University, Beit Hanina, Palestine.)

Saniotis and Henneberg’s Spotlight article presents an optimistic view of neuroprosthetics. It seems telling that they cite cochlear implants as a success story when it is viewed by many as ethically fraught (see the Cochlear implant Wikipedia entry; scroll down to ‘Criticism and controversy’).

Ethics and your implants

This is from an April 6, 2015 article by Luc Henry on technologist.eu,

Technologist: What are the potential consequences of accepting the “augmented human” in society?

Gregor Wolbring: There are many that we might not even envision now. But let me focus on failure and obsolescence [emphasis mine], two issues that are rarely discussed. What happens when the mechanisms fails in the middle of an action? Failure has hazardous consequences, but obsolescence has psychological ones. …. The constant surgical inter­vention needed to update the hardware may not be feasible. A person might feel obsolete if she cohabits with others using a newer version.

T. Are researchers working on prosthetics sometimes disconnected from reality?

G. W. Students engaged in the development of prosthetics have to learn how to think in societal terms and develop a broader perspective. Our education system provides them with a fascination for clever solutions to technological challenges but not with tools aiming at understanding the consequences, such as whether their product might increase or decrease social justice.

Wolbring is a professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (profile page) who writes on social issues to do with human enhancement/ augmentation. As well,

Some of his areas of engagement are: ability studies including governance of ability expectations, disability studies, governance of emerging and existing sciences and technologies (e.g. nanoscale science and technology, molecular manufacturing, aging, longevity and immortality, cognitive sciences, neuromorphic engineering, genetics, synthetic biology, robotics, artificial intelligence, automatization, brain machine interfaces, sensors), impact of science and technology on marginalized populations, especially people with disabilities he governance of bodily enhancement, sustainability issues, EcoHealth, resilience, ethics issues, health policy issues, human rights and sport.

He also maintains his own website here.

Not just startups

I’d classify Second Sight as a tech startup company and they have a high rate of failure, which may not have been clear to the patients who had the implants. Clinical trials can present problems too as this excerpt from my September 17, 2020 posting notes,

This October 31, 2017 article by Emily Underwood for Science was revelatory,

“In 2003, neurologist Helen Mayberg of Emory University in Atlanta began to test a bold, experimental treatment for people with severe depression, which involved implanting metal electrodes deep in the brain in a region called area 25 [emphases mine]. The initial data were promising; eventually, they convinced a device company, St. Jude Medical in Saint Paul, to sponsor a 200-person clinical trial dubbed BROADEN.

This month [October 2017], however, Lancet Psychiatry reported the first published data on the trial’s failure. The study stopped recruiting participants in 2012, after a 6-month study in 90 people failed to show statistically significant improvements between those receiving active stimulation and a control group, in which the device was implanted but switched off.

… a tricky dilemma for companies and research teams involved in deep brain stimulation (DBS) research: If trial participants want to keep their implants [emphases mine], who will take responsibility—and pay—for their ongoing care? And participants in last week’s meeting said it underscores the need for the growing corps of DBS researchers to think long-term about their planned studies.”

Symbiosis can be another consequence, as mentioned in my September 17, 2020 posting,

From a July 24, 2019 article by Liam Drew for Nature Outlook: The brain,

“It becomes part of you,” Patient 6 said, describing the technology that enabled her, after 45 years of severe epilepsy, to halt her disabling seizures. Electrodes had been implanted on the surface of her brain that would send a signal to a hand-held device when they detected signs of impending epileptic activity. On hearing a warning from the device, Patient 6 knew to take a dose of medication to halt the coming seizure.

“You grow gradually into it and get used to it, so it then becomes a part of every day,” she told Frederic Gilbert, an ethicist who studies brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. “It became me,” she said. [emphasis mine]

Symbiosis is a term, borrowed from ecology, that means an intimate co-existence of two species for mutual advantage. As technologists work towards directly connecting the human brain to computers, it is increasingly being used to describe humans’ potential relationship with artificial intelligence. [emphasis mine]

It’s complicated

For a lot of people these devices are or could be life-changing. At the same time, there are a number of different issues related to implants/prosthetics; the following is not an exhaustive list. As Wolbring notes, issues that we can’t begin to imagine now are likely to emerge as these medical advances become more ubiquitous.

Ability/disability?

Assistive technologies are almost always portrayed as helpful. For example, a cochlear implant gives people without hearing the ability to hear. The assumption is that this is always a good thing—unless you’re a deaf person who wants to define the problem a little differently. Who gets to decide what is good and ‘normal’ and what is desirable?

While the cochlear implant is the most extreme example I can think of, there are variations of these questions throughout the ‘disability’ communities.

Also, as Wolbring notes in his interview with the Technologist.eu, the education system tends to favour technological solutions which don’t take social issues into account. Wolbring cites social justice issues when he mentions failure and obsolescence.

Technical failures and obsolescence

The story, excerpted earlier in this posting, opened with a striking example of a technical failure at an awkward moment; a blind woman depending on her retinal implant loses all sight as she maneuvers through a subway station in New York City.

Aside from being an awful way to find out the company supplying and supporting your implant is in serious financial trouble and can’t offer assistance or repair, the failure offers a preview of what could happen as implants and prosthetics become more commonly used.

Keeping up/fomo (fear of missing out)/obsolescence

It used to be called ‘keeping up with the Joneses, it’s the practice of comparing yourself and your worldly goods to someone else(‘s) and then trying to equal what they have or do better. Usually, people want to have more and better than the mythical Joneses.

These days, the phenomenon (which has been expanded to include social networking) is better known as ‘fomo’ or fear of missing out (see the Fear of missing out Wikipedia entry).

Whatever you want to call it, humanity’s competitive nature can be seen where technology is concerned. When I worked in technology companies, I noticed that hardware and software were sometimes purchased for features that were effectively useless to us. But, not upgrading to a newer version was unthinkable.

Call it fomo or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, it’s a powerful force and when people (and even companies) miss out or can’t keep up, it can lead to a sense of inferiority in the same way that having an obsolete implant or prosthetic could.

Social consequences

Could there be a neural implant/neuroprosthetic divide? There is already a digital divide (from its Wikipedia entry),

The digital divide is a gap between those who have access to new technology and those who do not … people without access to the Internet and other ICTs [information and communication technologies] are at a socio-economic disadvantage because they are unable or less able to find and apply for jobs, shop and sell online, participate democratically, or research and learn.

After reading Wolbring’s comments, it’s not hard to imagine a neural implant/neuroprosthetic divide with its attendant psychological and social consequences.

What kind of human am I?

There are other issues as noted in my September 17, 2020 posting. I’ve already mentioned ‘patient 6’, the woman who developed a symbiotic relationship with her brain/computer interface. This is how the relationship ended,

… He [Frederic Gilbert, ethicist] is now preparing a follow-up report on Patient 6. The company that implanted the device in her brain to help free her from seizures went bankrupt. The device had to be removed.

… Patient 6 cried as she told Gilbert about losing the device. … “I lost myself,” she said.

“It was more than a device,” Gilbert says. “The company owned the existence of this new person.”

Above human

The possibility that implants will not merely restore or endow someone with ‘standard’ sight or hearing or motion or … but will augment or improve on nature was broached in this May 2, 2013 posting, More than human—a bionic ear that extends hearing beyond the usual frequencies and is one of many in the ‘Human Enhancement’ category on this blog.

More recently, Hugh Herr, an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), leader of the Biomechatronics research group at MIT’s Media Lab, a double amputee, and prosthetic enthusiast, starred in the recent (February 23, 2022) broadcast of ‘Augmented‘ on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) science programme, Nova.

I found ‘Augmented’ a little offputting as it gave every indication of being an advertisement for Herr’s work in the form of a hero’s journey. I was not able to watch more than 10 mins. This preview gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like although the part in ‘Augmented, where he says he’d like to be a cyborg hasn’t been included,

At a guess, there were a few talking heads (taking up from 10%-20% of the running time) who provided some cautionary words to counterbalance the enthusiasm in the rest of the programme. It’s a standard approach designed to give the impression that both sides of a question are being recognized. The cautionary material is usually inserted past the 1/2 way mark while leaving several minutes at the end for returning to the more optimistic material.

In a February 2, 2010 posting I have excerpts from an article featuring quotes from Herr that I still find startling,

Written by Paul Hochman for Fast Company, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses [ETA March 23, 2022: an updated version of the article is now on Genius.com] delves further into the world where people may be willing to trade a healthy limb for a prosthetic. From the article,

There are many advantages to having your leg amputated.

Pedicure costs drop 50% overnight. A pair of socks lasts twice as long. But Hugh Herr, the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, goes a step further. “It’s actually unfair,” Herr says about amputees’ advantages over the able-bodied. “As tech advancements in prosthetics come along, amputees can exploit those improvements. They can get upgrades. A person with a natural body can’t.”

Herr is not the only one who favours prosthetics (also from the Hochman article),

This influx of R&D cash, combined with breakthroughs in materials science and processor speed, has had a striking visual and social result: an emblem of hurt and loss has become a paradigm of the sleek, modern, and powerful. Which is why Michael Bailey, a 24-year-old student in Duluth, Georgia, is looking forward to the day when he can amputate the last two fingers on his left hand.

“I don’t think I would have said this if it had never happened,” says Bailey, referring to the accident that tore off his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. “But I told Touch Bionics I’d cut the rest of my hand off if I could make all five of my fingers robotic.”

