Growing Canada’s health and biosciences hub

Canada is aiming to double the size of its health and biosciences sector and become a top-three global hub by 2025, according to the Health/Biosciences Economic Strategy Table (HBEST) report, one of six economic strategy tables developed to support the federal government’s vision for the Canadian economy as a global leader in innovation.

As a major driver of innovation in Canada, the pharmaceutical industry has an important role to play in making the HBEST vision a reality, says Pamela Fralick, president, Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC).

The innovative pharmaceutical industry is a natural partner to the government’s plan to strengthen Canada’s record on innovation and foster health research and development, says Ms. Fralick.

“The growth potential is immense: the biopharmaceutical industry is the single largest investor in business research and development (R&D) in the world, investing $1.4-trillion globally since 2006,” she says.

Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical companies invest more than $1.2-billion annually in R&D to find new ways of treating and curing illnesses and diseases. There are more than 500 new products currently in development in Canada, including therapies focused on cancer treatments, infectious diseases and vaccines, says Ms. Fralick. 

Canada is also a leading jurisdiction for clinical trials. Bayer Canada’s team of more than 150 clinical development staff recently worked with the Hamilton-based Population Health Research Institute to complete one of the largest landmark clinical trials that evaluated rivaroxaban for the prevention of major adverse cardiac events, says Dr. Shurjeel Choudhri, senior VP and head of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Bayer Canada.

Through initiatives like Grants 4 Apps – launched in Canada in 2017 – Bayer is helping to enable more medical innovation in Canada – and abroad – through better collaboration and information sharing. 

The Grants 4 Apps program offers digital health startups mentoring and free co-working on Bayer campuses around the world.

“We engaged a variety of digital and tech startups, mostly driven by youth,” says Dr. Choudhri. “Several of the organizations ended up spending some time at our office in Mississauga gaining deeper insights into how their technologies could better work in a clinical environment and what steps they needed to consider when commercializing their products.”

Precision medicine is another area of innovation in Canada. Dr. Choudhri says as part of Bayer’s long-standing focus on oncology, the company is working on treatments to better target tumours caused by a genomic alteration as opposed to the current approach to cancer treatment where medicines target a tumour’s location in the human body such as liver, lung or skin. 

However, health-care systems across the world are strained, and as the demographic shifts to a much older population, there is growing concern that these challenges will become more severe, says Dr. Choudhri. 

To meet that challenge, Bayer’s Leaps program is attempting to make paradigm-shifting advances in the field of life sciences. 

“We believe we are able to see a bigger picture, and it’s our responsibility to set new benchmarks and to drive breakthrough innovations for the betterment of society,” he says. 

The need to innovate was behind the development by Calgary-based Orpyx Medical Technologies of a sensor-based solution for patients with peripheral neuropathy (numb feet), one the major complications resulting from diabetes.

“I felt we could do a better job of providing appropriate care for patients using sensor-based solutions that could do the sensing the patients can’t do themselves,” says CEO Dr. Breanne Everett. “The sensors would provide feedback on where there is pressure on their feet and what they need to do to get out of a dangerous situation where tissue breakdowns could result in ulcers and lead to lengthy and expensive acute care and, in many cases, to limb loss.”

What Dr. Everett first envisaged as a research project to explore her concept of wearable insoles with sensors quickly led to establishing Orpyx and the development of the world’s first diabetic insole sensory substitution system. Since the first SurroSense intelligent insole system was introduced in 2014, the company has continued to iterate the product. The latest version of the technology, embedded into custom-made foot orthotics, will be released in Canada in early 2019.

Dr. Everett says while the most important result is improved outcomes for patients, the insoles also contribute to lower health-care costs. 

“It’s estimated that in the U.S. it costs US$30,000 for the acute care of a diabetic foot ulcer. In a recent clinical trial in the UK, it was found that the Orpyx sensor-sole reduced the number of wounds in high-risk patients by 70 per cent,” she says. 

By working closely with government agencies overseeing care of patients, Orpyx has contributed to shaping policy in a way that ultimately benefits the patient and the government’s health-care budget.

... it’s our responsibility to set new benchmarks and to drive breakthrough innovations for the betterment of society.
— Dr. Shurjeel Choudhri, 
senior VP and head of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Bayer Canada

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Tanya Camp