Got Ideas? Go North!

January 12, 2015
Pharmaceutical Executive

Issue 1

The Canadian R&D industry, which boasts a rich history of drug innovation, celebrates a series of anniversaries.

Like many things about Canada, it takes a long walk against a blustery wind to discover the country's rich history as a medicines innovator. A big step to bridge the distance took place last Nov. 19, when the Canadian R&D industry gathered in Toronto to celebrate a series of anniversaries-100 years for the brand industry trade group, Rx&D, founded in Ottawa in 1914; 50 years for Canada's Health Research Foundation, a non-profit affiliated with Rx&D that advocates for innovation and arranges partnerships between companies and local academic medical centers; and 20 years for Prix Galien Canada, a chapter of the global movement to reward innovation in private-sector drug discovery.

Presented to the more than 300 participants was a timeline of "Canada first" pharmaceuticals innovation, dating back nearly a century from the discovery of insulin for diabetes, in Montreal in 1921; to, among others, the 1967 invention of a freeze-dried vaccine that helped eliminate smallpox; identification of the T-cell receptor, in 1983; co-discovery of Vertporfin, the first treatment for age-related macular degeneration, in 1995; development, in 2002, of the first vaccine for infant meningitis; and work on the first vaccine for HIV prevention, in 2011. Most recently, Canadian industry and institutions are credited with critical lab studies to show how cancer stem cells can be stimulated to halt tumor growth.

Tying the day together was Rx&D's annual membership conference, a series of keynoters featuring leading politicians, researchers, and academicians as well as six policy panels, all arranged around the theme "Making Canada Better: Shaping the Next Century of Healthcare." Three themes emerged from the day's dialogue:

» First, governments in Canada need to do more to "de-risk" the early stage path to market authorization through increased funding for basic research; improved outreach to start-up ventures; and enhanced, coordinated tax policies and other incentives.

» Second, address what many executives from multinational drugmakers contend is Canada's "mixed message" to investors, particularly on IP rights and market access issues.

» Third, all local stakeholders-government, the private sector, professional groups, and academia – must focus on pooled collaborations to raise Canada's profile in a competitive international environment: current priorities to make the country more attractive to life sciences investors are diluted by a fragmented and duplicative effort at the federal and provincial levels as well as within the business/professional sectors.


Rx&D President Russell Williams (right) is honored with the Research Canada Leadership Award by Research Canada chairman Dr. Ryan Wiley. Courtesy of Rx&D.

The day was topped off by a gala dinner featuring a number of awards, including the annual Prix Galien prize for best drug product, which went to InterMune's (now Roche) treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Esbriet (pirfenidone). Esbriet, which was partially developed in Canada, is the first treatment available for IPF, which prior to introduction of the drug could not be controlled and was invariably fatal over time. Singled out for accolades by the Health Research Foundation was Dr. Robert Young, a former researcher for Merck & Co. at its labs in Montreal who is credited with discovery of the breakthrough drug Singulair, a major advance in the prevention of asthma attacks.


Dr. Robert Young (right) receives the Rx&D Health Research Foundation Achievement Award from Foundation chair Dr. Mel Cappe. Courtesy of Rx&D.

Finally, the federal agency responsible for subsidizing basic research, Research Canada, offered one of its first Leadership Awards for Health Advocacy to Rx&D President Russell Williams for his efforts in building partnerships in areas ranging from the ethics of promotion to the quiet work he does to advance the practice of palliative care for chronically ill institutionalized patients. Williams, an old friend of Pharm Exec, told the dinner crowd "I have the best of all jobs-an employer who lets me use my office to convene bright people to do big things. Canada has the best medical researchers in the world, but lacks the public policies to pull it all together. That's where we come in." Joining Williams in that work will be Rx&D's new chair for 2015, Pfizer Canada President John Helou.

William Looney is Pharm Exec's Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at wlooney@advanstar.com.