Stemcell Technologies lands $45m from province, feds for new facility

Funding to go towards development of $138-million facility in Burnaby

Stemcell Technologies CEO Allen Eaves | Rob Kruyt

Stemcell Technologies is one step closer to launching a new $138-million manufacturing facility in Metro Vancouver following a $45-million pledge from the B.C. and federal governments.

“This facility will help us scale up the business ultimately and address a market that we can’t address today,” chief commercial officer Andrew Booth said.

The B.C. biotech firm specializes in developing the media and processes that make it easier to grow stem cells in research labs around the globe.

At times, Stemcell Technologies has had to turn to overseas contract manufacturers to produce these tools.

“There are certain regulatory requirements that need to be met in order to manufacture them to be appropriate for use in clinical trials. And today that infrastructure to manufacture doesn’t exist in Canada,” Booth said, adding the company has a long-term plan to grow within Canada to serve a global market.

Ottawa and Victoria are splitting the $45 million in funding down the middle.

The $22.5 million from the federal government comes from its Strategic Innovation Fund, which features a mix of repayable and non-repayable contributions (Booth said about 80% of the government funding is repayable).

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told Business in Vancouver the fund is meant to demonstrate government support across multiple sectors, including biotech.

“We believe that this Stemcell Technologies investment is a great opportunity for us to build an advanced manufacturing centre right here in Burnaby to provide us with the tools for stem cell research,” he said.

The company has secured an empty warehouse in the Lake City area, with plans to begin redevelopment sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, CEO Allen Eaves told BIV last fall he wants the company to expand its research budget from about $20 million to $1 billion over the next decade.

Stemcell Technologies spun off from the Terry Fox Laboratory in 1993 and has since grown to employ about 900 workers in B.C. and more than 100 others across the globe.

The new manufacturing facility would help create an additional 675 jobs in B.C. by 2022 and as many as 2,170 by 2031, according to a government release.

Booth acknowledged hiring talent could be challenging.

But he said the company has been successful repatriating Canadians who’ve moved abroad to develop their skills as well as hiring post-secondary grads and continuing their education through internal training programs.

“They get a great look at the world but they really would like to come back to Vancouver because it’s a great place to live and raise a family,” he said.