But Bailey is most surprised by his own reaction. “When I’m wearing it, I do feel different: I feel stronger. As weird as that sounds, having a piece of machinery incorporated into your body, as a part of you, well, it makes you feel above human.[emphasis mine] It’s a very powerful thing.”

My September 17, 2020 posting touches on more ethical and social issues including some of those surrounding consumer neurotechnologies or brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Unfortunately, I don’t have space for these issues here.

As for Paul Hochman’s article, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses, now on Genius.com, it has been updated.

Money makes the world go around

Money and business practices have been indirectly referenced (for the most part) up to now in this posting. The February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article and Hochman’s article, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses, cover two aspects of the money angle.

In the IEEE Spectrum article, a tech start-up company, Second Sight, ran into financial trouble and is acquired by a company that has no plans to develop Second Sight’s core technology. The people implanted with the Argus II technology have been stranded as were ‘patient 6’ and others participating in the clinical trial described in the July 24, 2019 article by Liam Drew for Nature Outlook: The brain mentioned earlier in this posting.

I don’t know anything about the business bankruptcy mentioned in the Drew article but one of the business problems described in the IEEE Spectrum article suggests that Second Sight was founded before answering a basic question, “What is the market size for this product?”

On 18 July 2019, Second Sight sent Argus patients a letter saying it would be phasing out the retinal implant technology to clear the way for the development of its next-generation brain implant for blindness, Orion, which had begun a clinical trial with six patients the previous year. …

“The leadership at the time didn’t believe they could make [the Argus retinal implant] part of the business profitable,” Greenberg [Robert Greenberg, Second Sight co-founder] says. “I understood the decision, because I think the size of the market turned out to be smaller than we had thought.”

….

The question of whether a medical procedure or medicine can be profitable (or should the question be sufficiently profitable?) was referenced in my April 26, 2019 posting in the context of gene editing and personalized medicine

Edward Abrahams, president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition (US-based), advocates for personalized medicine while noting in passing, market forces as represented by Goldman Sachs in his May 23, 2018 piece for statnews.com (Note: A link has been removed),

Goldman Sachs, for example, issued a report titled “The Genome Revolution.” It argues that while “genome medicine” offers “tremendous value for patients and society,” curing patients may not be “a sustainable business model.” [emphasis mine] The analysis underlines that the health system is not set up to reap the benefits of new scientific discoveries and technologies. Just as we are on the precipice of an era in which gene therapies, gene-editing, and immunotherapies promise to address the root causes of disease, Goldman Sachs says that these therapies have a “very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies.”

The ‘Glybera’ story in my July 4, 2019 posting (scroll down about 40% of the way) highlights the issue with “recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,”

Kelly Crowe in a November 17, 2018 article for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news writes about Glybera,

It is one of this country’s great scientific achievements.

“The first drug ever approved that can fix a faulty gene.

It’s called Glybera, and it can treat a painful and potentially deadly genetic disorder with a single dose — a genuine made-in-Canada medical breakthrough.

But most Canadians have never heard of it.

Here’s my summary (from the July 4, 2019 posting),

It cost $1M for a single treatment and that single treatment is good for at least 10 years.

Pharmaceutical companies make their money from repeated use of their medicaments and Glybera required only one treatment so the company priced it according to how much they would have gotten for repeated use, $100,000 per year over a 10 year period. The company was not able to persuade governments and/or individuals to pay the cost

In the end, 31 people got the treatment, most of them received it for free through clinical trials.

For rich people only?

Megan Devlin’s March 8, 2022 article for the Daily Hive announces a major research investment into medical research (Note: A link has been removed),

Vancouver [Canada] billionaire Chip Wilson revealed Tuesday [March 8, 2022] that he has a rare genetic condition that causes his muscles to waste away, and announced he’s spending $100 million on research to find a cure.

His condition is called facio-scapulo-humeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD for short. It progresses rapidly in some people and more slowly in others, but is characterized by progressive muscle weakness starting the the face, the neck, shoulders, and later the lower body.

“I’m out for survival of my own life,” Wilson said.

“I also have the resources to do something about this which affects so many people in the world.”

Wilson hopes the $100 million will produce a cure or muscle-regenerating treatment by 2027.

“This could be one of the biggest discoveries of all time, for humankind,” Wilson said. “Most people lose muscle, they fall, and they die. If we can keep muscle as we age this can be a longevity drug like we’ve never seen before.”

According to rarediseases.org, FSHD affects between four and 10 people out of every 100,000 [emphasis mine], Right now, therapies are limited to exercise and pain management. There is no way to stall or reverse the disease’s course.

Wilson is best known for founding athleisure clothing company Lululemon. He also owns the most expensive home in British Columbia, a $73 million mansion in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Let’s see what the numbers add up to,

4 – 10 people out of 100,000

40 – 100 people out of 1M

1200 – 3,000 people out of 30M (let’s say this is Canada’s population)\

12,000 – 30,000 people out of 300M (let’s say this is the US’s population)

42,000 – 105,000 out of 1.115B (let’s say this is China’s population)

The rough total comes to 55,200 to 138,000 people between three countries with a combined population total of 1.445B. Given how business currently operates, it seems unlikely that any company will want to offer Wilson’s hoped for medical therapy although he and possibly others may benefit from a clinical trial.

Should profit or wealth be considerations?

The stories about the patients with the implants and the patients who need Glybera are heartbreaking and point to a question not often asked when medical therapies and medications are developed. Is the profit model the best choice and, if so, how much profit?

I have no answer to that question but I wish it was asked by medical researchers and policy makers.

As for wealthy people dictating the direction for medical research, I don’t have answers there either. I hope the research will yield applications and/or valuable information for more than Wilson’s disease.

It’s his money after all

Wilson calls his new venture, SolveFSHD. It doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any university or biomedical science organization and it’s not clear how the money will be awarded (no programmes, no application procedure, no panel of experts). There are three people on the team, Eva R. Chin, scientist and executive director, Chip Wilson, SolveFSHD founder/funder, and FSHD patient, and Neil Camarta, engineer, executive (fossil fuels and clean energy), and FSHD patient. There’s also a Twitter feed (presumably for the latest updates): https://twitter.com/SOLVEFSHD.

Perhaps unrelated but intriguing is news about a proposed new building in Kenneth Chan’s March 31, 2022 article for the Daily Hive,

Low Tide Properties, the real estate arm of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson [emphasis mine], has submitted a new development permit application to build a 148-ft-tall, eight-storey, mixed-use commercial building in the False Creek Flats of Vancouver.

The proposal, designed by local architectural firm Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, calls for 236,000 sq ft of total floor area, including 105,000 sq ft of general office space, 102,000 sq ft of laboratory space [emphasis mine], and 5,000 sq ft of ground-level retail space. An outdoor amenity space for building workers will be provided on the rooftop.

[next door] The 2001-built, five-storey building at 1618 Station Street immediately to the west of the development site is also owned by Low Tide Properties [emphasis mine]. The Ferguson, the name of the existing building, contains about 79,000 sq ft of total floor area, including 47,000 sq ft of laboratory space and 32,000 sq ft of general office space. Biotechnology company Stemcell technologies [STEMCELL] Technologies] is the anchor tenant [emphasis mine].

I wonder if this proposed new building will house SolveFSHD and perhaps other FSHD-focused enterprises. The proximity of STEMCELL Technologies could be quite convenient. In any event, $100M will buy a lot (pun intended).

The end

Issues I’ve described here in the context of neural implants/neuroprosthetics and cutting edge medical advances are standard problems not specific to these technologies/treatments:

  • What happens when the technology fails (hopefully not at a critical moment)?
  • What happens when your supplier goes out of business or discontinues the products you purchase from them?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Who can afford the treatment/product? Will it only be for rich people?
  • Will this technology/procedure/etc. exacerbate or create new social tensions between social classes, cultural groups, religious groups, races, etc.?

Of course, having your neural implant fail suddenly in the middle of a New York City subway station seems a substantively different experience than having your car break down on the road.

There are, of course, there are the issues we can’t yet envision (as Wolbring notes) and there are issues such as symbiotic relationships with our implants and/or feeling that you are “above human.” Whether symbiosis and ‘implant/prosthetic superiority’ will affect more than a small number of people or become major issues is still to be determined.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about where new medical research and advances are concerned but I would like to see more thoughtful coverage in the media (e.g., news programmes and documentaries like ‘Augmented’) and more thoughtful comments from medical researchers.

Of course, the biggest issue I’ve raised here is about the current business models for health care products where profit is valued over people’s health and well-being. it’s a big question and I don’t see any definitive answers but the question put me in mind of this quote (from a September 22, 2020 obituary for US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irene Monroe for Curve),

Ginsburg’s advocacy for justice was unwavering and showed it, especially with each oral dissent. In another oral dissent, Ginsburg quoted a familiar Martin Luther King Jr. line, adding her coda:” ‘The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” but only “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.” …

Martin Luther King Jr. popularized and paraphrased the quote (from a January 18, 2018 article by Mychal Denzel Smith for Huffington Post),

His use of the quote is best understood by considering his source material. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is King’s clever paraphrasing of a portion of a sermon delivered in 1853 by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Born in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1810, Parker studied at Harvard Divinity School and eventually became an influential transcendentalist and minister in the Unitarian church. In that sermon, Parker said: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

I choose to keep faith that people will get the healthcare products they need and that all of us need to keep working at making access more fair.

