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Medicines and vaccines do more than prevent and cure disease: they bring hope. World-class researchers in Canada are constantly working to offer renewed hope to patients like Shannon Gaudette.

Gaudette, 48, has lived with melanoma since 2005 and endured many surgeries, as well as radiation, before receiving a new treatment that would save her life. In 2011, Gaudette’s doctors discussed starting her on a new melanoma drug, which she had heard about through the Save Your Skin Foundation. She was a candidate for the treatment, and her doctor suggested a two-week round following radiation for tumours found in her brain. “I made a commitment to myself to do whatever I needed to do to beat this horrible disease, so I could be there for [my daughter and husband],” she says.

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Shannon GaudetteSupplied

Before the end of the year, Gaudette had three treatments. “I felt so powerful when I was doing treatment,” she says. “I visualized every drop of the drug seeking out my tumours and gobbling them up.” After another surgery, doctors discovered large amounts of T-cells, which find and kill cancerous cells, in tumours removed from her lungs. “Even though the [drug] had been slowed down [by steroids for colitis treatment], it was still trying to do its job!” says Gaudette.

In another surgery, doctors removed a tumour from Gaudette’s left flank; this tumour also contained T-cells. A CT scan soon revealed a cluster of involved lymph nodes on the side of her abdomen, but this time they were too close to her aorta to be removed by surgery. “This was the first time I was told something was inoperable,” she says. “It was extremely unsettling.”

In 2014, following bowel surgery for melanoma, Gaudette and her oncologist agreed she should start an innovative immunotherapy drug as soon as possible. “My life depended on it,” she says. After her first infusion that summer, Gaudette felt strong again. She continued these treatments for four more years, and after a 13th surgery, and her 83rd infusion, Gaudette is currently tumour-free[1].

Scientists are currently hard at work developing more new treatments that have the potential to save many others like Gaudette, and their efforts are being felt across Canada. Two out of three people diagnosed with cancer today survive five years, compared to one in three in 1964[2]; a 20-year old diagnosed with HIV can now expect to live into their 70s[3], and Hepatitis C, once considered a life-long condition, is now curable. By developing new drugs to treat and prevent such conditions, Canada’s pharmaceutical industry is at the centre of these advances.

“At the core of who we are and what we do as innovative pharmaceutical companies, lies our scientific innovation to deliver life-changing therapies and to make tremendous contributions to help Canadians live longer and better lives,” says Anna Van Acker, president and managing director of Merck Canada Inc. “We are very committed to working hard every day to bring hope to those who need it the most, and to do all that we can to help alleviate some of the world’s biggest health challenges, so we can have a stronger, better future for all.”

Vaccines also play a major role in Canadians' quality of life, adds Jelena Vojicic, MD, vaccines medical lead at Pfizer Canada. “Routine immunizations have helped significantly reduce illness and death from vaccine-preventable diseases in Canada and around the world,” Vojicic says. “Vaccines can provide health benefits at all ages, from maternal and infant populations to seniors. The key to continued success in the immunization space is recognition of the value of science, partnership across healthcare delivery channels, and stakeholder collaboration to address vaccine acceptance.”

A 2012 study from Columbia University supports this, showing that life expectancy was significantly higher in countries like Canada that had access to newer medications[4]. These medicines also generate significant savings to the healthcare system through reduced hospital stays and fewer invasive surgical procedures[5]. Globally, for every dollar spent on innovative medicines, seven dollars are saved in other parts of the healthcare system[6].

“Canada’s participation in the global life-sciences ecosystem is only possible thanks to Canada’s deeply educated and highly skilled workforce,” says Doron Sagman, Lilly Canada’s vice president of research and development and medical director. “Without universities producing thousands of graduates every year, we wouldn’t have the talent to do the work here.”

There are more than 500 new medicines and vaccines currently in development in Canada, many focused on cancer treatment, neuroscience and infectious diseases. Stem-cell technology, personalized medicine techniques and artificial intelligence are also in the works. Together, all of these efforts contribute to helping Canadians live longer in better health, and saving lives like Shannon Gaudette’s every day.

[1] Result is that of the individual.



[4] “A ground-breaking 2012 study by Frank R. Lichtenberg from Columbia University found that life expectancy was significantly higher in countries that had access to, and used, newer medications.”

[5] “A 2013 study published by the Conference Board of Canada examined the health and economic benefits associated with pharmaceutical spending in Ontario from 2007 to 2012. The research concluded that spending $1.22 billion generated offsetting health and societal benefits of nearly $2.44 billion — a 2:1 benefit-to-cost ratio that increases over time.”

[6] “An earlier study by Dr. Lichtenberg concluded that investing in innovative medications saves money elsewhere in the healthcare system by a significant margin. For every $1 spent on new medications, non-medication expenses dropped by more than $7.”

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