“Canada Needs to do Better in Supporting Innovative Biopharma”

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Brian Hilberdink, President of Novo Nordisk Canada, calls for the Canadian government to encourage and invest in innovative biopharmaceutical companies in Canada. 

 

I’ve often wondered how things would be if Canada had steadily continued a path of biopharmaceutical discovery and commercialization after Banting and Best’s breakthrough in 1921, and what our economy, our healthcare system and the health of our citizens would look like as a result.

 

“Diabetus [sic]. Ligate pancreatic ducts of dog. Keep dogs alive till acini degenerate leaving islets. Try to isolate the internal secretion of these and relieve glycosurea [sic].1″

 

This was the 25-word hypothesis Sir Frederick Banting identified on October 31, 1920 after a restless night’s sleep which eventually lead to the discovery of insulin – one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the last century.

 

Now close to 100 years later, Canada is at a turning point in healthcare, as the government works to address our healthcare system’s sustainability and the life sciences industry faces policy changes to the way drugs are priced and covered that will impact Canadian investments in innovation.

 

When we take a closer look at Canada’s life sciences sector today, there is no shortage of talented scientists and entrepreneurs with excellent ideas and important discoveries to share.

 

But, many of Canada’s fledgeling biopharmaceutical companies face challenges in commercialization, specifically attracting partners and investments to enable them to grow into globally competitive, Canadian-based companies. Policies and incentives developed by one arm of government that aim to support innovation risk are being made ineffective when another arm institutes a policy that drastically upsets the business environment and discourages that same investment. This is the challenge that will become exacerbated in the coming years if policies such as Health Canada’s drug pricing reforms are implemented.

 

As we work to address this situation, I’ve often wondered how things would be if Canada had steadily continued a path of biopharmaceutical discovery and commercialization after Banting and Best’s breakthrough in 1921, and what our economy, our healthcare system and the health of our citizens would look like as a result.

 

By comparison, the majority of our G-7 peers – namely the USA, Japan, UK, Germany and France – have greatly benefited both economically and in terms of healthcare, from cultivating global life sciences companies that have exported their discoveries around the world.

 

The same can be said for countries with economies and populations much smaller than Canada, such as Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium.

 

Take Novo Nordisk as an example. We started as two small Danish companies – Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium and Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium – founded in 1923 and 1925 respectively, producing insulin that had been discovered in Canada just three years prior.

 

Today, Novo Nordisk A/S employs more than 43,000 people across 170 countries – more than 17,000 in Denmark alone – and is part of the country’s vibrant life sciences sector where medical products constitute more than 14.4 per cent of total Danish exports.2

 

At the same time, the Government of Denmark has created an optimal environment to allow the life sciences sector to flourish.  This was further evidenced by the Danish Government’s May 2018 announcement of its newest life sciences sector growth plan with a stated goal to, “boost the already successful industry even more and make Denmark one of Europe’s leading life sciences nations.”

 

At the heart of this strategy is a collaboration among Danish Government Ministries that touch the life sciences sector – including Innovation, Health, Trade, Higher Education and Foreign Affairs – all working in concert on a set of key initiatives tied to research, commercialization, approval and delivery of discoveries to international markets.

 

The current approach to diabetes in Canada is fragmented and siloed, too often narrowly focused on cost as the driver for decision-making at the expense of patient outcomes, value and innovation.

 

This type of integrated end-to-end approach to policymaking that addresses the health, social and economic realities tied to all aspects of life sciences is desperately needed in Canada, particularly (but not limited to) the area of diabetes, Novo Nordisk’s main therapeutic area of focus.

 

In Canada, like in many other countries in the Western World, diabetes is a major healthcare epidemic that has implications for patients’ lives, our healthcare system and our economy.  For patients who do not have access to the treatments and supplies they need – or those who only have access to outdated treatments partly due to cost-containment – it can be a major burden.

 

The current approach to diabetes in Canada is fragmented and siloed, too often narrowly focused on cost as the driver for decision-making at the expense of patient outcomes, value and innovation.  This approach if left unchecked will stifle investment and potential future innovations – thereby impacting not only patients but the overall Canadian economy.

 

I am hopeful that Canadian governments will look for ways to approach policy-making that recognizes the symbiotic relationship between innovation and healthcare. The Health and Biosciences Strategy Tables demonstrate a positive step; we now need to go further and develop ways to align all ministries and their policies behind this ambition for a thriving life sciences industry.  I am confident such an approach will undoubtedly lead to social and economic benefits for our country.

 

Brian Hilberdink
President, Novo Nordisk Canada Inc.

 

Sources:

  1. The life-changing words of Sir Frederick Banting —http://www.cdnmedhall.org/inductees/sir-frederick-banting
  2. Danish Life Sciences Strategy – https://investindk.com/insights/denmark-to-become-a-leading-life-sciences-nation

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