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Opportunities for Collaboration – An Industry Perspective

Vancouver, BC – October 15, 2015 - Thank you Paul Drohan and board members of LifeSciences BC for the opportunity to take part in this session on the crucial subject of how we can work together to transform healthcare and better integrate innovation in a timely manner.

 I had the opportunity to listen to many of the presentations in yesterday’s session and I want to commend the organizers for bringing together such an impressive group of speakers.

I would also like to recognize my colleagues Stephane Lassignardie from Abbvie as well as the many other representatives from the innovative pharmaceutical industry for being here today.  “Access to Innovation” is a topic that goes to the heart of what all members of the Association of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies endeavour to do.

What I want to share with you today is our industry’s view of collaboration. There are many different definitions of what collaboration means, but I want to focus today on the two key principles of collaboration that are important to the global research-based pharmaceutical industry.

The first principle is what we call:  Quality and Attention to Science.

The second one is a principle we refer to as: Stability and Excellence in Health & Innovation Policy.

Let me start with the first one.

The life science community in British Columbia is stronger today than it has been in a long time.

I last had the pleasure of participating in a BC Life Sciences event two and a half years ago and even in that short time I have seen the progress. This is a community of 310 life sciences organizations boasting 8,500 direct jobs and responsible for $1 billion of direct gross domestic product in British Columbia.[i]

That’s larger than the total GDP of some small countries!

In addition, this impressive group of biotech entrepreneurs and researchers are surrounded and supported by outstanding public research institutes, hospitals, universities and other related technology-based organizations.

Pfizer, I am pleased to report, has made substantial investments in British Columbia over that period, including our long-term, multi-million dollar collaboration with, the Centre for Drug Research and Development. We have also enjoyed fruitful partnerships with a number of BC biotech companies as well and many other research collaborations.

Just a year ago, Pfizer entered a major agreement with MedGenesis Therapeutix Inc. of Victoria to license a particular cell line they developed. It’s an exciting partnership that focusses on the premise that delivering drugs, including proteins, precisely to the regions of the brain where they are required could lead to better treatments for a whole range of central nervous system diseases, and opens up the opportunity for the potential development of truly disease-modifying treatments of neurological diseases. While still early in the research, we believe this collaboration could result in potential treatments for people living with Parkinson’s that could radically alter the course of their disease.

We are not alone in supporting and recognizing the accomplishments of BC life sciences companies. For example, GlaxoSmithKline signed a multi-million dollar partnership in 2012 with Vancouver’s Welichem[ii] and Merck last December announced an extension to a multi-year partnership it has with Zymeworks Inc. of Vancouver for Zymeworks’ proprietary platform for the development of novel bi-specific antibody therapeutic candidates. [iii]  Zymeworks also has a strategic partnership with Eli Lilly worth $75 million. A similar new agreement was signed by Zymeworks with Celgene in January valued at $164 million.[iv]

And the list goes on… Xenon Pharmaceuticals, Qu Biologics and Primary Peptides, are all growing and expanding their research through collaboration and partnerships.[v]

The Association of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies recognize the “Quality and Attention” to Science in BC. In the last decade, our member companies have invested over $1 billion in this province to support research and development initiatives with our partners such as the BC Cancer Agency, the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and numerous others.

In 2014 alone our combined investments in clinical trials, grants, fellowships and other academic and community partnerships reached over $258 million and our industry association’s Health Research Fund has provided $730,000 in support of partnership projects such as UBC’s Personalized Medicine Initiative.

But let me state this fact clearly: the external validation and attention of the global pharmaceutical industry in British Columbia is not just because BC is a beautiful province to work and live in.  The investments are happening because the enterprises themselves are world-class, embracing ground-breaking research in often highly risky scientific endeavours.

Patients, health care professionals, public and private payers, as well as investors and the public at large demand that we keep a laser-focus on where the best and brightest science is taking place, regardless of postal codes and geographic boundaries. This is a global competition and war for talent and investments that knows no boundaries.

Take Pfizer’s partnership with MedGenesis as an example – and I am glad to recognize and welcome Erich Mohr and Greg Johnson from MedGenesis who are here today. MedGenesis is based in Victoria but if they were in Sacramento, Edmonton or Melbourne, that’s where we would be too. The challenge is how do we ensure we have an environment so that more entrepreneurs to come and stay in British Columbia.

So my message is this: while it is a fact that more and more international partnerships are being expanded in British Columbia, we are at a tipping point where we can join the community of other mature life science corridors like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston or Cambridge, this province needs to ensure that there is a stable and predictable policy environment that supports access to innovation.

Without a stable policy framework supported by the government that recognizes and rewards innovation, life science partnerships generating commercial products may not stay in this community.

This leads me to the second key principle for collaboration: Stability and Excellence in Health and Innovation Policy

Pfizer’s business is one of collaboration. Our drug discovery and development process is nothing but collaboration – within our own research teams, with biotech partners, with clinical researchers and more.  And when our new treatments do become available, whether they are in the area of Oncology or Vaccines, Rheumatoid Arthritis or Rare Diseases, the collaboration continues with doctors and other healthcare professionals, with patients, governments and insurance companies.

So, for us, collaboration is not a “nice to do.” It is what we do.

Let me share with you a model that works for Pfizer:

We recognize that the world of biopharmaceutical research & development is changing quickly.  While Pfizer has a large set of developmental programs, increasingly we are collaborating with others, particularly in the pre-clinical space. We continue to expand one of our unique approaches to collaboration, known as the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, where we place Pfizer scientists alongside experts in various academic centres to bridge the gap between early scientific discovery and its translation into new therapies.

Launched in 2010, Pfizer now has 25 academic institutions, the National Institutes of Health and five foundations collaborating with us to help speed the process of drug discovery.

