An Association is Born
The idea of developing a dedicated industry association for the emerging biotechnology sector in Ontario began through informal conversations dating back to the mid- to late-eighties.
On July 17th, 1989, The Toronto Biotechnology Initiative (TBI) had its inaugural meeting of the coordinating committee (dubbed the “Council”). The founding members of the Council (and their associations at the time) included:
Jeff Graham, now a partner at BLG, still serves as secretary to the LSO board of directors. John Goudey, now retired from Ernst & Young, still serves as chair of the annual LSO golf tournament. It’s also important to note the significant contributions from the City of Toronto in the early days of TBI; our offices even being housed in Metro Hall from 1989-2002. Matt Buist from City of Toronto serves as Vice-Chair on our board of directors and the city continues to support us as one of our leading sponsors.
The stated mission of TBI was to “further the Toronto area as a leading commercial and research centre for the Canadian biotechnology industry”. In the fall of 1989, TBI published its first newsletter – BioScan, with the “I” cleverly illustrated as a DNA helix emerging from a test tube and the “S” stylized as a dollar sign. Within this publication, TBI officially introduced themselves to the biotechnology community. They also announced the launch of a series of “Breakfast Meetings” to provide an opportunity for networking and to discuss key challenges facing the industry. These “Breakfast Meetings” became a signature event for TBI over the years and continue to be an important offering to LSO members through our “Knowledge and Networking Breakfast Forum”.
The Voice of the Sector
TBI also established itself early on as an advocate for the biotech industry on key public policy issues that affected the sector. In September, 1989, the province of Ontario published its Green Paper on Biotechnology in Ontario - Growing Safely; which aimed to develop new legislation to regulate the biotechnology industry as a whole. The opening paragraph of the paper states:
“The new opportunities provided by current developments in many areas of biotechnology are extremely important to the future prosperity of Ontario. At the same time, there is uncertainty about the consequences of the accidental or deliberate release of unnatural, living organisms into the environment.”
- Government of Ontario Green Paper; “Biotechnology in Ontario – Growing Safely”, September, 1989
TBI responded with an official submission to the province that clearly stated the sector’s strong opposition to the proposed sweeping regulation of the biotech industry. The submission emphasized the need to encourage research and development as well as economic opportunities within biotechnology; while still ensuring public safety. It further offered an alternative risk-based approach and use of existing legislation to regulate the industry, a stark contrast to the sweeping regulations that were being contemplated within the green paper. Indeed, the biotechnology sector in Ontario had found its Voice.
TBI Grows Up
TBI continued to deliver its networking breakfast events and strong advocacy for the biotech industry; and created new initiatives such as a mentorship program for young professionals and an annual awards program to honor outstanding achievements in the sector. And membership to TBI also continued to grow, even beyond the borders of the greater Toronto area.
In March 2007, the Toronto Biotechnology Initiative became known as The Biotechnology Initiative; a stroke of marketing genius that allowed the organization to keep the TBI acronym while recognizing the expanding geography of its membership. But it was a short-term fix for an ever evolving sector.
The Evolution to LSO
Over the next few years, TBI continued to grow in its diversity of members but not just with regards to geography, but in terms of the types of organizations. From pharmaceuticals to medical technologies, agri-food to biochemicals, service providers to academic institutions - all were members of a growing life sciences ecosystem in Ontario. “Biotechnology” was no longer an adequate descriptor for the diversity in the space. Further, there were a number of organizations specific to each sub-sector within this ecosystem yet there was no organization acting as a unifying voice.
In June 2010, the TBI board of directors made a bold move to again change the name, and mandate, of TBI to Life Sciences Ontario (LSO). The founding principle of this new provincial organization was “Diversity of Members, Unity of Voice”.
Since then, LSO has established relationships with nearly 30 partner organizations from across Ontario’s life sciences community and beyond, including key partnerships with Quebec; and national and international organizations. We currently represent over 150 individual and corporate members combined and the list continues to grow.
LSO continues to build on the legacy of TBI and its founding members; from a grassroots community initiative to a strong, unifying voice for the life sciences sector in Ontario. This is our history and one we’re proud to share.