The Storywrangler, tool exploring billions of social media messages, could predict political & financial turmoil

Being able to analyze Twitter messages (tweets) in real-time is amazing given what I wrote in this January 16, 2013 posting titled: “Researching tweets (the Twitter kind)” about the US Library of Congress and its attempts to access tweets for scholars,”

At least one of the reasons no one has received access to the tweets is that a single search of the archived (2006- 2010) tweets alone would take 24 hours, [emphases mine] …

So, bravo to the researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM). A July 16, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily makes the announcement,

For thousands of years, people looked into the night sky with their naked eyes — and told stories about the few visible stars. Then we invented telescopes. In 1840, the philosopher Thomas Carlyle claimed that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Then we started posting on Twitter.

Now scientists have invented an instrument to peer deeply into the billions and billions of posts made on Twitter since 2008 — and have begun to uncover the vast galaxy of stories that they contain.

Caption: UVM scientists have invented a new tool: the Storywrangler. It visualizes the use of billions of words, hashtags and emoji posted on Twitter. In this example from the tool’s online viewer, three global events from 2020 are highlighted: the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani; the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The new research was published in the journal Science Advances. Credit: UVM

A July 15, 2021 UVM news release (also on EurekAlert but published on July 16, 2021) by Joshua Brown, which originated the news item, provides more detail abut the work,

“We call it the Storywrangler,” says Thayer Alshaabi, a doctoral student at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. “It’s like a telescope to look — in real time — at all this data that people share on social media. We hope people will use it themselves, in the same way you might look up at the stars and ask your own questions.”

The new tool can give an unprecedented, minute-by-minute view of popularity, from rising political movements to box office flops; from the staggering success of K-pop to signals of emerging new diseases.

The story of the Storywrangler — a curation and analysis of over 150 billion tweets–and some of its key findings were published on July 16 [2021] in the journal Science Advances.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE MANY

The team of eight scientists who invented Storywrangler — from the University of Vermont, Charles River Analytics, and MassMutual Data Science [emphasis mine]– gather about ten percent of all the tweets made every day, around the globe. For each day, they break these tweets into single bits, as well as pairs and triplets, generating frequencies from more than a trillion words, hashtags, handles, symbols and emoji, like “Super Bowl,” “Black Lives Matter,” “gravitational waves,” “#metoo,” “coronavirus,” and “keto diet.”

“This is the first visualization tool that allows you to look at one-, two-, and three-word phrases, across 150 different languages [emphasis mine], from the inception of Twitter to the present,” says Jane Adams, a co-author on the new study who recently finished a three-year position as a data-visualization artist-in-residence at UVM’s Complex Systems Center.

The online tool, powered by UVM’s supercomputer at the Vermont Advanced Computing Core, provides a powerful lens for viewing and analyzing the rise and fall of words, ideas, and stories each day among people around the world. “It’s important because it shows major discourses as they’re happening,” Adams says. “It’s quantifying collective attention.” Though Twitter does not represent the whole of humanity, it is used by a very large and diverse group of people, which means that it “encodes popularity and spreading,” the scientists write, giving a novel view of discourse not just of famous people, like political figures and celebrities, but also the daily “expressions of the many,” the team notes.

In one striking test of the vast dataset on the Storywrangler, the team showed that it could be used to potentially predict political and financial turmoil. They examined the percent change in the use of the words “rebellion” and “crackdown” in various regions of the world. They found that the rise and fall of these terms was significantly associated with change in a well-established index of geopolitical risk for those same places.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

The global story now being written on social media brings billions of voices — commenting and sharing, complaining and attacking — and, in all cases, recording — about world wars, weird cats, political movements, new music, what’s for dinner, deadly diseases, favorite soccer stars, religious hopes and dirty jokes.

“The Storywrangler gives us a data-driven way to index what regular people are talking about in everyday conversations, not just what reporters or authors have chosen; it’s not just the educated or the wealthy or cultural elites,” says applied mathematician Chris Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont who co-led the creation of the StoryWrangler with his colleague Peter Dodds. Together, they run UVM’s Computational Story Lab.

“This is part of the evolution of science,” says Dodds, an expert on complex systems and professor in UVM’s Department of Computer Science. “This tool can enable new approaches in journalism, powerful ways to look at natural language processing, and the development of computational history.”

How much a few powerful people shape the course of events has been debated for centuries. But, certainly, if we knew what every peasant, soldier, shopkeeper, nurse, and teenager was saying during the French Revolution, we’d have a richly different set of stories about the rise and reign of Napoleon. “Here’s the deep question,” says Dodds, “what happened? Like, what actually happened?”

GLOBAL SENSOR

The UVM team, with support from the National Science Foundation [emphasis mine], is using Twitter to demonstrate how chatter on distributed social media can act as a kind of global sensor system — of what happened, how people reacted, and what might come next. But other social media streams, from Reddit to 4chan to Weibo, could, in theory, also be used to feed Storywrangler or similar devices: tracing the reaction to major news events and natural disasters; following the fame and fate of political leaders and sports stars; and opening a view of casual conversation that can provide insights into dynamics ranging from racism to employment, emerging health threats to new memes.

In the new Science Advances study, the team presents a sample from the Storywrangler’s online viewer, with three global events highlighted: the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani; the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The Storywrangler dataset records a sudden spike of tweets and retweets using the term “Soleimani” on January 3, 2020, when the United States assassinated the general; the strong rise of “coronavirus” and the virus emoji over the spring of 2020 as the disease spread; and a burst of use of the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” on and after May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was murdered.

“There’s a hashtag that’s being invented while I’m talking right now,” says UVM’s Chris Danforth. “We didn’t know to look for that yesterday, but it will show up in the data and become part of the story.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Storywrangler: A massive exploratorium for sociolinguistic, cultural, socioeconomic, and and political timelines using Twitter by Thayer Alshaabi, Jane L. Adams, Michael V. Arnold, Joshua R. Minot, David R. Dewhurst, Andrew J. Reagan, Christopher M. Danforth and Peter Sheridan Dodds. Science Advances 16 Jul 2021: Vol. 7, no. 29, eabe6534DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6534 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6534

This paper is open access.

A couple of comments

I’m glad to see they are looking at phrases in many different languages. Although I do experience some hesitation when I consider the two companies involved in this research with the University of Vermont.

Charles River Analytics and MassMutual Data Science would not have been my first guess for corporate involvement but on re-examining the subhead and noting this: “potentially predict political and financial turmoil”, they make perfect sense. Charles River Analytics provides “Solutions to serve the warfighter …”, i.e., soldiers/the military, and MassMutual is an insurance company with a dedicated ‘data science space’ (from the MassMutual Explore Careers Data Science webpage),

What are some key projects that the Data Science team works on?

Data science works with stakeholders throughout the enterprise to automate or support decision making when outcomes are unknown. We help determine the prospective clients that MassMutual should market to, the risk associated with life insurance applicants, and which bonds MassMutual should invest in. [emphases mine]

Of course. The military and financial services. Delightfully, this research is at least partially (mostly?) funded on the public dime, the US National Science Foundation.

General Fusion moves headquarters to Vancouver Airport (sort of)

Nuclear energy is not usually of much interest to me but there is a Canadian company doing some interesting work in that area. So, before getting to the news about the company’s move, here’s a general description of fusion energy and how General Fusion (the company) is approaching the clean energy problem, from a June 18, 2021 posting by Bob McDonald on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Quirks and Quarks blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Vancouver-based fusion energy company General Fusion has entered an agreement with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to build a nuclear fusion demonstration plant to be operational in 2025. It will take a unique approach to generating clean energy.   

There is an industry joke that fusion energy has been 20 years away for 50 years. The quest to produce clean energy by duplicating the processes happening at the centre of the sun has been a difficult and expensive challenge.

It has yet to be accomplished on anything like a commercial scale. That is partly because on Earth the fusion process involves handling materials at extreme pressures and temperatures many times hotter than the surface of the sun.

The nuclear technology that has provided electricity for decades around the world relies on fission, which splits heavy atoms such as uranium into lighter elements, releasing energy. However, this produces hazardous and durable radioactive waste that must be stored, and more catastrophically has led to major accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Fusion is the opposite of fission. Lighter elements such as hydrogen are heated and compressed to fuse into heavier ones. This releases energy, but with a much smaller legacy of radioactive waste, and no risk of meltdown.

The world’s largest fusion reactor experiment, ITER (Latin for “the way”) [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor] is currently under construction in southern France. It’s a massive international collaboration developing on fusion technology that’s been been explored since it was invented in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It involves a doughnut-shaped metallic chamber called a tokamak that is surrounded by incredibly powerful superconducting magnets. 

An electrically charged gas, or plasma, will be injected into the chamber where the magnets hold it, compressed and suspended, so it does not touch the walls and burn through them. The plasma will be heated to the unbelievable temperature of 150 million C, when fusion begins to take place.

And therein lies the problem. So far, experimental fusion reactors have required more energy to heat the plasma to start the fusion reaction than can be harvested from the reaction itself. Size is part of the problem. Demonstration reactors are small and meant to test equipment and materials, not produce power. ITER is supposed to be large enough to produce 10 times as much power as is required to heat up its plasma.

And that’s the holy grail of fusion: to produce enough power that the nuclear fusion reaction can become self-sustaining.

