Tag Archives: François-Philippe Champagne

In person conference highlights for Navigating Uncertainty; Targeting Sustainability (CSPC 2022) in Ottawa, Canada (Nov. 16 – 18, 2022)

Unless something very exciting happens, I think this will be my last post about the 2022 edition of the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2022). From an October 27, 2022 CSPC announcement (received via email), here are some of the highlights for people attending the November 16 – 18, 2022 conference in person,

Conversation with Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

Remarks by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Chair of the Standing Committee on Science and Research of the House of Commons

CRCC [Canada Research Coordinating Committee] Panel:
CRCC Progress Report – Moving Forward 

Plenary Sessions: 
Canadian Universities, News Frontier and Societal Challenges
-Steven Liss, Simon Kennedy, Stephen Toope, Sophie D’Amours, Elicia Maine

A Path to Process Innovation and Enhanced Productivity in Canada 
-Iain Stewart, Dan Breznitz, Éric Baril, Andrea Johnston

Breakfast Session: Conversation with New Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System
-Frédéric Bouchard, Gilles Patry and Vianne Timmons

Luncheon Session: Conversation with Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor 

INGA [International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)] North America Chapter Workshop (RSVP Required)

Special Performance: The Anniversary, A Play (RSVP Required)

The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) is new to me. So, I went looking for more information,

The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) advances federal research priorities and the coordination of policies and programs of Canada’s research funding agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It provides a senior strategic forum for sharing information, building consensus and making decisions on forward-looking initiatives that strengthen Canada’s research enterprise, foster world-leading research, and advance the social and economic well-being of Canadians.

Details about the play can be found in my August 31, 2022 post titled: Navigating Uncertainty; Targeting Sustainability—the Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov. 16 – 18, 2022). Scroll down about 40% of the way to find The Anniversary: A play.

I covered the new Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System in an October 13, 2022 post titled: Are we spending money on the right research? Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel.

The International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) has been mentioned here a few times, notably in an August 31, 2021 post titled: 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021; it was held here in Canada. I had a follow up the next day in a September 1, 2021 post.

You can find the CSPC 2022 website here.

Are we spending money on the right research? Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel

it’s a little surprising that this is not being managed by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) but perhaps their process is not quite nimble enough (from an October 6, 2022 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release),

Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System

Members to recommend enhancements to system to position Canadian researchers for success

October 6, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario

Canada’s success is in large part due to our world-class researchers and their teams who are globally recognized for unleashing bold new ideas, driving technological breakthroughs and addressing complex societal challenges. The Government of Canada recognizes that for Canada to achieve its full potential, support for science and research must evolve as Canadians push beyond what is currently imaginable and continue to find Canadian-made solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

Today [October 6, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, launched the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System. Benefiting from the insights of leaders in the science, research and innovation ecosystem, the panel will provide independent, expert policy advice on the structure, governance and management of the federal system supporting research and talent. This will ensure that Canadian researchers are positioned for even more success now and in the future.

The panel will focus on the relationships among the federal research granting agencies—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research—and the relationship between these agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis have shown, addressing the world’s most pressing challenges requires greater collaboration within the Canadian research community, government and industry, as well as with the international community. A cohesive and agile research support system will ensure Canadian researchers can quickly and effectively respond to the questions of today and tomorrow. Optimizing Canada’s research support system will equip researchers to transcend disciplines and borders, seize new opportunities and be responsive to emerging needs and interests to improve Canadians’ health, well-being and prosperity.

Quotes

“Canada is known for world-class research thanks to the enormous capabilities of our researchers. Canadian researchers transform curiosity into bold new ideas that can significantly enhance Canadians’ lives and well-being. With this advisory panel, our government will ensure our support for their research is just as cutting-edge as Canada’s science and research community.”
– The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“Our priority is to support Canada’s world-class scientific community so it can respond effectively to the challenges of today and the future. That’s why we are leveraging the expertise and perspectives of a newly formed advisory panel to maximize the impact of research and downstream innovation, which contributes significantly to Canadians’ well-being and prosperity.”
– The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health

Quick facts

The Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System has seven members, including the Chair. The members were selected by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Minister of Health. The panel will consult with experts and stakeholders to draw on their diverse experiences, expertise and opinions. 

Since 2016, the Government of Canada has committed more than $14 billion to support research and science across Canada. 

