That the Standing Committee on Health be instructed to undertake a study on ways of increasing benefits to the public resulting from federally funded health research, with the goals of lowering drugs costs and increasing access to medicines, both in Canada and globally; and that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than one year from the time this motion is adopted.
Madam Speaker, I am both honoured and humbled to have the privilege of rising today to discuss my motion, Motion No. 132. This motion calls upon the health committee to undertake a study that would explore how Parliament can improve outcomes and increase the public benefits from federally funded health research.
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to thank my friend and colleague, the member for Bonavista—Burin—Trinity, for her strength, wisdom, and courage. Her story is a testament to how far cancer research has come in Canada, but it also stands as an example of how much further we have to go. I wish her and her entire family the very best going forward.
The government has been investing in future research leaders and supporting the scientists whose innovative work is vital both for furthering medical knowledge and for providing the necessary evidence to make sound policy decisions for the future of our health and society. As a matter of fact, earlier this week, the Prime Minister reaffirmed our government's commitment to science with his introduction of Dr. Mona Nemer, a medical researcher, as Canada's new chief science advisor.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, is Canada's main funder of health research and one of the top funder organizations for health research in the world. This Canadian effort to seek health solutions and combat disease is something we should all be extremely proud of.
However, as Canada invests in health research, we need to be informed and aware that there is room for improvement. We need to make sure that taxpayer dollars devoted to this research are being put to work in ways that achieve the greatest benefit and that will foster innovation while producing results. Canada is a world leader in health innovation, and it is imperative that we continue to lead by example.
We must ensure that our research investments are effective and that the results of our research are sufficiently accessible. According to the Institute of Medicine, there is currently an average lag time of 17 years between the generation of evidence from randomized controlled trials and its subsequent implementation into the health system. I believe that we can do better. Canada cannot afford to leave any of its brain power on the sidelines, and the world cannot afford that our discoveries be abandoned in patent offices or lost to the depths of forgotten academic journals in old libraries.
In the larger scale of human history, it has not been long since the top medical care of the time was delivered in the form of leeches and blood-lettings. Modernity, particularly since the start of the 20th century, has brought rapid change, new ideas, better technology, and significantly improved research methods to the field of medicine.
Standing here today, I am happy to live in a world in which the global polio eradication initiative has reduced polio by 99%, in which smallpox has been declared globally eradicated for more than 25 years, and which a record 979 million people in 2015 benefited from large-scale treatment of at least one neglected tropical disease.
Here at home, Canadian research has led to the development of insulin; the discovery of the hematopoietic stem cell, which forms the basis of bone marrow transplantation; and the discovery of T cell receptors, a vital element of the immune system. These strides come from hard work, late nights, and a lot of experimentation. These breakthroughs have come from research. It is the responsibility of governments like ours to support these researchers as best we can, as we foster the innovation that will find better treatments and more cures.
There is no shortage of public health issues that need to be tackled. As a pharmacist by profession, I am well acquainted with the need for better treatments and continued research. Multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart conditions, mental illness, asthma, allergies, and osteoporosis are just a few of the many ailments that Canadians face on a daily basis.
As Canadians work in research and combat these illnesses, it is vital for us to have the most effective and efficient system to prioritize the results of federally funded health research. In a time of limited resources, we need to make sure there is a strong, comprehensive strategy in place. It is imperative we know how to use research dollars to a maximum advantage, and guide researchers into areas of national and international priority.
A clearer focus and a better articulation of our priorities would also make it easier for us to work with international counterparts to have a more meaningful impact on the global health crisis. This holds true whether we are discussing efforts to combat neglected tropical diseases, or examining our role in global collaborations to combat cancer. Canada is carrying out some tremendous work on the international stage with our new international development policy. We are helping to strengthen health systems to ensure that medicines and interventions reach the most vulnerable and the hardest to reach.
We are building on our success in immunization, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. We are working closely with international organizations such as the Global Fund, Gavi, Nutrition International, and the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, Grand Challenges Canada is helping to fund innovators who bring successful innovation to scale, catalyze sustainability, and impact.
Our efforts to ensure the health and well-being of citizens of all countries are essential to poverty eradication efforts and achieving sustainable development. These are laudable goals, but as we work toward them, we also need to work with our allies and partners to implement best practices to increase access to medicines, and to make sure we are creating the conditions that will allow us to achieve both our international objectives, and ensure we provide good value for our tax dollars.