General Fusion takes a completely different approach by using mechanical pressure to contain and heat the plasma, rather than gigantic electromagnets. A series of powerful pistons surround a container of liquid metal with the hydrogen plasma in the centre. The pistons mechanically squeeze the liquid on all sides at once, heating the fuel by compression the way fuel in a diesel engine is compressed and heated in a cylinder until it ignites. 

Exciting, eh? If you have time, you may want to read McDonald’s June 18, 2021 posting for a few more details about General Fusion’s technology and for some embedded images.

At one point I was under the impression that General Fusion was involved with ITER but that seems to have been a misunderstanding on my part.

I first wrote about General Fusion in a December 2, 2011 posting titled: Burnaby-based company (Canada) challenges fossil fuel consumption with nuclear fusion. (For those unfamiliar with the Vancouver area, there’s the city of Vancouver and there’s Vancouver Metro, which includes the city of Vancouver and others in the region. Burnaby is part of Metro Vancouver; General Fusion is moving to Sea Island (near Vancouver Airport), in Richmond, which is also in Metro Vancouver.) Kenneth Chan’s October 20, 2021 article for the Daily Hive gives more detail about General Fusion’s new facilities (Note: A link has been removed),

The new facility will span two buildings at 6020 and 6082 Russ Baker Way, near YVR’s [Vancouver Airport] South Terminal. This includes a larger building previously used for aircraft engine maintenance and repair.

The relocation process could start before the end of 2021, allowing the company to more than quadruple its workforce over the coming years. Currently, it employs about 140 people.

The Sea Island [in Richmond] facility will house its corporate offices, primary fusion technology development division, and many of its engineering laboratories. This new facility provides General Fusion with the ability to build a new demonstration prototype to support the commercialization of its magnetized target fusion technology.

The company’s research and development into practical fusion technology as a zero-carbon power solution to address the world’s growing energy needs, while fighting climate change, is supported by the federal governments of Canada, US, and UK.

General Fusion is backed by dozens of large global private investors, including Bezos Expeditions, which is the personal investment entity for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It has raised a total of about USD$200 million in financing to date.

“British Columbia is at the centre of a thriving, world-class technology innovation ecosystem, just the right place for us to continue investing in our growing workforce and the future of our company,” said Christofer Mowry, CEO of General Fusion, in a statement.

Earlier this year, YVR also indicated it is considering allowing commercial and industrial developments on several hundred acres of under-utilized parcels of land next to the north and south runways, for uses that complement airport activities. This would also provide the airport with a new source of revenue, after major financial losses from the years-long impact of COVID-19.

You can find General Fusion here and you can find ITER here.

Walrus from Space project (citizen science)

Image:: Norwegian Atlantic Walrus. Photo: Tor Lund / WWF [Downloaded from: https://eminetra.co.uk/climate-change-the-walrus-from-space-project-is-calling-on-the-general-public-to-help-search-for-animals-on-satellite-imagery-climate-news/755984/]

Yesterday (October 14, 2021), the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) announced their Walrus from Space project in a press release,

WWF and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are seeking the public’s help to search for walrus in thousands of satellite images taken from space, with the aim of learning more about how walrus will be impacted by the climate crisis. It’s hoped half a million people worldwide will join the new ‘Walrus from Space’ research project, a census of Atlantic walrus and walrus from the Laptev Sea, using satellite images provided by space and intelligence company Maxar Technologies’ DigitalGlobe.

Walrus are facing the reality of the climate crisis: their Arctic home is warming almost three times faster than the rest of the world and roughly 13% of summer sea ice is disappearing per decade.

From the comfort of their own homes, aspiring conservationists around the world can study the satellite pictures online, spot areas where walrus haul out onto land, and then count them. The data collected in this census of Atlantic and Laptev walrus will give scientists a clearer picture of how each population is doing—without disturbing the animals. The data will also help inform management decisions aimed at conservation efforts for the species.

Walrus use sea ice for resting and to give birth to their young. As sea ice diminishes, more walrus are forced to seek refuge on land, congregating for the chance to rest. Overcrowded beaches can have fatal consequences; walrus are easily frightened, and when spooked they stampede towards the water, trampling one another in their panic. Resting on land (as opposed to sea ice) may also force walrus to swim further and expand more energy to reach their food—food which in turn is being negatively impacted by the warming and acidification of the ocean.

In addition walrus can also be disturbed by shipping traffic and industrial development as the loss of sea ice makes the Arctic more accessible. Walrus are almost certainly going to be impacted by the climate crisis, which could result in significant population declines.

Rod Downie, chief polar adviser at WWF, said:

“Walrus are an iconic species of great cultural significance to the people of the Arctic, but climate change is melting their icy home. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of the climate and nature emergency, but this project enables individuals to take action to understand a species threatened by the climate crisis, and to help to safeguard their future. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there; the climate crisis is a global problem, bigger than any person, species or region. Ahead of hosting this year’s global climate summit, the UK must raise its ambition and keep all of its climate promises—for the sake of the walrus, and the world.”

Previous population estimates are based upon the best data and knowledge available, but there are challenges associated with working with marine mammals in such a vast, remote and largely inaccessible place. This project will build upon the knowledge of Indigenous communities, using satellite technology to provide an up-to-date count of Atlantic and Laptev walrus populations.

Hannah Cubaynes, wildlife from space research associate at British Antarctic Survey, said:

“Assessing walrus populations by traditional methods is very difficult as they live in extremely remote areas, spend much of their time on the sea ice and move around a lot, Satellite images can solve this problem as they can survey huge tracts of coastline to assess where walrus are and help us count the ones that we find. “However, doing that for all the Atlantic and Laptev walrus will take huge amounts of imagery, too much for a single scientist or small team, so we need help from thousands of citizen scientists to help us learn more about this iconic animal.”

Earlier this year Cub Scouts from across the UK became walrus spotters to test the platform ahead of its public release. The Scouts have been a partner of WWF since the early 1970s, and over 57 million scouts globally are engaged in environmental projects.

Cub Scout Imogen Scullard, age 9, said:

“I love learning about the planet and how it works. We need to protect it from climate change. We are helping the planet by doing the walrus count with space satellites, which is really cool. It was a hard thing to do but we stuck at it”

The ‘Walrus From Space’ project, which is supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as RBC Tech For Nature and WWF supporters, aims to recruit more than 500,000 citizen scientists over the next five years. Over the course of the project counting methods will be continually refined and improved as data is gathered.

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:

“We’re delighted that players’ support is bringing this fantastic project to life. We encourage everyone to get involved in finding walrus so they can play a part in helping us better understand the effects of climate change on this species and their ecosystem. “Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting this project as part of our Postcode Climate Challenge initiative, which is providing 12 charities with an additional £24 million for projects tackling climate change this year.”

Aspiring conservationists can help protect the species by going to wwf.org.uk/walrusfromspace where they can register to participate, and then be guided through a training module before joining the walrus census.

Download our FAQ

The WWF has released a charming video invitation”Become A Walrus Detective,” (Note: It may be a little over the top for some),

The WWF has a Learn about Walrus from Space webpage, which features the video above and includes a registration button.

Is the United Kingdom an Arctic nation?

No. They are not. (You can check here on the Arctic Countries webpage of The Arctic Institute website.)

Nonetheless and leaving aside that the Arctic and the Antarctic are literally polar opposites, I gather that the British Government in the form of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), is quite interested in the Arctic, viz.: the Walrus from Space project.

If you keep digging you’ll find a chain of UK government agencies, from the BAS About page (at the bottom), Note: Links have been removed,,

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

NERC is part of UK Research and Innovation

Keep digging (from the UK Research and Innovation entry on Wikipedia), Note: Links have been removed,

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom that directs research and innovation funding, funded through the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [emphases mine].

Interesting, non?

There doesn’t have to be a sinister connection between a government agency devoted to supporting business and industry and a climate change project. If we are to grapple with climate change in a significant way, we will need cooperation from many groups and coutnries (some of which may have been adversaries in the past).

Of course, the problem with the business community is that efforts aimed at the public good are often publicity stunts.

For anyone curious about the businesses mentioned in the press release, Maxar Technologies can be found here, Maxar’s DigitalGlobe here, and RBC (Royal of Bank of Canada) Tech for Nature here.

BTW, I love that walrus picture at the beginning of this posting.

Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?

I started writing this in the aftermath of the 2021 Canadian federal budget when most of the action (so far) occurred but if you keep going to the end of this post you’ll find updates for Precision Nanosystems and AcCellera and a few extra bits. Also, you may want to check out my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan and some of the ‘rough and tumble’ of the biotechnology scene in BC/Canada. Now, onto my analysis of the life sciences public relations campaign in British Columbia.

Gordon Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article (also in print on May 8, 2021) about the British Columbia (mostly in Vancouver) biotechnology scene in the Vancouver Sun is the starting point for this story.

His entry (whether the reporter realizes it or not) into a communications (or public relations) campaign spanning federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdictions is well written and quite informative. While it’s tempting to attribute the whole thing to a single evil genius or mastermind in answer to the question posed in the head, the ‘campaign’ is likely a targeted effort by one or more groups and individuals enhanced with a little luck.

Federal and provincial money for life sciences and technology

The Business Council of British Columbia’s April 22, 2021 Federal & B.C. Budgets 2021 Analysis (PDF), notes this in its Highlights section,

•Another priority reflected in both budgets is boosting innovation and accelerating the growth of technology-producing companies. The federal budget [April 19, 2021] is spending billions more to support the life sciences and bio-manufacturing industry, clean technologies, the development of electric vehicles, the aerospace sector, quantum computing, AI, genomics, and digital technologies, among others.

