Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A Global Expert Weighs In: Yes, Canada Can Be A Longevity Economy Leader

It’s the same the world over, including Canada. The largest segment of the population and the segment projected to continue growing at a staggering rate is 50-plus. In 2015 there were more than 1.6 billion globally, by 2050 the number is projected to double to nearly 3.2 billion, and, along with it, comes serious economic challenges.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. An aging population doesn’t necessarily equate to an economic threat – quite the contrary. The longevity industry supporting that demographic is touted as the “largest in human history.” Focused on tackling aging issues globally, it aims at significantly expanding lifespans, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. 

And here is the good news: Canada can become a global leader in the longevity economy, as outlined in YouAreUNLTD’s recent article, Can Canada Lead In The Fastest-Growing, Most Complex Economy In The World? It marks just the beginning of a crucial discussion among Canadians.

A world-renowned authority on longevity explains how Canada should move forward

To get answers, YouAreUNLTD spoke with Franco Cortese, director of Aging Analytics Agency, the longevity-focused subsidiary of Deep Knowledge Group. In October 2021, he was one of the global participants of AgeTech Innovation Week, a virtual event organized and hosted by AGE-WELL NCE, Canada’s federally-funded network dedicated to helping older Canadians maintain their independence. Here’s what he had to say about how Canada could take a leadership position in the longevity economy.

YouAreUNLTD: Aging Analytics Agency recently published Longevity Industry in Canada 2021, a comprehensive overview of the Canadian Longevity Industry. Along with identifying the leading companies, investors, R&D and non-profit organizations in the country, scientific and technological trends and advances and governmental policies were examined.

The report showed Canada is now ranked as the sixth-largest investor in longevity advancements globally. 

What can we do to move up in this ranking?

Franco Cortese: Canada ranked sixth in overall investments in longevity-oriented companies, which reached $5B USD, but third in the number of companies, outranking China, India and Switzerland. To lift Canada’s rank in both total investments and the number of companies there are, in our opinion, a few things Canadian-based longevity companies must do.

First, Canada should seek an increase in foreign direct investments. Despite the fact that the longevity industry is still an emerging industry, some countries have already made significant progress and surpassed others in terms of longevity industry development – chief among them the United States, which leads the world with an investment of $256B USD. 

It is safe to say that US investors are far more proactive in the longevity industry than the rest of the world. If Canadian companies could attract even 1% ($2.56B) of the funds invested in US longevity companies, Canada would move up to fourth position from sixth.

“The political climate surrounding the longevity sector is playing a crucial role in its development.”

Franco Cortese, director of Aging Analytics Agency

Beyond that, more mature Canadian longevity companies, which have already achieved some success, should provide support to emerging companies. Business incubator programs would give early-stage longevity companies much-needed access to mentorship, investors and additional assistance. Those companies that have moved beyond the earliest stages of development and can “stand on their own two feet,” but still need guidance and peer support would benefit from accelerator programs. 

Some do already exist in Canada but they lack longevity expertise. The Bays at Innovacorp in Halifax, Nova Scotia, AGE-WELL and Baycrest’s Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) are among those connecting young technology companies to support networks, but it’s not enough.  

YAU: Canada’s ranking at number six globally by total investment in the longevity industry and among the top three by the number of longevity-focused companies, as you note, is impressive, yet our profile is very low. 

What can we do to rise to more prominence in the longevity sector globally over the next two to three years? 

FC: Progress in longevity is no longer simply a question of progress in geroscience or advanced biomedicine. The political climate surrounding the longevity sector is playing a crucial role in its development.

Different governments have been offering varying solutions for adapting to the demographic crisis. One of the best examples is the United Kingdom. Its National Longevity Development Plan was ranked number one in the world by our Aging Analytics Agency in 2019. It has recognized an “aging society” as one of its four core industrial grand challenges and allocated £210 million to a “data to early diagnosis and precision medicine” program.

Similarly, longevity should become a new Canadian government strategy or at least a significant part of one. In addition to its boosting the longevity industry’s progress, it will enable Canada to maximize the health, wealth and wellness of Canadians.

“Longevity should become a new Canadian government strategy, or at least a significant part of one.”

Franco Cortese, director of Aging Analytics Agency

Government has two roles in moving the longevity industry forward – first, national initiatives such as social care, financial reforms, infrastructure for precision medicine ecosystems and, second, prioritized emphasis on international cooperation with other longevity-progressive countries in the development and implementation of a blueprint for a national healthy aging industrial strategy. 

Within this framework, the focus should be on a number of key areas. Canada should engage with longevity-focused companies to create an optimal legislative framework to boost the development of the industry. As well, it needs to collaborate with relevant partners to implement the strategy and incorporate the use of relevant metrics and parameters to measure its real-world effectiveness, by examining the cost-benefit.

Canada should also establish multiple longevity start-up accelerators in cooperation with mature longevity-oriented companies, as well as establishing and developing multiple AI Centres for Longevity (R&D and academic) in key industrial metropolitan centres throughout the country. And finally, there needs to be a synergy between Canada’s longevity strategy and its national AI strategy.

Leveraging Canada’s unique strengths globally

Cortese believes there are three significant areas where Canada enjoys a competitive edge and shares ways to leverage the country’s unique strengths. 

It starts with Canada’s decentralized healthcare sector. Focusing on education and enhancing social and human capital, it has already proven to be effective in the longevity field. It’s worth noting that the life expectancy for Canadians in 2021 (82.66 years) exceeds the average life expectancy across OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries by 2.66 years.

While it’s true that the Canadian healthcare system performs relatively well, the cost is high. In 2019 Canada spent 11.5 per cent of GDP versus the average figure for OECD countries, which is 9 per cent. 

But as Cortese points out, the demand for digital tools and services among older Canadians offers an enormous opportunity to dramatically accelerate the system’s effectiveness, plus make it more accessible and portable – two pillars of the Canada Health Act. A recent survey commissioned by AGE-WELL found that 72 per cent of Canadian respondents aged 65-plus are confident using technology, not far behind the 76 per cent of 50 to 64-year-olds who said the same. And of the 65 per cent who own a smart phone, 83 per cent use it daily.

Taking a “human-centred” approach and adopting digital health solutions could dramatically improve the system. And finally, adding public drug benefit programs to the universal health coverage already available to Canadians can also move the country up in the global rankings. The benefits to Canadians, and particularly to older Canadians, would be substantial and immediate. 

Final thoughts

From YouAreUNLTD’s conversation with Cortese and from the extensive research collected and analyzed by his team at Aging Analytics Agency, there is no doubt that, with national cohesion and leadership, Canada can achieve a major breakthrough in healthcare and there’s an opportunity for us to compete and lead in the longevity economy, however …

What has to be done isn’t easy and can’t happen overnight. This is just the beginning of the conversation, but the message is clear and one that the public and private sectors need to take seriously. Our future depends on it.

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Fransi Weinstein
Fransi Weinstein
A former Montrealer, Fransi enjoyed a long and fabulous career as an ad agency writer and creative director. After deciding she wanted to completely switch gears and turn her love of storytelling into writing articles – as well as wanting more time to blog and work on a book, she gave up her full-time career to go freelance in 2009. Since then, she has written on everything from politics in Huff Post to speaking out in defense of animals for Get Leashed Magazine and age issues.