The future of Canadian health research is bright. In the last decade, Canadians discovered a synthetic compound that binds to and inhibits a key enzyme the malaria parasite needs to reproduce and survive, decoded the genome of a metastatic breast cancer tumour, and began phases two and three of clinical trials for a preventive vaccine for HIV.
Proving that breakthroughs sometimes come from new eyes that re-examine old tools, in 2009, a Canada-U.S. research team discovered that the diabetes drug metformin appears to make vaccines in cancer treatments more effective.
Meanwhile, in a modern reconsideration of accepted practices, in 2008, Drs. P.J. Devereaux and Homer Yang discovered that the common practice of giving beta blockers to surgery patients actually increases risk of major stroke and death.
Medicine is not static and discoveries like these demonstrate the extent to which research as well as the tools and paradigms which support it are updated constantly. Human progress means there will always be value in reviewing, renewing, and improving upon existing practices. This truth applies not only to medical research but to the bureaucratic frameworks which support it.
Medical breakthroughs are happening all over the world everyday. Earlier this month, a team at MIT announced a technological breakthrough that would revolutionize the way childhood vaccines are dispensed. They have invented a microparticle that can be filled with vaccines and is designed to break down and release the dose at specific times. This could free up the precious time of doctors and nurses. Where this has the potential to truly be transformative, however, is in our international development efforts.
Vaccination programs are incredibly effective, and have made a tremendous impact on the ground, but access to booster shots, and ensuring properly timed programs have always been barriers to the effective implementation of vaccination campaigns.
This recent breakthrough has the potential to be especially useful in responding to acute outbreaks of diseases, where several doses of a vaccine might be required over weeks and months before immunity is sufficiently built up. This technology has the potential to be put into practice much sooner than it might otherwise have been, thanks to MIT's commitment to the equitable dissemination of medical technologies, and its active participation in patent pools.
Research universities around the world, including MIT and some schools in Canada, have been early adopters of the belief that health research is most effective when supported by policies designed with the primary goal of directly and positively impacting patient care out outcomes in a timely manner.
Research policies that support efficient, effective transition periods from research to development to product deployment will lead to the curing of more diseases, administering of more vaccines, and the saving of more lives.
As Canada recommits to being a world leader in innovation, we need to figure out what we want out of our health research. What are our national goals and desired outcomes, our target priorities, our values, and how can we best empower both researchers and those communities that researcher's efforts seek to help?
We know there is further room for improvement within our national frameworks. Just yesterday, a team from the O'Brien Institute for Public Health publicly called for further integration of patient and public involvement in health research policy as a means to improve patient care. If we want to improve health care outcomes in Canada, we need to create opportunities to listen to health researchers like these.
Meanwhile, many here may be familiar with Canada's tremendous role in the development of an ebola vaccine used with great success in combatting a devastating ebola outbreak in west Africa. The researchers who developed that vaccine made Canada proud. However, what those here may not know is that this ebola vaccine sat for far too long in a laboratory rather than being dispensed where it was needed most. This was due to an intellectual property dispute with an American company that purchased the vaccine commercialization licence from the Canadian government.
We spend money on research in order to develop products and techniques we can use to make a difference in people's lives. If we are not able to use these things when they matter the most, then we are doing ourselves and taxpayers a huge disservice. Governments and academic labs seldom have the specific expertise, and enormous resources necessary to scale a production of a product like a vaccine.
Agreements with corporations are important and necessary partnerships. In some cases, they are the only way that research can be supported and injected with the necessary resources, and funding to turn development into a final product.
However, the intellectual property dispute over the ebola vaccine proves there are problems with Canada's current approach to these partnerships. I believe there are ways to maximize benefits of federally funded research without negatively impacting the commercialization of products that stem from health research.
Other jurisdictions, such as Sao Paolo in Brazil, and individual institutions such as UBC, the University of Exeter, and Johns Hopkins University have put in place innovative licensing regimes designed to maximize the benefits the institutions receive, but also advances the ability to advance their research agenda.
Should this motion pass, I hope these examples, and the licensing regimes put in place between Canadian researchers and corporations will be one element of our federally funded health research framework that the committee will explore in more depth. This represents one of the best ways of increasing access to medicines all over the world.
We have the opportunity to really make a difference. We have the desire, and the means to help combat some of the most devastating diseases here at home and around the world. We owe it to our constituents, as taxpayers, and also to all those in need of medical relief around the world to get this right.
I urge all my colleagues to support this motion, and help ensure that our world class health researchers are best equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.