•B.C.’s budget [April 20, 2021] also provides funding to spur innovation, support the technology sector and grow locally-based companies. In this area the main item is the new InBC Investment Corporation [emphasis mine], first announced last summer. Endowed with $500 million financed via an agency loan, the Corporation will establish a fund to invest in growing and “anchoring” high-growth [emphasis mine] B.C. businesses.

Their in-depth analysis does not provide more detail about the life sciences investments in the 2021 Canadian federal budget or the 2021 BC provincial budget.

My May 4, 2021 posting details many of the Canadian federal investments in life sciences and other technology areas of interest. The 2021 BC budget announcement is so vague, it didn’t merit much more than this mention until now.

InBC Investment Corporation (BC’s contribution)

InBC Investment Corporation was set up on or about April 27, 2021 as three news ‘references’ (brief summaries with a link) suggest: InBC Investment Corp. Act, InBC Announcement, $500-million investment fund paves way for StrongerBC.

While the corporation does not have a specific mandate to fund the biotechnology sector, given the current enthusiasm, it’s easy to believe they might be more inclined to fund them than not, regardless of any expertise they or may not have specifically in that field.

Of most interest to me was InBC’s Board of Directors, which I tracked down to a BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release,

InBC Investment Corp. now has a full board of directors with backgrounds in finance, economics, impact investing and business to provide strategic guidance and accountability for the new Crown corporation.

InBC will support startups [emphasis mine], help promising companies scale up and work with a “triple bottom line” mandate that considers people, the planet and profits, to position British Columbia as a front-runner in the post-pandemic economy.

Christine Bergeron, president and chief executive officer of Vancity, will serve as the new board chair of InBC Investment Corp. The nine-member board of directors is made up of both public and private sector members who are responsible for oversight of the corporation, including its mission, policies and goals.

The InBC board members were selected through a comprehensive process, guided by the principles of the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office. Candidates with a variety of relevant backgrounds were considered to form a strong board consisting of seven women and two men. The members appointed represent diversity as well as appropriate areas of expertise.

The following people were selected as members on the board of directors:

  • Christine Bergeron, president and CEO, Vancity
  • Kevin Campbell, managing director of investment banking, board of directors, Haywood Securities
  • Ingrid Leong, VP finance for JH Investments and chief investment officer, Houssian Foundation
  • Glen Lougheed, serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor
  • Suzanne Trottier, vice-president of Indigenous trust services, First Nations Bank Trust
  • Carole James, former minister of finance and deputy premier, Government of British Columbia
  • Iglika Ivanova, senior economist, public interest researcher, BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Bobbi Plecas, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation
  • Heather Wood, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Finance

Legislation to provide the governance framework for InBC was introduced by the legislative assembly on April 27, 2021.

Board experience at growing a startup?

This group of people doesn’t seem to have a shred of experience with startups. Glen Lougheed’s “serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor” description means nothing to me and the description he provides in his LinkedIn profile doesn’t clear up matters,

I am a product and business development professional with an entrepreneurial attitude and strong technical skills. I have been building companies both mine and others since I was a teenager.

Having looked up the two companies for which he is currently acting as Chief Executive Officer, Lougheed’s interest appears to be focused on the use of ‘big data’ in marketing and communications campaigns.

Perhaps startup experience isn’t necessary since the board has been appointed to do this (from the BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release; click on the Backgrounder),

Responsibilities of the InBC Investment Corp. board of directors

The board of directors will be responsible for oversight of the management of the affairs of the corporation. This includes:

  • selecting and approving the chief executive officer and chief innovation officer and monitoring performance and accountabilities;
  • reviewing and approving annual corporate financial statements;
  • oversight of policies that relate to InBC’s mandate and holding the executive to account for its accountabilities with respect to InBC’s mandate;
  • oversight of InBC’s operations; and
  • selection and appointment of InBC’s auditor.

Relationships

So, we have two government civil servants, Wood (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Finance) and Plecas (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation), and James, a BC Minister of Finance, who left the job several months ago. Then we have Lougheed, recently resigned (May 2021) as special advisor on innovation and technology to the BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

It would seem almost half of this new board is or has been affiliated with the government and, likely, know each other.

I expect there are more relationships to be found but my interest is in the overall picture as it pertains to the biotechnology scene. This board (except possibly for Lougheed) does not seem to have any experience in the biotechnology sector or growing any sort of startup business in any technology field.

Presumably, the new chief executive officer (CEO) and new chief innovation officer (CIO) will have some of the necessary experience. Still, biotechnology isn’t the same as digital technology, an area where the BC technology community is quite strong. (The Canadian federal government’s Digital Technology Supercluster is headquartered in BC.)

I imagine the politics around who gets hired as CEO and as CIO will be quite interesting.

See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more mention of this ‘secretive’ government corporation.

The BC biotech gorillas

AbCellera was BC’s biggest biotech story in 2020/21 (see my Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist post from December 30, 2020 for more. Do check out the subsection titled “Avo Media …” for a look at an unexpectedly interlaced relationship). Note: The AbCellera COVID-19 treatment is not a vaccine or a vaccine delivery system.

It was a bit surprising that Acuitas Therapeutics didn’t get more attention although Hoekstra seems to have addressed that shortcoming in his May 7, 2021 article by using Thomas Madden and Acuitas as the hook for the story,

By early 2020, concern was mounting about a new, deadly coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency just days before. There had been more than 400 deaths and more than 20,000 cases, most of those in China.

But the virus was spreading around the world. Deaths had occurred in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and the virus had been detected in the U.S. and Canada.

By early January of 2020, scientists in China had already sequenced the virus’s genome and made it public, allowing scientists to begin the research for a vaccine.

Scientists expected that could take years.

But, as a second case was confirmed in B.C. in early February, Thomas Madden, a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology who heads Vancouver-based biotech company Acuitas Therapeutics, flew to Germany. [emphases mine]

Acuitas was in the business of creating lipid nanoparticles, microscopic biological vehicles that could deliver drugs [emphasis mine] — for example, to specifically target cancers in the body.

Scientists are already beginning to say it’s likely that a booster vaccine will be needed [emphasis mine] next year to deal with the virus variants.

Madden, the head of Acuitas, says it makes absolute sense to use the new biotechnology, for example, the use of messenger RNA vaccines, to prepare and fight future pandemics.

Says Madden [emphasis mine]: “The technology in terms of what it’s able to do is absolutely phenomenal. It’s just taken us 40 years to get here.”

So, Hoekstra reminds us of the international nature and urgency of the crisis, then, introduces Acuitas as a vital and local player in solutions deployed internationally, and, finally, brings us back to Acuitas after providing an overview of the BC biotech scene and the federal and provincial government’s latest moves,

AbCellera Biologics is more of a supporting player, along with a number of other companies, in Hoekstra’s story,

Sandwiched in the middle, you’ll find what I think is the point of the story,

LifeSciences BC and the provincial government’s commitments

From Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article,

The importance of the biotech sector in providing protection against pandemics has caught the attention of the federal and B.C. governments. It has also been noticed by the private markets.

In its budget [April 19, 2021] earlier this month [sic], the federal government promised more than $2 billion in the next seven years to support “promising” life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms, research, training, education and vaccine candidates.

Some companies, including Precision NanoSystems, have already got federal funding. The Vancouver company received $18.2 million last year to help develop its self-replicating mRNA vaccine and another $25 million in early 2021 to assist building a $50-million facility to produce the vaccine.

Last fall, Symvivo received $2.8 million from the National Research Council to help develop its oral COVID-19 vaccine.

AbCellera has also received a pledge of $175.6 million to help build an accredited manufacturing facility in Vancouver [emphasis mine] to produce antibody treatments.

AbCellera expects to double its 230-person workforce over the next two years as it expands its Vancouver campus.

When AbCellera became a publicly traded company late last year, it raised more than $500 million and had a recent market capitalization, the value of its stock, of about $8.5 billion.

When the B.C. government delivered its throne speech recently, the contribution of the province’s life sciences sector in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted, with Precision NanoSystems, AbCellera and StarFish Medical getting mentions. “Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead,” said B.C.’s Lt. Gov. Jane Austen in delivering the throne speech.

When the budget was released the following week [April 20, 2021], B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said a new three-year, $500-million strategic investment fund would help support and scale up tech firms.

Despite their successes, B.C. biotech firms have faced challenges.

SaNOtize had to go to the U.K. to get support for clinical trials and AbCellera has been disappointed that despite Health Canada emergency approval of its COVID-19 treatment, provinces have been reluctant to use Bamlanivimab.

Hansen, AbCellera’s CEO and a former University of B.C. professor with a PhD in applied physics and biotechnology, said he believes that biotech is the most important frontier of technology.

In the past, while great science was launched from B.C.’s universities, not as great a job was done on turning that science into innovation, jobs [emphasis mine] and the capacity to bring new products to market, possibly because of a lack of entrepreneurship and polices to make it more attractive to companies to grow and thrive here and move here, notes Hansen.

Hurlburt [Wendy Hurlburt], the LifeSciences B.C. CEO, says that policies, including tax structure and patenting [emphasis mine], that encourages innovation companies are needed to support the biotech sector.

