On Monday, Campbell and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer opened Canada's exhibit at Bio 2004 in San Francisco, a massive industry convention where B.C. is increasingly seen as the darling of the sector.

"We're starting to create our own critical mass here in British Columbia," Campbell said. "My hope is that over the next five to 10 years, British Columbia becomes recognized as one of the world's biotechnology centres."

B.C., which has Canada's fastest growing biotech industry, has the largest Canadian delegation on the convention floor — a convention that has drawn 20,000 delegates from around the world.

Looming large among B.C.'s delegation is Paul Hastings, CEO of QLT Inc., a Vancouver-based company dedicated to discovering and developing therapies to treat eye disease, cancer and skin conditions.

Hastings, an American, left a top position with a San Francisco pharmaceutical company two years ago for Vancouver and is encouraging others to do the same.

"We're here giving the message … that our province is a great place to do biotech business," he said Monday. "The cost of doing business is low."

Hastings, who still owns a large home in San Francisco, hosted the premier and 150 venture capitalists on Monday night in an effort to build investment in B.C.

"It's a common fact that when you have a cluster [of biotech companies] beginning to form like we do in Vancouver, it attracts other companies," he said.

Hastings cites B.C.'s tax environment, skilled workforce, quality universities and researchers and the tax credits offered to research and development projects among the benefits of starting or relocating companies to Vancouver.

"My quality of life in Vancouver is just spectacular," Hastings said. "I sound like a B.C. evangelist but I'm actually just happy to be living here."

B.C. has the fastest growing biotech industry in Canada with 90 private sector firms plus a host of university researchers, teaching hospitals and research institutes. The B.C. industry is dominated by the health care sector with the focus on such things as new AIDS, HIV and cancer therapies and the treatment of arthritis and asthma.

In Vancouver, biotech firms employ 2,600 people and the pharmaceutical industry employs another 1,100.