Canada must improve availability of research-based innovation to combat growing health threats

By Innovative Medicines Canada

Every day, life sciences researchers work tirelessly to improve health outcomes for patients worldwide. Innovative medicines and vaccines have saved millions of lives – thanks to countless advancements from the smallpox vaccine and insulin therapy to immunotherapy treatments. Behind every discovery is significant time and investment. In front of every discovery are incremental strides that improve their effectiveness. It takes an average of 10 to 15 years, $2.6 billion, and over 10,000 compounds to come up with a single new innovative treatment.

The recent pandemic showed us that discovery and innovation are not only important for addressing known pathogens, but in preparing for future global health threats. One such threat, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), is already a problem in Canada.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, and fungi evolve and no longer respond to medicines. This makes infections harder to treat and increases the risk of disease spread, ultimately leading to fatalities. It was declared a global health threat by the World Health Organization in 2014. In 2019 alone, 1.27 million deaths were estimated to be directly attributable to AMR, with close to 5 million deaths associated with AMR, according to an analysis published in the Lancet.

Bacterial resistance to existing antibiotics is increasing quickly, while the pipeline for new antibiotics is drying up. A report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) found that approximately 26 per cent of bacterial infections are resistant to first-line antibiotics. Through the work of the AMR Industry Alliance, more than 100 biotech, diagnostic, pharmaceutical, and generic drug companies are working to reduce AMR and develop new antibiotics to fight infections. But Canada is falling short on domestic action against AMR.

Research published in Clinical Infectious Diseases showed that only two of the 18 novel antibiotics launched over the last decade were approved in Canada, while other G7 countries had approved an average of eight. The CCA found that if current trends continue, AMR is expected to cause 396,000 Canadian deaths, increase health costs by $120 billion, and reduce Canada’s GDP by $388 billion by 2050.

While AMR is part of the Minister of Health’s mandate letter, and Jean-Yves Duclos also recognized the global threat of AMR in a recent statement, we need to improve the availability of novel antibiotics for Canadians and ensure faster access to these new medicines once they’re available in Canada.

Unfortunately, a lack of availability and timely access to new medicines goes beyond antibiotics. Only 18 per cent of new medicines launched globally are available to Canadians on public plans. And for those that are available, Canadian patients wait almost twice as long, or 732 days following Health Canada approval, for access to those medicines as patients in most other peer nations. Canada ranks last in the G7 and 19 out of 20 peer OECD countries in the time it takes for patients to access new medicines.

Governments, industry and health stakeholders came together like never before to fight COVID-19. The same collaborative spirit needs to apply to solving other health challenges because although incredible innovations exist to address them, Canadian patients are left waiting far too long.


Innovative Medicines Canada is a Sponsor of the Parliamentary Health Research Caucus Celebrating Our Gairdners Luncheon, co-hosted by Research Canada and The Gairdner Foundation.