But, adds Hansen: “Here in Vancouver, I feel like we’re turning the corner. There’s probably never been a time when Vancouver’s biotech sector [emphasis mine] was stronger. And the future looks very good.”

Not only is the province involved but so is the City of Vancouver (more about that in a bit).

It’s not all about the cash

Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article helped answer a question I had in the title of another posting, January 22, 2021: Why is Precision Nanosystems Inc. in the local (Vancouver, Canada) newspaper? (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more to the answer.)

This campaign has been building for a while. In the “Is it magic or how does the federal budget get developed? subsection of my May 4, 2021 posting on the 2021 Canadian federal budget I speculated a little bit,

I believe most of the priorities are set by power players behind the scenes. We glimpsed some of the dynamics courtesy of the WE Charity scandal 2020/21 and the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019.

Access to special meetings and encounters are not likely to be given to any member of the ‘great unwashed’ but we do get to see the briefs that are submitted in anticipation of a new budget. These briefs and meetings with witnesses are available on the Parliament of Canada website (Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) webpage for pre-budget consultations.

AbCellera submitted a brief dated August 7, 2020 (PDF) detailing how they would like to see the Income Tax Act amended. It’s not always about getting cash, although that’s very important. In this brief, the company wants “… improved access to the enhanced Scientific Research & Experimental Development tax credit.”

There are many aspects to these campaigns including the federal Income Tax Act and, in this case, municipal involvement.

Vancouver (city government) and the biotech sector

About five weeks prior to the 2021 Canadian federal budget and BC provincial budget announcements, there was some news from the City of Vancouver (from a March 10, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan for dailyhive.com), Note: Links have been removed,

Major expansion plans are abound for AbCellera over the next few years to the extent that the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is now looking to build a massive purpose-built office and medical laboratory campus in Mount Pleasant (Vancouver neighbourhood).

It would be a redevelopment of the entire city block …

… earlier today, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a rezoning enquiry allowing city staff to work with the proponent and accept a formal application for review.

This special additional pre-application step is required due to the temporary ban [emphasis mine] on most types of rezonings within the Broadway Plan’s planning area, until the plan is finalized at the end of 2021.

But city staff are willing to make this a rare exception due to the economic opportunity [emphasis mine] presented by the proposal and the healthcare-related aspects.

“The reasons for advancing this quickly are they are rapidly growing and would like to stay in Vancouver, and we would like them to… We’re very glad to have this company in Vancouver and want to provide them with a permanent home, but in order to scale up, the timeframe to produce their therapy [for viruses] is really time sensitive,” Gil Kelley, the chief urban planner of the City of Vancouver, told city council during today’s [March 10, 2021] meeting.

….

Roughly 10 days after the 2021 budgets are announced, there’s this from Kenneth Chan’s April 29,2021 article on dailyhive.com,

Plans for AbCellera Biologics’ major footprint expansion in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Industrial Area are moving forward quickly.

Based on the application submitted this week, the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is proposing to redevelop 110 West 4th Avenue …

It will be designated as the rapidly growing company’s global headquarters.

… city staff are providing AbCellera with the highly rare, expedited stream of combining the rezoning and development application processes into one.

By the middle of this decade, AbCellera will have four locations in the area, including its current 21,000 sq ft office at 2215 Yukon Street and a new 44,000 sq ft office nearing completion at 2131 Manitoba Street, just south of its future main hub.

“We’re building state-of-the-art facilities in Vancouver to accelerate the development of new antibody therapies with biotech and pharma partners from around the world,” said Carl Hansen, CEO and president of AbCellera, in a statement.

AbCellera has gained significant international attention over the past year after it co-developed the first authorized COVID-19 antibody therapy for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO [initial public offering] by a Canadian biotech company.

“We see this new site as a creative hub for engineers, software developers, data scientists, biologists and bioinformaticians to collaborate, innovate, and push the frontiers of technology.” [said Veronique Lecault, the COO of AbCellera]

Additionally, AbCellera is also planning to build a clinical-grade, antibody manufacturing facility in Metro Vancouver, funded in part by the $176-million investment it received from the federal government in Spring 2020 [see May 3, 2020 AbCellera news release].

Not cash but AbCellera did get an expedited process for rezoning and I imagine there will be more special treatment as this progresses. (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for news about the expedited process.)

It’s likely there are other companies in the BC’s life science sector that are eyeing this development with great interest and high hopes for themselves.

What it takes

COVID-19 seems to have galvanized interest and support almost everywhere in the world for life sciences.

I don’t believe that anyone in the life sciences planned for or rejoiced at news of this pandemic. However, the Canadian biotech sector has been working for decades to establish itself as an important economic resource. and, sadly, COVID-19 has been a timely development.

All those years of lobbying, also known as, government relations, marketing, investor relations, public relations and more served as preparation for what looks like a concerted effort and it has paid off in BC at the federal level, provincial level, and municipal level (at least one).

The campaigns continue. Here’s Wendy Hurlburt, president and CEO of LifeSciences BC in a May 14, 2021 Conversations That Matter Vancouver Sun podcast with Stuart McNish. Note: Hurlburt makes an odd comment at about the 7 min. 30 secs. mark regarding insulin and patents.

Her dismay over lost opportunities regarding the insulin patent is right in line with Canada’s current patent mania. See my May 13, 2021 posting, Not a pretty picture: Canada and a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. As far as I’m aware, Canada’s stance has not changed. Interestingly, Hoekstra’s article doesn’t mention COVID-19 patent waivers.

By contrast, here’s what Frederick Banting (one of the discoverers) had to say about his patent, (from the Banting House Insulin Patents webpage),

About the sale of the patent of insulin for $1 Banting reportedly said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

… On January 23rd, 1923 Banting, [Charles] Best, and [James] Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin which they sold to the University of Toronto for $1.00 each.

Hurlburt goes on to express dismay over taxes and notes that some companies may leave for other jurisdictions, which means we will lose ‘innovation’. This is a very common ploy coming from any of the technology sectors and can be dated back at least 30 years.

Unmentioned is the dream/business model that so many Canadian tech entrepreneurs have: grow the company, sell it for a lot of money, and retire, preferably before the age of 40.

Getting back to my point, the current situation is not attributable to one individual or to one company’s efforts or to one life science nonprofit or to one federal Network Centre for Excellence (NanoMedicines Innovation Network [NMIN] located at the University of British Columbia).

Note: I have more about the NMIN and Acuitas Therapeutics in a November 12, 2021 posting and there’s more about NMIN’s 7th annual conference and a very high profile guest in a September 11, 2020 posting.

Strategy at the federal, provincial, and local governments, with an eye to the international scene, has been augmented by luck and opportunism.

Updates and extras

Where updates are concerned I have one for Precision Nanosystems and one for AbCellera. I have extras with regard to Moderna and Canada and, BC’s special fund, inBC Investment Corporation. For anyone who’s curious about Banting and the high cost of insulin, I have a couple of links to further reading.

Precision Nanosystems

From an August 11, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

A homegrown pharmaceutical company has announced plans to significantly scale its operations with the opening of a new production facility in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats.

The new Evolution Block building will contain PNI’s new global headquarters and a new genetic medicine Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) biomanufacturing centre, which would allow the company to expand its capabilities to include the clinical manufacturing of RNA vaccines and therapeutics.

Federal funding totalling $25.1 million for PNI was first announced in February 2021 towards covering part of the development costs of such a facility, as part of the federal government’s new strategy to better ensure Canada has the domestic capacity to secure its own COVID-19 vaccines and prepare the country for future pandemics. It is estimated the vaccine production capacity of the new facility will be 240 million doses annually.

PNI’s location in the False Creek Flats is strategic, given the close proximity to the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus and the growing concentration of tech and healthcare-based industrial businesses.

AbCellera

From a June 22, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

The rapidly growing Vancouver-based biotechnology company announced this morning their 130,000 sq ft Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility will be located on a two-acre site at the 900 block of Evans Avenue, replacing the Urban Beach volleyball courts just next to the City of Vancouver’s Evans maintenance centre and the Regional Recycling Vancouver Bottle Depot.

GMP is partially funded by the $175 million in federal funding received by the company last year to support research into coronavirus treatment.

GMP adds to AbCellera’s major plans to build a new headquarters in close proximity at 110-150 West 4th Avenue in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area — a city block-sized campus with a total of 380,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space for research and corporate uses.

Both campus buildings are being reviewed under the City of Vancouver’s rare streamlined, expedited process [emphasis mine] of combining the rezoning and development permit applications. AbCellera formally announced its campus plans in April 2021.

AbCellera gained significant international attention last year when it developed the world’s first monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19 to be authorized for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States. According to the company, over 400,000 doses of its bamlanivimab drug have been administered around the world, and it is estimated to have kept more than 22,000 people out of hospital — saving at least 11,000 lives.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO by a Canadian biotech company.

Moderna and Canada

It seems like yesterday that Derek Rossi (co-founder of Moderna) was talking about Canada’s need for a biotechnology hub. (see this June 17, 2021 article by Barbara Shecter for the Financial Post). Interestingly, there’s been an announcement of a memorandum of understanding (these things are announced all the time and don’t necessarily result in anything) between Moderna and the government of Canada according to an August 10, 2021 item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news website,

Massachusetts-based drug maker Moderna will build an mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant in Canada within the next two years, CEO Stephane Bancel said Tuesday [August 10, 2021; Note the timing, the writ for the next federal election was dropped on August 15, 2021].

