COVID-19 taught us the power of collaboration

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us what’s possible when the relationship between industry and government is founded in cooperation and focused on common goals.

This article originally appeared on The Toronto Star on December 5, 2021.

In pursuit of an exit from COVID-19, pharmaceutical companies around the world worked — and continue to work — tirelessly to develop safe and effective vaccines and treatments in a time frame never before imagined.

And, simultaneously, the government introduced new processes, cut away red tape, and accelerated assessments to a pace that would have previously been thought impossible. All the players were working together, with a single goal and vision: a safely vaccinated Canada, as soon as possible. And, although we’re not yet through the storm of the pandemic, we can safely say that the vaccine development and rollout was a historic victory.

Fostering innovation within our borders

Health care in Canada is often lauded as a point of pride on the global stage, notwithstanding differences across provincial and federal health programs.

But we must also foster an environment where cutting-edge research and development happen within our borders, where the domestic life sciences sector attracts and retains world-class talent, and where patients have timely access to innovative medicines. Building that vision of Canada is only possible with open collaboration between government, industry, and other key stakeholders.

A good example of how we can apply this lesson is to stop and consider the impact of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s regulatory changes, which are set to come into force on Jan. 1, 2022. While affordable medicine is an important priority, so too is access for Canadians to the latest treatments available globally. The regulatory changes will drive investment, innovation, jobs, and treatment away from Canada. There’s a better way forward. We have an opportunity to consider a balanced approach to drug pricing regulation in Canada, one that lets government fulfil its promise of affordable medicine, drives R&D investment, and gets the best new medicines to Canadians. It’s a win-win-win.

Building a strong life sciences strategy

While Canada represents only two per cent of the global drug market, the impact of the sector within our borders is significant — and there’s room to grow. According to Statistics Canada, it employs over 100,000 Canadians and contributes $2 billion in R&D and $15 billion in economic activity. It’s a global and growing sector, and Canada is well-positioned for more investment — that is, if the environment is attractive for R&D, both homegrown and foreign.

In terms of life sciences leadership, Canada has the raw ingredients for success. We have the talent and expertise in health, remarkable health systems, exceptional post-secondary health sciences programs, an established reputation for high-quality clinical trials, and existing industry concentrations in an increasing number of regions across the country.

In building a strong life sciences strategy, governments and decision-makers also have a rich health stakeholder network to draw from. Regular and high-level interactions between government, industry, and patient groups are a hallmark of first-tier life sciences countries such as the U.K. and Denmark.

The simple truth is that we’re at a rare juncture. We have an opportunity today to take the lessons of the pandemic and revitalize our health systems to make them stronger and more resilient. We can affirm Canada as a global health leader and grow the life sciences sector from coast to coast. We can do this in a spirit of collaboration, knowing that the health, well-being, and lives of Canadians will be better for it. So let’s take a step forward, together.


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