Open letter – Published in the Hill Times (Ottawa) June 29th 2020 (https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/06/29/health-innovation-investing-now-to-face-the-crises-of-tomorrow/254763) & Published on LaPresse website June 20th 2020 (https://www.lapresse.ca/debats/opinions/2020-06-20/innovation-en-sante-investissons-maintenant-pour-faire-face-aux-crises-de-demain)
Health innovation will play a key part in the battle against the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have been doing since the beginning of the crisis, the leaders of the innovation ecosystem that includes our rich infrastructure of universities, SMEs, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies are joining efforts to protect and support the biomedical science sector.
In Canada, we are fortunate to have an established ecosystem that supports innovation by drawing on the research strengths of both the public and private sectors. The Canadian biomedical sector includes over 1500 companies, amongst which diagnostic tests, innovative methods of tracking, drug repurposing, and manufacturing masks were developed. These early achievements demonstrate our autonomy and self-sufficiency, which are indispensable assets in times of crisis and must be supported for our collective well-being.
Restarting the World
The benefits of innovation are not always immediately apparent, but in the case of antibody therapies and vaccines for COVID-19, innovation will make the difference in “restarting the world” and restoring confidence in our day-to-day lives. Developing effective treatments and vaccines is a complex process that requires time and billions of dollars. Fortunately, our investments over the past two decades have given us the means to accelerate the process and be more efficient in our research. As a result, we believe treatments and a vaccine against COVID-19 could be available within two years. This kind of progress is fuelled by research and innovation. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight; it requires foresight and effort, and it depends on recurrent, sustained and consistent investment by the government and the private sector.
Canadian Innovation to the Rescue
CQDM is a non-profit organization whose mission is to finance health innovation and promote collaborations between private companies and university research laboratories. Ten years ago, CQDM funded the creation of an outstanding tool by Medicago, in collaboration with Université Laval and McGill University. Medicago used the funds to develop a technology that accelerates the discovery of new vaccines, the very technology that has allowed the company to identify a candidate CoV2 vaccine in just 20 days, making it a leading contender in the global pursuit of a vaccine. AbCellera is another great example: founded in 2012, the BC-based biotech company, a spin-out from the University of British Columbia, developed a transformative antibody drug discovery platform, and adapted it for rapid pandemic response. In just 90 days, AbCellera and its partners identified antibodies for a potential COVID-19 treatment, and started clinical trials at the beginning of June. Both Medicago and AbCellera are models of agility and speed in responding to the current crisis, and the type of entrepreneurial innovation of which we can all be proud.
Innovate Now, Reap the Benefits Later
Medicago and AbCellera exemplify how innovation can produce positive transformative change for society. But there are no shortcuts. We must build on the success of such initiatives and continue to invest in the knowledge-based economy. Think of it as planting a fruit tree: it will eventually bloom and bear fruit, but it needs to grow in fertile ground. In Canada, we must continue to support our solid and successful health innovation ecosystem, even after the current pandemic dies down. In health care, the research and development process is notoriously risky, protracted, and costly. To eliminate these constraints and reap the benefits of innovation more quickly, we must focus on breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. Toronto-based SME Cyclica is a great example of such an approach: they are using their AI-augmented drug discovery platform to accelerate the development of COVID-19 treatments, illustrating the rapidly accelerating areas of pivotal research needed to maintain innovation in medicine that will also diversify our innovation portfolio.
Health innovation ensures a better standard of living, allows us to take preventive action, and supports a flourishing economic sector that fosters autonomy and self-sufficiency in medical supplies and treatments. Innovation is a collective asset and an investment in our future. Let’s take the lead and work collaboratively to chart a new and exciting path that grows our economy, builds our research infrastructure, and creates a better health care system.
Diane Gosselin, President and Chief Executive Officer, CQDM
Jennifer Chan,* Vice President, Policy and External Affairs, Merck Canada
Richard Fajzel,* Chief Executive Officer, Exactis Innovation
Daniel Hétu,* Managing Director, Lumira Ventures
Raphael Hofstein,* Former President and Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners (TIAP)
Sarah Jenna,* Co-founder and CEO, My Intelligence Machines (MIMs)
Frédéric Ors,* Chief Executive Officer, IMV
Ken Pastor,* General Partner, CTI Capital
Louise Proulx,* Corporate Director
Jorge Puente,* Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Pleasanton Pharma Ventures
Uwe Schoenbeck,* Senior VP & Chief Scientific Officer, External Science & Innovation, Pfizer Worldwide R&D
Frank Béraud, President and Chief Executive Officer, Montréal InVivo
Andrew Casey, President and Chief Executive Officer, BIOTECanada
Daniel Coderre, President and Chief Executive Officer, Génome Québec
Diane Côté, President and Chief Executive Officer, MEDTEQ+
André Darveau, Vice Rector of Administration, Université Laval
Nadia Dubé, Director of Business Development, CQDM
Pamela Fralick, President, Innovative Medicines Canada
Jacques Hendlisz, Executive President, CATALIS
Jacques Milette, Director of Sales and Business Development, Eastern Canada, Siemens Healthineers and Chair of the Board of Directors, MEDTEQ+
Anie Perrault, Executive Director, BIOQuébec and Chair of the Board of Directors, Génome Québec
* Member of the CQDM Board of Directors