On Ontario

On Ontario If you’re not as excited as I am about life science in this region, you will be. By Alison McCook Confession: I’m in love…with a Province. The affair began during my undergraduate career at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Many McGill students came to the English language university from the nearest English-speaking Province: Ontario. They were all bright, interesting, and diverse–

Alison McCook
Jan 13, 2010

On Ontario

If you’re not as excited as I am about life science in this region, you will be.


Confession: I’m in love…with a Province.

The affair began during my undergraduate career at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Many McGill students came to the English language university from the nearest English-speaking Province: Ontario. They were all bright, interesting, and diverse–without exception, every friend I made from Ontario was either born outside of Canada, or had parents who were. So by moving to Canada, I learned more than I ever thought I would about Croatia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, and South Korea.

This was no anomaly. As you will see in these pages (“On the Up”), Ontario is home to people from across the globe – more than 100 languages can be heard on the streets of the largest city, Toronto, and half of all the city’s residents were...


Confession: I’m in love…with a Province.

The affair began during my undergraduate career at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Many McGill students came to the English language university from the nearest English-speaking Province: Ontario. They were all bright, interesting, and diverse–without exception, every friend I made from Ontario was either born outside of Canada, or had parents who were. So by moving to Canada, I learned more than I ever thought I would about Croatia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, and South Korea.

This was no anomaly. As you will see in these pages (“On the Up”), Ontario is home to people from across the globe – more than 100 languages can be heard on the streets of the largest city, Toronto, and half of all the city’s residents were born outside of Canada. (You can’t blame them for moving to Ontario’s capital — this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Toronto the 4th most livable city in the world.)

The welcoming, collegial spirit that attracts people worldwide to Ontario has had the same pull on life science. Today, Ontario has the third largest life-science cluster in North America (after Boston and San Francisco/Silicon Valley), full of top scientists from around the world, who have brought their labs and ideas to the Province to capitalize on the collaborative spirit, generous funding, and excellent colleagues.

When you think of life sciences in Ontario, a few fields likely come to mind first. I’m thinking, in particular, of stem cell research ("A Living Legacy") – Ontario, after all, is the place where biologist Ernest McCulloch and biophysicist James Till discovered the first stem cell in the 1960s. It’s here that John Dick discovered the first cancer stem cell, and Gordon Keller coaxed embryonic stem cells into three types of heart progenitor cells. Today, Toronto is home to more principal investigators conducting stem cell research than Boston, San Diego, or San Francisco.

The Parliament Peace Tower in Ottawa

But as you’ll see on these pages, there’s a lot more to life science in Ontario. Here, scientists are heading a unique pharma-academia consortium, which has helped solve the 3D structures of hundreds of disease-related proteins and deposited them in an open access bank ("From Private to Public"). Ontario is also the site of the largest study of heart risks worldwide ("Ethnicity, at its Heart"), the home base of an international group of researchers mapping the entire regulatory network of a cell ("The Big Ome"), the only place where people can track disease epidemics in real time ("Cloudy, Chance of Cough"), and the site of a massive aging study, in which scientists will collect and analyze samples from 50,000 people over two decades as they grow old. It’s also a place for cutting-edge cell signaling research ("Signaling Star") and R&D into an exciting group of compounds called “gaseous neurotransmitters” ("From Toxins to Therapies").

But a lot of basic science isn’t nearly as exciting without a way to bring it to market. Done! In an effort to do just that, the government has rolled out a series of initiatives, including an extremely competitive research-and-development tax credit, the after-tax cost of a $100 R&D expenditure can be less than $37. Thanks in part to this, Ontario is home to more than 800 life-science companies, employing more than 40,000 people and bringing in more than $14 billion in annual revenues.

If that’s not enough to convince you, just read on. I challenge you not to fall as hard as I have.