Canadian pharma industry’s current concerns, collaborative efforts and important next steps

Special to Healthing 4 minute read October 15, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to define 2020, the coordinated efforts of the Canadian pharmaceutical industry have never been so relevant. As the national voice of Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical industry, Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) is front and centre as its members work together with governments, research insitutions and life sciences organizations to develop medicines and vacccines. Here, we talk to IMC president Pamela Fralick about the Canadian industry’s impact at-home and beyond, priorities when it comes to COVID-19 and how to strengthen the approach to life sciences across Canada.

How does Canada’s pharmaceutical industry contribute to this country’s health and economic well-being?

Innovative Medicines Canada represents 42 members from the innovative medicines and life sciences sectors. Together they contribute over $19 billion per year in economic activity, and support more than 30,000 high-value jobs across the Canadian economy. Our member companies also invest around 10 per cent of their patented product revenues into research and development.

Currently, there are hundreds of new products in development in Canada, including therapies focused on treating cancer, infectious diseases, as well as vaccines. These products have the potential to help not just Canadians, but people all over the world to lead longer, healthier lives.

There are also thousands of clinical trials underway, which lead to innovative new medicines and vaccines and inject millions of dollars back into Canada’s health systems, as well as into our research facilities and universities.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted collaboration among IMC member companies and with Canadian governments?

Our members are collaborating as never before in the fight against COVID-19—with each other, with governments, researchers, universities and philanthropic organizations. The objective is to accelerate the discovery, development, manufacture and delivery of treatments for people infected with the virus and vaccines to stop its spread.

Fifteen of IMC’s member companies have shared their libraries of molecular compounds with the global scientific community for coordinated study to spur the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for the virus through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations’ COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.

In Canada, individual IMC companies are also at work developing vaccine candidates as well as diagnostic and treatment options. In British Columbia, Amgen is working on the discovery of therapeutic antibodies. Quebec’s Medicago is moving to stage two and three clinical trials of its vaccine this fall. In Atlantic Canada, BioVectra is manufacturing raw materials for COVID-19 diagnostic testing kits and developing additional therapeutic products.

Finally, the federal government has recently entered agreements with seven companies — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Novovax, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca — to secure doses of potential vaccines for Canadians.

What are your industry’s concerns regarding anti-microbial resistance (AMR)?

Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are among the biggest public health threats of our time. In Canada, 26 per cent of infections are resistant to the drugs that are generally used to treat them. In 2018, a panel of experts found that AMR costs the Canadian healthcare system $1.4 billion and reduced Canada’s GDP by an estimated $2 billion.

Antimicrobial resistance has been a priority for the international pharmaceutical industry and the World Health Organization for many years. Here in Canada, the prime minister tasked the minister of health last year with developing a national plan to protect the effectiveness of antimicrobials.

The current pandemic has proven that collaboration produces better and faster outcomes. We would like to see the federal government provide additional funding and research incentives to its AMR One Health Network and work with the Canadian Antimicrobial Coalition to address the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. The goals of this collective effort should be to share knowledge and spur research and development to ensure that there is a sustainable pipeline of new antibiotics to fight superbugs, managed through a financial risk-sharing approach.

What can be done to better coordinate the development of life sciences across Canada?

Currently, each province is developing its own life sciences strategy according to its particular needs and circumstances. Quebec is already implementing its strategy. While so much focus on life sciences is laudable, there is an urgent need for a pan-Canadian life sciences strategy to provide a national focus as well as coordination and support for these efforts.

We would like to see the federal government work with the provinces, territories, life sciences organizations and the pharmaceutical industry to develop a national life sciences strategy for Canada and implement it over the next 10 years with appropriate funding.

We believe such a strategy would produce a dual benefit of both economic development and health system sustainability through innovation. It would help ensure industry and governments are aligned as innovation enablers to maximize Canada’s research talent, data and infrastructure. It would also position Canada as a preferred destination for clinical trials.

This story was provided by Innovative Medicines Canada for commercial purposes.