Here’s a list of advisory panel members I’ve assembled from the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System: Member biographies webpage,

  • Frédéric Bouchard (Chair) is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montréal, where he has been a professor of philosophy of science since 2005.
  • Janet Rossant is a Senior Scientist Emeritus in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, the Hospital for Sick Children and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics.
  • [Gilles Patry] is Professor Emeritus and President Emeritus at the University of Ottawa. Following a distinguished career as a consulting engineer, researcher and university administrator, Gilles Patry is now a consultant and board director [Royal Canadian Mint].
  • Yolande E. Chan joined McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management as Dean and James McGill Professor in 2021. Her research focuses on innovation, knowledge strategy, digital strategy, digital entrepreneurship, and business-IT alignment.
  • Laurel Schafer is a Professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on developing novel organometallic catalysts to carry out difficult transformations in small molecule organic chemistry.
  • Vianne Timmons is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland since 2020. She is a nationally and internationally recognized researcher and advocate in the field of inclusive education.
  • Dr. Baljit Singh is a highly accomplished researcher, … . He began his role as Vice-President Research at the University of Saskatchewan in 2021, after serving as Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (2016 – 2020), and as Associate Dean of Research at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan (2010 – 2016).

Nobody from the North. Nobody who’s worked there or lived there or researched there. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed a lack of representation for the North.

Canada’s golden triangle (Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa) is well represented and, as is often the case, there’s representation for other regions: one member from the Prairies, one member from the Maritimes or Atlantic provinces, and one member from the West.

The mandate indicates they could have five to eight members. With seven spots filled, they could include one more member, one from the North.

Even if they don’t add an eighth member, I’m not ready to abandon all hope for involvement from the North when there’s this, from the mandate,

Communications and deliverables

In pursuing its mandate, and to strengthen its advice, the panel may engage with experts and stakeholders to expand access [emphasis mine] to diverse experience, expertise and opinion, and enhance members’ understanding of the topics at hand.

To allow for frank and open discussion, internal panel deliberations among members will be closed.

The panel will deliver a final confidential report by December 2022 [emphasis mine] to the Ministers including recommendations and considerations regarding the modernization of the research support system. A summary of the panel’s observations on the state of the federal research support system may be made public once its deliberations have concluded. The Ministers may also choose to seek confidential advice and/or feedback from the panel on other issues related to the research system.

The panel may also be asked to deliver an interim confidential report to the Ministers by November 2022 [emphases mine], which will provide the panel’s preliminary observations up to that point.

it seems odd there’s no mention of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. It’s my understanding that the funding goes directly from the federal government to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), which then distributes the funds. There are other unmentioned science funding agencies, e.g., the National Research Council of Canada and Genome Canada, which (as far as I know) also receive direct funding. It seems that the panel will not be involved in a comprehensive review of Canada’s research support ecosystem.

Plus, I wonder why everything is being kept ‘confidential’. According the government news release, the panel is tasked with finding ways of “optimizing Canada’s research support system.” Do they have security concerns or is this a temporary state of affairs while the government analysts examine the panel’s report?

Age of AI and Big Data – Impact on Justice, Human Rights and Privacy Zoom event on September 28, 2022 at 12 – 1:30 pm EDT

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) in a September 15, 2022 announcement (received via email) announced an event (Age of AI and Big Data – Impact on Justice, Human Rights and Privacy) centered on some of the latest government doings on artificial intelligence and privacy (Bill C-27),

In an increasingly connected world, we share a large amount of our data in our daily lives without our knowledge while browsing online, traveling, shopping, etc. More and more companies are collecting our data and using it to create algorithms or AI. The use of our data against us is becoming more and more common. The algorithms used may often be discriminatory against racial minorities and marginalized people.

As technology moves at a high pace, we have started to incorporate many of these technologies into our daily lives without understanding its consequences. These technologies have enormous impacts on our very own identity and collectively on civil society and democracy. 

Recently, the Canadian Government introduced the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) and Bill C-27 [which includes three acts in total] in parliament regulating the use of AI in our society. In this panel, we will discuss how our AI and Big data is affecting us and its impact on society, and how the new regulations affect us. 