The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government that will result in Canada becoming the home of Moderna’s first foreign operation. It’s not clear yet how much money Canada has offered to Moderna [emphasis mine] for the project.

Canada, whose life sciences industry has been decimated over the last three decades, wants in on the action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to rebuild the industry, and the recent budget included a $2.2 billion, seven-year investment to grow the life science and biotech sectors.

Almost half of that targets companies that want to expand or set up vaccine and drug production in Canada. None of the COVID-19 vaccines to date have been made in Canada, leaving the country entirely reliant on imports to fill vaccine orders. As a result, Canada was slower out of the gate on immunizations than some of its counterparts with domestic production, and likely had to pay more per dose for some vaccines as well.

The location of the new facility hasn’t been finalized, but Bancel said the availability of an educated workforce will be the main deciding factor. He said the design is done and they’ll need to start hiring very soon so training can begin.

it’s not exactly a hub but who knows what the future will bring? I imagine there’s going to be some serious wrangling behind the scenes as the provinces battle to be the location for the facility. Note that Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne who made the announcement with Bancel in Montréal represents a federal riding in Québec. (BTW, Bancel is from France and seems to have spent much of his adult life in the US.) Of course anything can happen and I’m sure the BC contingent will make themselves felt but it would seem that Quebec is the front runner for now, assuming this memorandum of understanding leads to a facility. Given that we are in the midst of a federal election, it seems more probable than it might otherwise.

inBC Investment Corporation

Bob Mackin’s August 13, 2021 article for theBreaker.news sheds some light on how that corporation was formed so very quickly and more,

The B.C. NDP government rejigged the B.C. Immigrant Investor Fund last year, but refused to release the business case when it was rebranded as inBC Investment Corp. in late April [2021].

theBreaker.news requested the business case for the $500 million fund, which is overseen by a board of NDP patronage appointees, on May 6 [2021].

The 123-page document below is heavily censored — meaning the NDP cabinet is refusing to tell British Columbians the projected operating costs (including board expenses, salary and benefits, office space, operating and administration), full-time equivalents, and cash flows for the newest Crown corporation. inBC bills itself as a triple-bottom line organization, meaning it intends to invest on the basis of social, environmental and economic values.

When its enabling legislation was tabled, the NDP took steps to exempt inBC from the freedom of information law.

Thank you, Mr. Mackin.

More on Banting, insulin and patents

Caitlyn McClure’s 2016 article (Insulin’s Inventor Sold the Patent for $1. Then Drug Companies Got Hold of It.) for other98.com is a brief and pithy explanation for why insulin costs so much. Alanna Mitchell’s August 13, 2019 article for Maclean’s magazine investigates ‘insulin tourism’ and offers more detail as to how this situation has come about.

One last reminder, my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan provides insight into how competitive and rough the bitotechnology scene can be here in BC/Canada.

Nanotechnology in agriculture: an introduction and a 15th anniversary

It’s not often that I publish a posting meant for beginners since I tend to take an understanding of nanotechnology for granted. For anyone who has stumbled across this posting and needs an introduction to nanotechnology, M Cynthia Goh’s* (professor, Chemistry, University of Toronto) April 25, 2021 essay about nanotechnology and agriculture, on The Conversation website, provides a good entry point (Note 1: The excerpts are not in the order in which they appear in the essay Note 2: Links have been removed) ,

Nanotechnology is the science of objects that are a few nanometres — billionths of a metre — across. At this size, objects acquire unique properties. For example, the surface area of a swarm of nanoscale particles is enormous compared to the same mass collected into single large-scale clump.

Varying the size and other properties of nanoscale objects gives us an unprecedented ability to create precision surfaces with highly customized properties.

Agriculture is one of the oldest human inventions, but nanotech provides modern innovations that could dramatically improve the efficiency of our food supply and reduce the environmental impact of its production.

Agriculture comes with costs that farmers are only too familiar with: Crops require substantial amounts of water, land and fuel to produce. Fertilizers and pesticides are needed to achieve the necessary high crop yields, but their use comes with environmental side effects, even as many farmers explore how new technologies can reduce their impact.

Custom-made nanoscale systems can use precision chemistry to achieve high-efficiency delivery of fertilizers or pesticides. These active ingredients can be encapsulated in a fashion similar to what happens in targeted drug delivery. The encapsulation technique can also be used to increase the amount dissolved in water, reducing the need for large amounts.

Current applications

Starpharma, a pharmaceutical company, got into this game a few years ago, when it set up a division to apply its nanotechnological innovations to the agriculture sector. The company has since sold its agrochemical business.

Psigryph is another innovative nanotech company in agriculture. Its technology uses biodegradable nanostructures derived from Montmonercy sour cherries extract to deliver bioactive molecules across cell membranes in plants, animals and humans.

My lab has spent years working in nanoscience, and I am proud to see our fundamental understanding of manipulating polymer encapsulation at the nanoscale make its way to applications in agriculture. A former student, Darren Anderson, is the CEO of Vive Crop Protection [emphasis mine], named one of Canada’s top growing firms: they take chemical and biological pesticides and suspend them in “nanopackets” — which act as incredibly small polymer shuttles — to make them easily reach their target. The ingredients can be controlled and precisely directed when applied on crops.

*M Cynthia Goh was a co-founder of Vive Crop Protection but is not actively involved in the company. She receives funding from NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) Canada and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

Vive Crop Protection’s 15th anniversary

March 30, 2021 marked 15 years for Vive Crop Protection (formerly Vive Nano) according to the company’s March 30, 2021 news release. It’s been a number of years since I’ve written about the company and I’m glad to see they seem to be thriving. Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Darren Anderson (he was formerly the company’s Chief Technical Officer) was interviewed on camera by Kim Bolton for BNN Bloomberg; a link to the video is available from this April 29, 2021 Vive Crop news webpage.

(BTW, BNN Bloomberg is “(formerly Business News Network and Report on Business Television) is a Canadian English language specialty channel owned by Bell Media. It broadcasts programming related to business and financial news and analysis. Since April 30, 2018, the network has operated as a partner of the U.S. business channel Bloomberg Television, …” See more about BNN Bloomberg in its Wikipedia entry.)

For anyone interested in Vive Crop’s technology, see my December 31, 2013, posting.

Graphene increases its market penetration in 2025?

It seems that I’m not the only one wondering if the European Union’s gamble (1B Euros paid out over 10 years through a research initiative known as the Graphene Flagship) will pay off. A January 25, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announced a study on that topic (Note: A link has been removed),

What happened to the promised applications of graphene and related materials? Thanks to initiatives like the European Union’s Graphene Flagship and heavy investments by leading industries, graphene manufacturing is mature enough to produce prototypes and some real-life niche applications. Now, researchers at Graphene Flagship partner The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Karlsruhe, Germany, have published two papers that roadmap the expected future mass introduction of graphene and related materials in the market.

The January 25, 2021 Graphene Flagship press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, suggests the gamble will pay off,

Back in 2004, graphene was made by peeling off atomically thin layers from a graphite block. Now, thanks to the advances pioneered by the Graphene Flagship, among others, we can produce high quantities of graphene with a reliable and reproducible quality. Furthermore, the Graphene Flagship has driven the discovery of thousands of layered materials, complementary to graphene in properties and applications, and has spearheaded efforts to standardise the fabrication of graphene to ensure consistency and trustworthiness.

The new publications by Graphene Flagship researchers at Fraunhofer ISI, just issued by IOP Publishing’s journal 2D Materials, review the latest outcomes of the Technology and Innovation Roadmap, a process that explores the different pathways towards industrialisation and commercialisation of graphene and related materials. In particular, these articles summarise the impact that graphene and related materials will have transforming the manufacturing process and triggering the emergence of new value chains.

“Our final goal is seeing graphene and related materials fully integrated in day-to-day products and manufacturing,” says Henning Döscher from Graphene Flagship partner Fraunhofer ISI, who leads the Graphene Flagship Roadmap Team. “We are continuously analysing scientific and technological advances in the field as well as their capacity to fulfil future industrial needs. Our first Graphene Roadmap Brief articles summarise some of the most exciting results,” he adds. “Graphene and related materials add value throughout the value chain, from enhancing and enabling new materials to improving individual components and, eventually, end products.” The most immediate applications of graphene, such as composites, inks and coatings are already commercially available, as highlighted by the Graphene Flagship product gallery. The industry will soon be ready to absorb and implement the latest innovations and start manufacturing batteries, solar panels, electronics, photonic and communication devices and medical technologies.

“The market demand for graphene has almost quadrupled in the last two years,” explains Thomas Reiss from Graphene Flagship partner Fraunhofer ISI, and co-leader of the roadmap endeavour. “By strengthening standards and creating tailored high-quality materials, we expect to go beyond niche products and applications to broad market penetration by 2025,” he adds. “Then, graphene could be incorporated in ubiquitous commodities such as tyres, batteries and electronics.”

The dawning decade seems decisive in the road to market of graphene and related materials. “By 2030 we will see if graphene is really as disruptive as silicon or steel,” says Döscher. “The Graphene Flagship has already shown that graphene is useful for numerous applications,” he adds. “Now, we need to ensure that Europe stays a leader in the field, to ensure we benefit from the economic and societal impact of developing such an innovation.”