I would love to talk more about the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, how they are set-up, and the opportunities they present for collaboration, but I don’t have the time this morning.   Perhaps this is a topic for a future discussion.

However, I do want to say this: for Pfizer, the model of Centers for Therapeutic Innovation is based on long-term partnerships that succeed in policy environments that nurture, support and reward innovation.  The signals we get from the community where these projects begin are important to us.

For example, none of our Centers for Therapeutic Innovation sites operate in environments that don’t have stability or predictability in their healthcare policy environments. Policies of the past like Reference-Based Pricing and Therapeutic Substitution don’t align with this new vision. All jurisdictions have found ways to quickly adopt and integrate innovations into their systems.

I can’t emphasize enough the important role governments play in setting the stage and the leadership for Stability and Excellence in Health and Innovation Policy. I also want to restate our industry’s commitment to working with decision makers at both the federal and provincial level to find solutions that help build a sustainable, publicly funded health care system while also driving a competitive and robust life sciences sector.

To this end, the Association of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies has made the recommendation to the BC Government to establish a BC Healthcare Innovation Think-Tank which would bring stakeholders together to serve as an “idea-incubator” that could help shape the health care environment to embrace innovation and drive positive change.

The environment that we seek for positive collaboration in healthcare is described well by Harvard University professor and thought leader Michael Porter, perhaps the world’s leading thinker on innovation, competition and effective strategy, including in healthcare.

Unlike the all-too-pervasive environment of zero-sum competition for scarce budget dollars, he advocates for what he calls “positive sum competition” in healthcare. This is focused on doing what is necessary to provide value for patients, not just controlling costs, since as he notes, improving quality in healthcare usually also lowers cost. A key element in providing increased value for patients is through innovation, so he not surprisingly advocates that innovations that increase value must be actively encouraged and strongly rewarded by being quickly adopted and integrated into the system.[vi]

This is what our industry seeks as a foundation for positive, win-win collaboration in healthcare.

It’s important that we reflect for a moment on the value of innovation to our health system, and indeed to our very lives.

Twenty years ago, I was with a small biotech company that developed some of the early treatments for HIV/AIDS. BC was the epicentre for the epidemic in Canada, so I spent a lot of time here with desperate patients and worried doctors. In 1995, almost 150 Canadians were dying every MONTH from AIDS[vii] – most of them relatively young people in the prime of their lives. And the assumption was that that number would only keep rising. We were losing the battle.

But we didn’t.

Thanks to the work and leadership of Dr. Julio Montaner and the team at St. Paul’s Hospital, the front line workers embraced innovation and pushed to be ahead of the curve. Gradually the number of deaths decreased.

I was thrilled to learn last year that St. Paul’s Hospital was closing Ward 10C, the unit where AIDS patients used to be sent to die because it wasn’t needed any more.[viii] That’s amazing progress!

Imagine if we had the same leadership, determination and approach today to solve for other diseases and serious conditions. Just like we have done in the past with heart disease, lung health, cancer, mental health, pain management and public health.

We seek another path.

I commend the announcement regarding the work that Heather Davidson will be leading within the Ministry of Health and our industry is committed to working with the government to ensure a successful roll-out of this initiative to the larger health care and life sciences community.

We seek a path of mutual benefit. A path of innovation and progress. A path by which patients benefit, the health care system is protected, the life sciences industry is able to grow, prosper and attract more investments to British Columbia in a stable policy environment. This, to me, is how we will truly collaborate to transform healthcare.

Thank you.


[i] Life Sciences British Columbia, British Columbia’s Life Sciences Industry, An Economic Overview, p. 2, accessed at: http://www.lifesciencesbc.ca/files/EconomicImpactReport.pdf

[ii] BC Life Sciences, Business in Vancouver – $230m GlaxoSmithKline deal welcome news for battered biotechnology sector, Vancouver’s Welichem sells rights to worm bacteria–based psoriasis cream to global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, August 29, 2012, accessed at: http://www.lifesciencesbc.ca/newsroom/bcnews/news08301202.aspx

[iii] BC Life Sciences, Zymeworks Inc. and Merck & Co., Inc. Extend and Expand Bi-specific Antibody Therapeutics Collaboration, Dec. 9, 2014, accessed at: http://www.lifesciencesbc.ca/newsroom/member-announcements/news/Zymeworks-Inc.-2014-12-09_062232.aspx

[iv] Zymeworks Inc., Press release, Zymeworks Announces Bi-Specific Antibody Collaboration with Celgene, January 21, 2015, accessed at: http://www.zymeworks.com/news/2015-01-21.html

[v] Business in Vancouver, Big dollars drawing BC life sciences firms to China: UBC spinoff anticipates as much as $40 million investment from Beijing’s Yabao Pharmaceuticals, Sept. 15, 2015, accessed at: https://www.biv.com/article/2015/9/big-dollars-draw-bc-life-sciences-firms-china/

[vi] Porter ME, Redefining Health Care: Creating Value-Based Competition on Results, presentation to IHI IMPACT Spring Leadership Meeting Boston, MA, June 27-28, 2005, slide 8, accessed at: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/20050627%20IHI%20Impact%20Meeting%2006272005%20Final-NV_c5acc589-9f69-48db-9c64-75df74dc30a5.pdf

[vii] Public Health Agency of Canada, HIV and AIDS in Canada, Surveillance Report to Dec. 31, 2013, p. 73, accessed at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/aids-sida/publication/survreport/2013/dec/assets/pdf/hiv-aids-surveillence-eng.pdf

[viii] Giovannetti J, Burgmann T, Closing of Vancouver hospital’s AIDS ward is symbolic of progress, The Globe & Mail, May 27, 2014, accessed at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/citing-decrease-in-aids-cases-vancouver-hospital-to-close-dedicated-ward/article18868664/