Date: Sep 28 Time: 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm EDT Event Category: Virtual Session

Register Here

For some reason, there was no information about the moderator and panelists, other than their names, titles, and affiliations. Here’s a bit more:

Moderator: Yuan Stevens (from her eponymous website’s About page), Note: Links have been removed,

Yuan (“You-anne”) Stevens (she/they) is a legal and policy expert focused on sociotechnical security and human rights.

She works towards a world where powerful actors—and the systems they build—are held accountable to the public, especially when it comes to marginalized communities. 

She brings years of international experience to her role at the Leadership Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University [formerly Ryerson University], having examined the impacts of technology on vulnerable populations in Canada, the US and Germany. 

Committed to publicly accessible legal and technical knowledge, Yuan has written for popular media outlets such as the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen and has been quoted in news stories by the New York Times, the CBC and the Globe & Mail.

Yuan is a research fellow at the Centre for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa and a research affiliate at Data & Society Research Institute. She previously worked at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society during her studies in law at McGill University.

She has been conducting research on artificial intelligence since 2017 and is currently exploring sociotechnical security as an LL.M candidate at University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law working under Florian Martin-Bariteau.

Panelist: Brenda McPhail (from her Centre for International Governance Innovation profile page),

Brenda McPhail is the director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Privacy, Surveillance and Technology Project. Her recent work includes guiding the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s interventions in key court cases that raise privacy issues, most recently at the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Marakah and R v. Jones, which focused on privacy rights in sent text messages; research into surveillance of dissent, government information sharing, digital surveillance capabilities and privacy in relation to emergent technologies; and developing resources and presentations to drive public awareness about the importance of privacy as a social good.

Panelist: Nidhi Hegde (from her University of Alberta profile page),

My research has spanned many areas such as resource allocation in networking, smart grids, social information networks, machine learning. Broadly, my interest lies in gaining a fundamental understanding of a given system and the design of robust algorithms.

More recently my research focus has been in privacy in machine learning. I’m interested in understanding how robust machine learning methods are to perturbation, and privacy and fairness constraints, with the goal of designing practical algorithms that achieve privacy and fairness.

Bio

Before joining the University of Alberta, I spent many years in industry research labs. Most recently, I was a Research team lead at Borealis AI (a research institute at Royal Bank of Canada), where my team worked on privacy-preserving methods for machine learning models and other applied problems for RBC. Prior to that, I spent many years in research labs in Europe working on a variety of interesting and impactful problems. I was a researcher at Bell Labs, Nokia, in France from January 2015 to March 2018, where I led a new team focussed on Maths and Algorithms for Machine Learning in Networks and Systems, in the Maths and Algorithms group of Bell Labs. I also spent a few years at the Technicolor Paris Research Lab working on social network analysis, smart grids, and privacy in recommendations.

Panelist: Benjamin Faveri (from his LinkedIn page),

About

Benjamin Faveri is a Research and Policy Analyst at the Responsible AI Institute (RAII) [headquarted in Austin, Texas]. Currently, he is developing their Responsible AI Certification Program and leading it through Canada’s national accreditation process. Over the last several years, he has worked on numerous certification program-related research projects such as fishery economics and certification programs, police body-worn camera policy certification, and emerging AI certifications and assurance systems. Before his work at RAII, Benjamin completed a Master of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University, where he was a Canada Graduate Scholar, Ontario Graduate Scholar, Social Innovation Fellow, and Visiting Scholar at UC Davis School of Law. He holds undergraduate degrees in criminology and psychology, finishing both with first class standing. Outside of work, Benjamin reads about how and why certification and private governance have been applied across various industries.

Panelist: Ori Freiman (from his eponymous website’s About page)

I research at the forefront of technological innovation. This website documents some of my academic activities.

My formal background is in Analytic Philosophy, Library and Information Science, and Science & Technology Studies. Until September 22′ [September 2022], I was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Ethics of AI Lab, at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics. Before joining the Centre, I submitted my dissertation, about trust in technology, to The Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar-Ilan University.

I have also found a number of overviews and bits of commentary about the Canadian federal government’s proposed Bill C-27, which I think of as an omnibus bill as it includes three proposed Acts.

The lawyers are excited but I’m starting with the Responsible AI Institute’s (RAII) response first as one of the panelists (Benjamin Faveri) works for them and it’s a view from a closely neighbouring country, from a June 22, 2022 RAII news release, Note: Links have been removed,

Business Implications of Canada’s Draft AI and Data Act

On June 16 [2022], the Government of Canada introduced the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), as part of the broader Digital Charter Implementation Act 2022 (Bill C-27). Shortly thereafter, it also launched the second phase of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.

