Research staff up at B.C.’s top life sciences companies

Average R&D employment at the province’s biggest firms grew 14.4% during pandemic

Businesses across a wide range of industries in B.C. have been forced to downsize as a result of the global pandemic, but companies in the life sciences sector, particularly their research and development teams, are moving in the opposite direction.

The average number of R&D staff working at B.C.’s largest life sciences companies grew 14.4% to 52 in 2020 from 45.4 in 2019, according to data collected on Business in Vancouver’s biggest life sciences companies in B.C. list (https://biv.com/lists).

The increase comes after a year of stagnant growth in the industry where there was no change in the average size of R&D staff at the top life sciences companies in 2019.

Average growth was boosted by large R&D staffing increases at five companies. No. 5 Amgen British Columbia Inc. recorded the highest growth on the list. It increased its R&D staff by 90% to 90 in 2020 from 50 in 2019.

At the same time, five companies on the list posted R&D employment declines, though their impact was not large enough to offset the positive influence of the top five growth companies.

No. 17 Neovasc Inc. (TSX:NVCN) recorded the steepest decline in R&D staff on the list: down 30% to 14 employees in 2020 from 20 in 2019.

Employment at B.C. life sciences companies

Eight companies on the list with two years of data available had no change in R&D staff numbers over the past year.

Over the past five years, B.C.’s five largest life sciences companies have more than doubled their R&D staff, increasing an average of 131.5%.

No. 3 AbCellera (Nasdaq:ABCL) had the top five’s largest five-year growth in R&D staff: up 369% to 136 in 2020 from 29 in 2016.

No. 1 Stemcell Technologies Inc. was the only top five company to experience R&D employment declines over the past five years, dropping 8.5% to 205 in 2020 from 224 in 2016.

Despite that decline, Stemcell maintains a solid grip on the No. 1 spot. Staffing at No. 2 Kardium Inc.’s R&D department remained at 73% of its top competitor. •