Back to the Future for Downtown Life Sciences

Novartis Canada President Christian Macher (Photo: Courtesy)

Announced last week, the move of Novartis Canada’s headquarters to downtown Montreal is good news for many life sciences players who dream of emerging as a hub in the heart of the metropolis.

“It’s very positive,” Amplitude co-founder Jean-François Pariseau said in a phone interview with Deals. That’s a good sign, because if a company like Novartis is coming downtown, it could help create a hub near universities and hospitals. “

“It is unfortunate that we have not yet created an environment to welcome biotechnology companies downtown,” added the head of the venture capital firm, which has launched a precision medicine fund of more than $ 200 million.

But this could change, because CHUM must provide news about its Quartier d’innovation en santé, learned Deals.

“This life science project will be realized soon. It has been slowed by the pandemic,” a brief explanation to CHUM’s media relations department, without saying more.

Montreal InVivo CEO Frank Béraud, also welcomed Novartis ’arrival with enthusiasm.

“This could be the beginning of a movement. It’s clear and obvious that a building with a lot of tenant space is needed. It’s a huge need. There’s a severe shortage of laboratory space.”

According to him, life sciences companies in downtown could have a residential building by the end of next year. The increase in vacant commercial spaces caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could also be beneficial.

“Many artists are interested. I am confident that there is one that will succeed, ”said the person leading the organization responsible for bringing together the stakeholders of this industry and ensuring the competitiveness of the metropolis.

Frank Béraud believes it is perfectly necessary to find two established companies to settle there.

“We have SMEs that are reputable in size and which are interested in setting up there and can play a driving role for the smaller ones. That will be the key to success.”

He argues that a real estate developer as well as the State needs to commit for this project to see the light of day. On the side of Quebec’s Ministry of Economy and Innovation, “all situations are on the table”. However, he does not want to be read at the moment, as he is in the process of updating his Quebec Life Sciences Strategy 2017-2027, specifically in consultations. Mentioned by the ministry in Deals that “supporting the life sciences sector is a government priority”.

living downtown

If the city center is becoming attractive for these biotechnology companies, it is because the industry is more reliant on artificial intelligence and information technology. However, people working in this field prefer to work in a company located in the center rather than the west of the island, at Technoparc in Saint-Laurent or Laval.

This in itself is encouraging Novartis to leave Dorval next year to establish its household in Place Gare Viger, right next to Old Montreal.

“This step will put us very close to CHUM,” Novartis Canada President Christian Macher said in an exclusive interview with Deals. We can’t stay away from small companies in AI and machine learning [apprentissage automatique]. We have a partnership with Mila [Institut québécois d’intelligence artificielle] and Imagine. We want to increase our partnerships with digital solutions. ”

“It’s important for us to be close to the ecosystem,” he added. We believe it will be easier to attract new talents and abilities, such as data scientists. “

This fascination is confirmed by Frank Béraud.

“You have to be attractive to young professionals working in this environment and the city center is really attractive,” he said.

Turn around

The move of Novartis Canada’s headquarters was also accompanied by a change in philosophy within the multinational. The two floors it will occupy at Place Gare Viger will feature in this transfer.

“Ideas are created in an informal environment, so on the first floor, we will have an open space for meetings and knowledge sharing,” says Christian Macher. We want to trigger that state of mind it in the office, while tasks will be done in hybrid mode with telework.

The person who has led Novartis Canada since 2019 believes that Montreal is very advanced in biotechnology and it has assets that are more.

This perspective was found already in a brief presented to the Economic Development Commission of the City of Montreal in 2009. “The Health District is one of the most exciting future projects for the city center”, we read in the document.

The future imagined at that time may soon come true.

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