Both RAII’s Certification Program, which is currently under review by the Standards Council of Canada, and the proposed AIDA legislation adopt the same approach of gauging an AI system’s risk level in context; identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks both pre-deployment and on an ongoing basis; and pursuing objectives such as safety, fairness, consumer protection, and plain-language notification and explanation.

Businesses should monitor the progress of Bill C-27 and align their AI governance processes, policies, and controls to its requirements. Businesses participating in RAII’s Certification Program will already be aware of requirements, such as internal Algorithmic Impact Assessments to gauge risk level and Responsible AI Management Plans for each AI system, which include system documentation, mitigation measures, monitoring requirements, and internal approvals.

The AIDA draft is focused on the impact of any “high-impact system”. Companies would need to assess whether their AI systems are high-impact; identify, assess, and mitigate potential harms and biases flowing from high-impact systems; and “publish on a publicly available website a plain-language description of the system” if making a high-impact system available for use. The government elaborated in a press briefing that it will describe in future regulations the classes of AI systems that may have high impact.

The AIDA draft also outlines clear criminal penalties for entities which, in their AI efforts, possess or use unlawfully obtained personal information or knowingly make available for use an AI system that causes serious harm or defrauds the public and causes substantial economic loss to an individual.

If enacted, AIDA would establish the Office of the AI and Data Commissioner, to support Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, with powers to monitor company compliance with the AIDA, to order independent audits of companies’ AI activities, and to register compliance orders with courts. The Commissioner would also help the Minister ensure that standards for AI systems are aligned with international standards.

Apart from being aligned with the approach and requirements of Canada’s proposed AIDA legislation, RAII is also playing a key role in the Standards Council of Canada’s AI  accreditation pilot. The second phase of the Pan-Canadian includes funding for the Standards Council of Canada to “advance the development and adoption of standards and a conformity assessment program related to AI/”

The AIDA’s introduction shows that while Canada is serious about governing AI systems, its approach to AI governance is flexible and designed to evolve as the landscape changes.

Charles Mandel’s June 16, 2022 article for Betakit (Canadian Startup News and Tech Innovation) provides an overview of the government’s overall approach to data privacy, AI, and more,

The federal Liberal government has taken another crack at legislating privacy with the introduction of Bill C-27 in the House of Commons.

Among the bill’s highlights are new protections for minors as well as Canada’s first law regulating the development and deployment of high-impact AI systems.

“It [Bill C-27] will address broader concerns that have been expressed since the tabling of a previous proposal, which did not become law,” a government official told a media technical briefing on the proposed legislation.

François-Philippe Champagne, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, together with David Lametti, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022. The ministers said Bill C-27 will significantly strengthen Canada’s private sector privacy law, create new rules for the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence (AI), and continue to put in place Canada’s Digital Charter.

The Digital Charter Implementation Act includes three proposed acts: the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act, and the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA)- all of which have implications for Canadian businesses.

Bill C-27 follows an attempt by the Liberals to introduce Bill C-11 in 2020. The latter was the federal government’s attempt to reform privacy laws in Canada, but it failed to gain passage in Parliament after the then-federal privacy commissioner criticized the bill.

The proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act is meant to protect Canadians by ensuring high-impact AI systems are developed and deployed in a way that identifies, assesses and mitigates the risks of harm and bias.

For businesses developing or implementing AI this means that the act will outline criminal prohibitions and penalties regarding the use of data obtained unlawfully for AI development or where the reckless deployment of AI poses serious harm and where there is fraudulent intent to cause substantial economic loss through its deployment.

..

An AI and data commissioner will support the minister of innovation, science, and industry in ensuring companies comply with the act. The commissioner will be responsible for monitoring company compliance, ordering third-party audits, and sharing information with other regulators and enforcers as appropriate.

The commissioner would also be expected to outline clear criminal prohibitions and penalties regarding the use of data obtained unlawfully for AI development or where the reckless deployment of AI poses serious harm and where there is fraudulent intent to cause substantial economic loss through its deployment.

Canada already collaborates on AI standards to some extent with a number of countries. Canada, France, and 13 other countries launched an international AI partnership to guide policy development and “responsible adoption” in 2020.

