Canada has some of the most talented and respected biopharmaceutical and life sciences talent in the world. Many are pursuing groundbreaking discoveries of new medicines and treatments that could benefit patients in Canada and elsewhere and make us a global life sciences leader.
But we can do more. To get there, we need to harness our strengths, such as talent, and remove obstacles, such as restrictive regulatory pricing regimes and policies that drive business, jobs and medicines out of Canada, instead of toward Canadians.
There is a path forward with good lessons revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collaboration over the past year between industry, governments, researchers and patients resulted in the discovery, development, approval and delivery of vaccines and treatments in near record time. In fact, the mRNA technology used in some of the approved vaccines has a Canadian connection, and the Canadian company AbCellera discovered the antibody that neutralizes viral variants of COVID-19.
A collaborative model ought to become standard and enshrined in a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the importance of establishing a thriving life sciences sector. And we require a “whole-of-government” approach that considers not only the bio-manufacturing strategies we need but also the policy and regulatory environment necessary to attract investment and innovation.
The federal government’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy unveiled in July was a welcome step in this direction and will help elevate Canada’s standing in a competitive global industry.
But while the initiative signalled a commitment to work with industry to protect Canadians against future pandemics, it’s not enough. In fact, we need to go much further to achieve the government’s stated priority of ensuring access to critical vaccines, therapeutics and other lifesaving medicines for Canadians, during pandemics and every day.
To get there, we must remove the obstacles to life sciences research and innovation created by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), Canada’s drug pricing ceiling regulator.
Despite widespread opposition from patient groups, industry and other stakeholders, the PMPRB’s new regulations on drug pricing will discourage future investments in pharmaceutical R&D and will limit patient access to potentially lifesaving and life-improving new medicines. The new regulations are due to come into effect on January 1, 2022.
The regulations would cut some drug prices to a level that would discourage many manufacturers from introducing new products into Canada or investing in the Canadian market. Currently, we have access to only 48 per cent of all new medicines available globally. The PMPRB changes would mean fewer clinical trials, less homegrown R&D and, most importantly, even more limited access for Canadians to the newest medicines.
COVID-19 gave decision-makers a rare opportunity to re-think how to advance our life sciences sector and to recognize that the development of new medicines goes well beyond pandemics. All Canadians are impacted by innovative medicines, as patients themselves or with families and friends. Cancers, for example, don’t pause for pandemics.
It’s time to work collaboratively on removing roadblocks and creating opportunities to bring investment, jobs and lifesaving medication to Canadians. As advancements in health innovation surge globally, let’s make sure Canada leverages its strengths now, for leadership going forward.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.