Madam Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague and friend the hon. member for Kitchener Centre for introducing Motion No. 132, requesting a parliamentary committee to study the use of federally funded research to lower drugs costs and increase access to medicines in Canada and around the world.
I am very pleased to speak about how the Government of Canada's investments have contributed to create new medicines and other innovations that have the potential to improve the lives of Canadians. As members may know, the Government of Canada is supporting health research, primarily through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, as we mostly know it. Each year, CIHR invests approximately $1 billion to support more than 13,000 researchers across Canada and trainees from across the country working in all areas of health. Using a rigorous peer review system, CIHR is committed to investing and supporting the very best Canadian health research. CIHR plays a leading role in supporting new scientific knowledge and enabling its translation into improved health and more effective health services and products as well.
CIHR supports ideas across the spectrum of research and captures ideas with the greatest potential to advance health research, health care, health systems, and health outcomes. Specifically, the CIHR's project grant program supports projects with a specific purpose and a defined end point. Project grants also encourage the inclusion of partners, where appropriate, to help facilitate bringing discoveries to the Canadian public. Commercialization projects funded by CIHR are designed to advance discoveries toward technologies that would attract new investment, create new science-based business, organizations, and initiatives, and ultimately improve the health outcomes of Canadians.
Through CIHR, the Government of Canada is committed to facilitating the advancement of health research in our country and bringing academic research to a stage that becomes accessible to the Canadian public. For example, the Government of Canada, through these institutes, supports the research of Dr. Cheryl Arrowsmith at the University of Toronto, who is helping to develop new drug targets. Starting in 2003-04, Dr. Arrowsmith received $2.8 million through the Canada research chairs program. This is a federal program that invests approximately $265 million each year to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds.
As part of her research program, Dr. Arrowsmith studies special proteins that regulate which genes in the body are active during a cell's growth, which can cause certain diseases. The action of these proteins is reversible, making them excellent potential drug targets. However, in order for drug development to occur, it is necessary to identify ways to alter the action of these proteins. This is exactly where Dr. Arrowsmith's lab is a world leader.
Her research involves special imaging techniques to determine the precise 3-D structure of these proteins. With this information, pharmaceutical industry researchers are then able to develop drug-like chemical probes, which will bind to the protein to slow or accelerate its actions. Through its collaboration, Dr. Arrowsmith's lab has helped create potential new treatments for certain forms of cancer.
In my riding, CIHR has funded professors Elizabeth McGibbon, Elsa Arbuthnot, and Agnes Calliste, making it the very first time in Canada that researchers are going to be able to scope out the state of Canadian knowledge about inequities in access to health services for indigenous and African Canadians living in rural areas.
A parliamentary committee study related to using federally funded research to improve access to medicines would help us understand the ways in which we could take research like this from bench to bedside at a lower cost to Canadians. Oftentimes, new discoveries are too expensive for Canadians to afford when they go market and are available for purchase.
For example, research conducted by Canada research chair Dr. Nabil Seidah and his team from l'Université de Montréal led to the development of a powerful but expensive new drug to treat high cholesterol. From 2003 to 2010, Dr. Seidah received $1.4 million from CIHR through the Canada research chair program. During this time, his team discovered a new enzyme that plays a key role in regulating receptors of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, commonly known as bad cholesterol. I am going back to my human kinetics degree. This was an important discovery in the fight against cardiovascular disease, because this particular enzyme inactivates the receptors on the liver cell surface that transport bad cholesterol for breakdown. Without these receptors, more bad cholesterol remains in the blood, which could lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
Thanks to this important work, a new drug was created that reduces the activity of this enzyme, which helps the liver clean out bad cholesterol from the bloodstream. This new drug reduces bad cholesterol levels by 60% for those who have high cholesterol. What is especially important about this discovery is that everyone responds well to this new drug, even people who do not usually tolerate the common drugs that are used to treat high cholesterol.
This new drug has potential life-saving benefits for Canadians. It was approved for use in 2015. However, the drug costs $7,500 a year. This cost makes it very difficult for Canadians who are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease to afford the medication that might save their lives.
This is why Motion No. 132 is such an important tool. It will help us examine the delicate balance between the economic gain of new discoveries and advancing federally funded innovations, and making them more accessible to Canadians in improving their health. In this regard, it is very important to note that advancements are made possible through widespread and barrier-free access to cutting-edge research and knowledge. Policies that facilitate access to the results of this research enable researchers, scholars, clinicians, policy-makers, private sector and not-for-profit organizations, and the public to use and build on this knowledge.
For example, numerous agencies and institutions are implementing open access policies. In Canada, CIHR has been working closely with two federal research granting agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NSERC, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, SSHRC. For instance, the three federal agencies do not retain or claim any ownership of intellectual property, and no copyright or investments developed resulting from the research supported by its agency funds either. This gives academic institutions the opportunity to commercialize research results to make them more readily available to the public.
Moreover, the three agencies have a number of policies in place to ensure that the knowledge gained from federally funded research is made accessible. For example, in February 2015, CIHR along with NSERC and SSHRC released their tri-agency open access policy on publications, under which “Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible [online] within 12 months of publication.”
The objective of this important policy is to improve access to the results of federally funded research and increase dissemination and exchange of research results. In addition, in June 2016, the three federal research granting agencies released their tri-agency statement of principles on digital data management as an important step toward strengthening research data management in Canada and maintaining our country's research excellence.
When properly managed and responsibly shared, digital research data enables researchers to ask new questions, pursue novel research programs, and test alternative hypotheses. It has the potential to advance science and support innovative solutions in Canada. The agencies believe that research data collected with the use of public funds belong, to the fullest extent possible, in the public domain and available for reuse by others. Therefore, the statement outlines the agency's overarching expectations for research data management and the roles of researchers, research institutions, research communities, and research funders in supporting data management.
I have highlighted a few examples of innovations funded by the Government of Canada that can improve the lives of Canadians living in our communities. I will also emphasize that these discoveries are often commercialized for profit and may be financially inaccessible to many Canadians. While policies are in place to ensure open access to innovations funded by the federal government, it is still important to study new ways in which research investments can deliver returns for Canadians.
As I previously mentioned, it is essential to strike a balance between the economic gains of new discoveries and the accessibility of federally funded research. A parliamentary study to improve access to medicines through federally funded programs would help shed light on how new health research discoveries can be affordable and make a difference in the lives of Canadians. That is why I am so pleased that the Government of Canada will be supporting Motion No. 132.