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The importance of supporting a resilient life sciences eco-system in Canada

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

By Cole Pinnow, President, Pfizer Canada

It’s been 19 months and counting since the start of the pandemic.  Since then, we’ve learned a lot about our Canadian health system and the interconnected nature of rolling regulatory submissions, interim orders of authorization, scale up of manufacturing facilities, and global supply chains. Through it all, Canadians have emerged as one of the world’s most determined countries.  The commitment to get fully vaccinated and reduce the impact of the virus has been unmatched in the Western world.  Canadian citizens are doing their part to try and blunt the impact of the virus and bring us one step closer to ending the pandemic.

There has also been a renewed appreciation from Canadians for the importance of a resilient local biopharmaceutical industry.  Canada already has many key elements in place to support health research and innovation: a diverse population, a good health system, and a world-class collection of talent and expertise. But something is missing.  We have recognized biomedical, software and computer engineering research capacity in our universities and colleges. Yet, at the same time, we weren’t in a position to immediately respond to the pandemic. Canada’s strengths also extend to clinical trial expertise, to emerging innovation clusters, to select existing industry hubs, and to our leadership in key sectors such as AI, stem cell therapy, and other cutting-edge science. However, there was a missed opportunity to locally address the unprecedented problem of COVID-19. 

How do we solve this problem?  How can we leverage Canada’s existing strengths, identify the key gaps we need to close, and be better prepared for the next major healthcare crisis?

The first step should be pursuit of a comprehensive, national, life sciences strategy with clear goals to attract a greater share of new investments to Canada, ensure that Canadians have timely access to innovations, and equip this country with the right capabilities to respond to current and future needs.

It’s going to take real effort to ensure Canada remains competitive on the global stage. Our sector’s progress has been undermined by decades of detrimental or misaligned governmental policies. While there have been some encouraging steps of progress during the pandemic, there is still much more that can be done to harness the full potential of Canada’s life sciences ecosystem and contribute to the country’s economic recovery and the future performance of our health system. As key priorities, we must continue to develop our capacity for late-stage product development and innovation adoption while supporting efforts to manufacture life-changing medicines and vaccines here at home.

Making progress on a strategy demands more meaningful and sustained collaboration amongst all stakeholders. Cooperation was foundational to responding to the pandemic. No pharmaceutical company or scientist working alone could find a solution. Rather, it was the combination of years of research, talented scientists, pharmaceutical expertise, public heath experts, and multiple governments that empowered us to develop, scale and deliver the hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that have made their way into people’s arms thus far.

Karima Es Sabar (who chaired the Health and Bioscience Economic Strategy Table) said it best in the Federal Industry Strategy Council’s December 2020 report (p.98): “This is Canada’s time, to unleash the best of our intellect, our competitive advantage and to mobilize innovation in every sector of our economy; building bold and better will secure a sustainable future for Canada.”  If we don’t lean into the pandemic-driven momentum and create a comprehensive and actionable strategy for our sector, we are at risk of further losing out on future investments, access to clinical trials, and ultimately on timely access to innovative therapies and the ability to respond to future health challenges.

Canada now has a blueprint and the lived experience that demonstrates just what we can achieve when we truly work together. Canada can position our sector as a central driver of improved health outcomes and greater economic security for all Canadians by prioritizing regular interactions with our sector, putting in place policies that enable innovation adoption, establishing timely and value-based procurement practices, as well as creating a stable and predictable regulatory system,.

We want to make Canada THE destination for life sciences investments. But we can’t do it alone. Meaningful collaboration is required. I encourage you to keep the importance of a modern and resilient healthcare system a priority. Let’s make building a globally competitive life science ecosystem in Canada a reality before the next crisis. Our future depends on it.