FREDERICTON — New Brunswick has formed a biosciences task force to nurture the industry in the province.

The task force will be chaired by Thor Olesen, executive director of the regional Atlantica BioEnergy Task Force that focuses on the forestry sector.

Speaking at a conference Tuesday in Fredericton, Olesen said the group’s job will be to devise recommendations on how to promote growth in the sector.

The biosciences sector is among five industry focus clusters for Business New Brunswick.
The department’s minister, Victor Boudreau, said the biosciences sector has the capacity to transform the economy.

Meantime, an expert attending the conference said New Brunswick’s biotechnology sector of the future will be based on its waters, crops and trees.

Steven Burke, president of the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, said in an interview that the world’s water and land-use commodities, as well as its climate, will provide challenges that will spur biotechnology innovation.

“All of the future areas of impact for biotechnology are at play in New Brunswick,” Burke said.

“A kind of triage needs to be done for sectors and maybe some hard decisions.”

“Let Ontario do the drug industry. It’s there — let them do that.”

Burke was previously the long-tenured senior vice-president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which he said was the world’s first targeted initiative in biotechnology when it was founded in 1984 — a year before he joined.

Speaking to a crowd of academic, corporate and government industry leaders Tuesday, Burke said jurisdictions successful at growing the biosciences sector carve out “niche” areas on which to focus attention.

He warned against provinces or states trying to do “too much” by aiming to grow all parts of the industry at once.

“In the past, we left biotechnology development to happenstance and fate,” he said.
He noted that catalyzing agencies now devoted to the sector’s promotion need to understand “the process” — how research, academic institutions, the workforce, manufacturing and other key players along the path to commercialization interact.

The Biofuels Center of North Carolina formed in 2007 to reduce the state’s dependence on foreign fuels and stimulate a local market for farmers, biofuels manufacturers, biofuels workers and consumers.

By 2017, the centre’s aim is to have 10 per cent of liquid fuels sold in the state sourced from local growers and producers.

According to John Argall, the executive director of BioAtlantech — New Brunswick’s biosciences industry association — the province will do well in patenting “soft” technologies developed to solve local problems.

He pointed to the work of J.D. Irving Ltd. — which has partnered with Carleton University researchers to develop methods to inoculate small white spruce seedlings with toxin-producing fungi that improve the trees’ tolerance to insect attack.