Pandemic-preparedness plan can be start of life-sciences strategy

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Pamela Fralick, President, Innovative Medicines Canada

This article originally appeared in iPolitics on October 22, 2021.

People are hard-wired to deal with immediate problems, but not so good at preparing for more distant dangers.

While the pandemic is a challenge unlike any other in our lifetimes, if we focus solely on trying to meet the challenges it’s created in the short term, we’ll have missed an opportunity to take an important step toward meeting the fundamental challenges to our health systems.

There’s no doubt that pandemic recovery is a health, social, and economic priority for governments at all levels across the country, but COVID-19 has also exposed other gaps in our health systems. For instance, the increasing pressures on health care and the economy by Canada’s aging population, and the needs of patients whose cancer treatments were delayed by the pandemic, mean that weaknesses in our health systems are exposed.

As terrible as it’s been, the pandemic will be made worse if we choose —and it is a choice —not to learn from the past 18 months.

That’s why Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC), along with life-sciences organizations from across Canada, issued a joint statement on Oct. 4 that presents our vision of how the newly elected federal government can “build back better,” learn from the pandemic, and make Canada a global leader in the life sciences.

If we work together and get it right, Canada will benefit in many related ways. We’ll attract investment and talent, fuel innovation, and strengthen our capacity for research and development in academia, industry, and the public and private sectors.

Of course, these investments will also contribute to the improved health of Canadians. To do this, integration and collaboration of the key players —industry, governments, patient groups, and researchers —is key.

In this regard, the first chapter of the Liberal platform stresses the importance of “putting people’s health and safety first.” We agree. And among the diverse stakeholders in Canada’s life-sciences sector, the newly elected Liberal government will find partners committed to working together to deliver on that promise.

While integration and collaboration throughout the life-sciences ecosystem are important, it’s just as important in government. Fortunately, a whole-of-government approach to strengthening the sector can begin immediately.

As members of the new federal cabinet are sworn in, they’ll be given clear mandates by the Prime Minister’s Office. We hope these mandates refer to the importance of working across departments.

For instance, the ministerial mandate for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), as it relates to life science, needs to integrate with Health Canada’s mandate, and vice versa. Otherwise, Canadians won’t benefit fully from ISED bio-manufacturing commitments, if, for example, Health Canada supports regulations —such as the looming changes to pricing by the Patented Medicines Review Board —that drive away investment and research and development.

Similarly, the mandate letters should consider other challenges ahead, such as the effects of long-haul COVID, secondary infections of COVID patients, or the increasing —and possibly devastating —epidemic of antimicrobial resistance.

Meeting these challenges means Canadians must have access to the newest, most innovative medicines and treatment. To that end, we must create an environment that recognizes Canada is competing globally for investment and clinical trials.

With the federal election behind us, we can concentrate again on our most pressing problems. In addition to developing a pandemic-preparedness plan that equips Canada for the inevitable next pandemic, we also need a truly holistic life-sciences strategy.

Such a strategy will put the needs of Canadian patients at the forefront of policymaking, and ensure they always have timely access to new and innovative treatments.

It will also encourage the investment and innovation required, not only to protect Canadians’ health and well-being, but to make Canada a global leader that models the benefits of all parts of a health ecosystem working together. Canadians expect nothing less of us.


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