Alexander Tzalenchuk, Graphene Flagship Leader for Industrialisation, says: “The publication of the Graphene Flagship Roadmap Briefs is a timely and welcome development for industries innovating with graphene and related materials. Improving trust and confidence in graphene-enabled products is a key prerequisite for industrial uptake. Informed by the market analysis and technology assessment of the Graphene Flagship Roadmap, this further contributes to our agenda providing expert validation of the characteristics of graphene and related materials, graphene-enhanced components, devices and systems, by developing consensus-based and accepted international standards.”

Kari Hjelt, Head of Innovation of the Graphene Flagship, adds: “We see a strong increased interest in graphene by several branches of industry as witnessed by the eleven Spearhead Projects of the Graphene Flagship, all led by industry partners. The first mass applications pave the way to emerging high value-added areas in electronics and biomedical applications. In the near future, we will start to witness the transformative power of graphene in many industries. The updates from the Technology and Innovation Roadmap team sheds light on the road ahead for both research and industrial communities alike.”

It’s hard not to notice that those with the most to gain (Graphene Flagship) are claiming success. That said, the two roadmap briefs are being made freely available and I imagine knowledgeable parties will be happy to offer critiques,

Graphene Roadmap Briefs (No. 1): Innovation interfaces of the Graphene Flagship by Henning Döscher and Thomas Reiß. 2D Materials, Volume 8 DOI: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2053-1583/abddcc Accepted Manuscript online 20 January 2021 • © 2020 IOP Publishing Ltd

Graphene Roadmap Briefs (No. 2): Industrialization status and prospects 2020 by Henning Döscher, Thomas Schmaltz, Christoph Neef, Axel Thielmann, and Thomas Reiß. 2D Materials, Volume 8; DOI: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2053-1583/abddcd Accepted Manuscript online 20 January 2021 • © 2020 IOP Publishing Ltd

Both of these papers are open access.

Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist

I’ll start off with the COVID-19 billionaire since I imagine that excites the most interest.

AbCellera billionaire

No less an authority than the business magazine Forbes has produced a list of COVID-19 billionaires in its December 23, 2020 article (Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020) by Giacomo Tognini (Note: Links have been removed),

Nearly a year after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the world could be nearing the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people. Vaccination for Covid-19 is underway in the United States and the United Kingdom, and promising antibody treatments could help doctors fight back against the disease more effectively. Tied to those breakthroughs: a host of new billionaires who have emerged in 2020, their fortunes propelled by a stock market surge as investors flocked to companies involved in the development of vaccines, treatments, medical devices and everything in between.

Altogether, Forbes found 50 new billionaires in the healthcare sector in 2020. …

Carl Hansen

Net worth: $2.9 billion

Citizenship: Canada

Source of wealth: AbCellera

Hansen is the CEO and cofounder of Vancouver-based AbCellera, a biotech firm that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the most promising antibody treatments for diseases. He founded the company in 2012. Until 2019 he also worked as a professor at the University of British Columbia, but shifted to focus full-time on AbCellera. That decision seems to have paid off, and Hansen’s 23% stake earned him a spot in the billionaire club after AbCellera’s successful listing on the Nasdaq on December 11. The U.S. government has ordered 300,000 doses of bamlanivimab, an antibody AbCellera discovered in partnership with Eli Lilly that received FDA approval as a Covid-19 treatment in November [2020].

Hansen was a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he founded AbCellera. From https://innovation.ubc.ca/about/news/spin-company-abcelleras-antibody-discovery-leads-covid-19-treatment (Note: A link has been removed),

AbCellera, a local biotechnology company founded at UBC, has developed a method that can search immune responses more deeply than any other technology. Using a microfluidic technology developed at the Michael Smith Laboratories, advanced immunology, protein chemistry, performance computing, and machine learning, AbCellera is changing the game for antibody therapeutics.

I believe a great deal of research that is commercialized was initially funded by taxpayers and I cannot recall any entrepreneurs here in Canada or elsewhere acknowledging that help in a big way. Should you be able to remember any comments of that type, please do let me know in the Comments.

Just prior to this financial bonanza, AbCellera was touting two new board members, John Montalbano on Nov. 18, 2020 and Peter Thiel on Nov. 19, 2020.

Here’s a bit about Mr. Montalbano from a Nov. 18, 2020 AbCellera news release (Note: A link has been removed),

November 18, 2020 – AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of John Montalbano to its Board of Directors. Mr. Montalbano will serve as the Chair of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.

Mr. Montalbano is Principal of Tower Beach Capital Ltd. and serves on the boards of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Aritzia Inc., and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. His previous appointments include the former Vice Chair of RBC Wealth Management and CEO of RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM). When Mr. Montalbano retired as CEO of RBC GAM in 2015, it was among the largest 50 asset managers worldwide with $370 billion under management and offices in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong.

Montalbano has been on this blog before in a Nov. 4, 2015 posting. If you scroll down to the subsection “Justin Trudeau and his British Columbia connection,” you’ll see mention of Montalbano’s unexpected exit as member and chair of UBC’s board of governors.

The next board member to hop on the proverbial path to riches was announced in a Nov. 19, 2020 AbCellera news release,

AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of Peter Thiel to its Board of Directors.

“Peter has been a valued AbCellera investor and brings deep experience in scaling global technology companies,” said Carl Hansen, Ph.D., CEO of AbCellera. “We share his optimistic vision for the future, faith in technological progress, and long-term view on company building. We’re excited to have him join our board and look forward to working with him over the coming years.”

Mr. Thiel is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and author. He was a co-founder and CEO of PayPal, a company that he took public before it was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Mr. Thiel subsequently co-founded Palantir Technologies in 2004, where he continues to serve as Chairman. As a technology investor, Mr. Thiel made the first outside investment in Facebook, where he has served as a director since 2005, and provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of technology companies. He is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies including SpaceX and Airbnb.

“AbCellera is executing a long-term plan to make biotech move faster. I am proud to help them as they raise our expectations of what’s possible,” said Mr. Thiel.

Some Canadian business journalists got very excited over Thiel’s involvement in particular. Perhaps they were anticipating this December 10, 2020 AbCellera news release announcing an initial public offering. Much money seems to have been made not least for Mr. Montalbano, Mr. Thiel, and Mr. Hansen.

As for Mr. Thiel and taxes, I don’t know for certain but can infer that he’s not a big fan from this portion of his Wikipedia entry,

Thiel is an ideological libertarian,[108] though more recently he has espoused support for national conservatism[109] and criticized libertarian attitudes towards free trade[110] and big tech.[109]

My understanding is that libertarians object to taxes and prefer as little government structure as possible.

In any event, it seems that COVID-19 has been quite the bonanza for some people. If you’re curious you can find out more about AbCellera here.

Onto Avo Media and how it has contributed to the AbCellera story.

Avo Media, The Tyee, and Science Telephone

Vancouver (Canada)-based Avo Media describes itself this way on its homepage,

We make documentary, educational, and branded content.

We specialize in communicating science and other complex concepts in a clear, engaging way.

I think that description boils down to videos and podcasts. There’s no mention of AbCellera as one of their clients but they do list The Tyee, which in a July 1, 2020 posting (The Vancouver Company Turning Blood into a COVID Treatment: A Tyee Video) by Mashal Butt hosts a video about AbCellera,

The world anxiously awaits a vaccine to end the pandemic. But having a treatment could save countless lives in the meantime.

This Tyee video explains how Vancouver biotech company AbCellera, with funding from the federal government, is racing to develop an antibody-based therapy treatment as quickly as possible.

Experts — immunologist Ralph Pantophlet at Simon Fraser University, and co-founder and COO of AbCellera Véronique Lecault — explain what an antibody treatment is and how it can protect us from COVID-19.

It is not a cure, but it can help save lives as we wait for the cure.

This video was made in partnership with Vancouver’s Avo Media team of Jesse Lupini, Koby Michaels and Lucas Kavanagh.

It’s a video with a good explanation of AbCellera’s research. Interestingly, the script notes that the Canadian federal government gave the company over $175M for its COVID-19 work.

Why The Tyee?

While Avo Media is a local company, I notice that Jessica Yingling is listed in the final credits for the video. Yingling founded Little Dog Communications, which is based in both California and Utah. If you read the AbCellera news releases, you’ll see that she’s the media contact.

Is there a more unlikely media outlet to feature a stock market star, which probably will be making billions of dollars from this pandemic, than The Tyee? Politically, its ideology could be described as the polar opposite to libertarian ideology.

I wonder what the thought process was for the media placement and how someone based in San Diego (check out her self description on this Twitter feed @jyingling) came up with the idea?

Science Telephone

Avo Media’s latest project seems to be a podcast series, Science Telephone (this link is to the Spotify platform). Here’s more about the series and the various platforms where episodes can be found (from the Avo Media, Our Work, Science Telephone webpage) ,

Science Telephone is a new podcast that tests how well the science holds up when comedians get their hands onto it

Laugh while you learn, as the classic game of telephone is repurposed for scientific research. Each episode, one scientist explains their research to a comedian, who then has to explain it to the next comedian, and so on until it’s almost unrecognizable. See what sticks and what changes, with a rotating cast of brilliant scientists and hysterical comedians.

See a preview of the show below, or visit www.sciencetelephone.com to subscribe or listen to past episodes.

Science telephone is available on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts

I have included the Science Telephone preview here,

As we move towards the end of this year and this pandemic, it’s time to enjoy a little science comedy.