The federal government also has the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy for which it committed an additional $443.8 million over 10 years in Budget 2021. Ahead of the 2022 budget, Trudeau [Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] had laid out an extensive list of priorities for the innovation sector, including tasking Champagne with launching or expanding national strategy on AI, among other things.

Within the AI community, companies and groups have been looking at AI ethics for some time. Scotiabank donated $750,000 in funding to the University of Ottawa in 2020 to launch a new initiative to identify solutions to issues related to ethical AI and technology development. And Richard Zemel, co-founder of the Vector Institute [formed as part of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy], joined Integrate.AI as an advisor in 2018 to help the startup explore privacy and fairness in AI.

When it comes to the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, the Liberals said the proposed act responds to feedback received on the proposed legislation, and is meant to ensure that the privacy of Canadians will be protected, and that businesses can benefit from clear rules as technology continues to evolve.

“A reformed privacy law will establish special status for the information of minors so that they receive heightened protection under the new law,” a federal government spokesperson told the technical briefing.

..

The act is meant to provide greater controls over Canadians’ personal information, including how it is handled by organizations as well as giving Canadians the freedom to move their information from one organization to another in a secure manner.

The act puts the onus on organizations to develop and maintain a privacy management program that includes the policies, practices and procedures put in place to fulfill obligations under the act. That includes the protection of personal information, how requests for information and complaints are received and dealt with, and the development of materials to explain an organization’s policies and procedures.

The bill also ensures that Canadians can request that their information be deleted from organizations.

The bill provides the privacy commissioner of Canada with broad powers, including the ability to order a company to stop collecting data or using personal information. The commissioner will be able to levy significant fines for non-compliant organizations—with fines of up to five percent of global revenue or $25 million, whichever is greater, for the most serious offences.

The proposed Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act will create a new tribunal to enforce the Consumer Privacy Protection Act.

Although the Liberal government said it engaged with stakeholders for Bill C-27, the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) expressed reservations about the process. Nick Schiavo, CCI’s director of federal affairs, said it had concerns over the last version of privacy legislation, and had hoped to present those concerns when the bill was studied at committee, but the previous bill died before that could happen.

Now the lawyers. Simon Hodgett, Kuljit Bhogal, and Sam Ip have written a June 27, 2022 overview, which highlights the key features from the perspective of Osler, a leading business law firm practising internationally from offices across Canada and in New York.

Maya Medeiros and Jesse Beatson authored a June 23, 2022 article for Norton Rose Fulbright, a global law firm, which notes a few ‘weak’ spots in the proposed legislation,

… While the AIDA is directed to “high-impact” systems and prohibits “material harm,” these and other key terms are not yet defined. Further, the quantum of administrative penalties will be fixed only upon the issuance of regulations. 

Moreover, the AIDA sets out publication requirements but it is unclear if there will be a public register of high-impact AI systems and what level of technical detail about the AI systems will be available to the public. More clarity should come through Bill C-27’s second and third readings in the House of Commons, and subsequent regulations if the bill passes.

The AIDA may have extraterritorial application if components of global AI systems are used, developed, designed or managed in Canada. The European Union recently introduced its Artificial Intelligence Act, which also has some extraterritorial application. Other countries will likely follow. Multi-national companies should develop a coordinated global compliance program.

I have two podcasts from Michael Geist, a lawyer and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

  • June 26, 2022: The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 132: Ryan Black on the Government’s Latest Attempt at Privacy Law Reform “The privacy reform bill that is really three bills in one: a reform of PIPEDA, a bill to create a new privacy tribunal, and an artificial intelligence regulation bill. What’s in the bill from a privacy perspective and what’s changed? Is this bill any likelier to become law than an earlier bill that failed to even advance to committee hearings? To help sort through the privacy aspects of Bill C-27, Ryan Black, a Vancouver-based partner with the law firm DLA Piper (Canada) …” (about 45 mins.)
  • August 15, 2022: The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 139: Florian Martin-Bariteau on the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act “Critics argue that regulations are long overdue, but have expressed concern about how much of the substance is left for regulations that are still to be developed. Florian Martin-Bariteau is a friend and colleague at the University of Ottawa, where he holds the University Research Chair in Technology and Society and serves as director of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. He is currently a fellow at the Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society …” (about 38 mins.)

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors.

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

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.