Lessons from the pandemic: We need increased collaboration between the biopharmaceutical sector and government

by Cole Pinnow – President, Pfizer Canada ULC

As published on nationalnewswatch.com

Pfizer Canada is proud of our collaboration with the Government of Canada to respond to COVID-19. Throughout we have had the common goal of effectively managing the current hospitalization crisis to the best extent possible while also accelerating future solutions which could bring an end to the pandemic. I can state unequivocally that both parties are doing everything possible to eliminate unnecessary hurdles and looking for innovative approaches to move things forward as efficiently as possible. As we continue to successfully work together to prioritize the well-being of Canadians in response to COVID-19, it has become increasingly clear that there is a disparity between the Government’s pandemic response and its approach to supporting innovation and local manufacturing on a routine basis. This successful partnership has only been possible because a decision was taken by government to exempt innovative COVID-19 treatments from the upfront red-tape and administrative burden of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB).

We have worked tirelessly together to ensure ample supply of existing therapies used to treat COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization. During Wave 1, we worked closely with the Government to understand preferred clinical practices and reprioritized our manufacturing capacity and accelerated supply of critical products.  As the initial infection rates subsided and preferred treatment approaches shifted over the summer months, we moved into a more proactive collaboration to prepare for an anticipated Wave 2. Although hospitalization rates of COVID-19 have continued to increase to new levels, the most essential medicines are available in ample supply. We continue to align with federal and provincial governments on how we can support their efforts in managing the situation.

Pfizer has also worked in close collaboration with both federal and provincial governments to accelerate the review of our vaccine candidate and manage the supply of product for successful administration to millions of Canadians, if it is approved. In September, the federal government authorized rolling submissions for new COVID-19 treatments. This created a new approach that is allowing us to work more closely with Health Canada in “real time” to provide the technical information supporting our application as it was generated. This is especially important because of the complicated nature of mRNA vaccine technology and the fact that it has never been approved for commercial use. Thanks to this close collaboration, Canadians are well placed to benefit from the accelerated global research and development efforts to tackle the pandemic.  Within the coming weeks, Health Canada will have everything it needs to be able to fairly evaluate the safety and efficacy of our vaccine candidate.

In order to be expeditious and efficient in its efforts to tackling this public health crisis, the government reduced some administrative burdens and barriers. Working so collaboratively with the government on ensuring Canadians would have timely access to a COVID-19 vaccine has shown us that it is possible to find solutions that benefit the Canadian population, while placing value on innovation. We have been advocating for this level of discussion and solutions-based proposals for several years in the area of pricing reform. Unfortunately, the government’s engagement with our industry on this topic has been limited.

The reality is, had the government applied its new pricing guidelines to COVID-19 vaccine candidates, our ability to move at the speed of science would have been restricted.  This should be a key learning.  As future innovative breakthrough treatments in areas such as oncology, rare disease and acute care are discovered, Canada needs to have a regulatory and pricing framework that encourages and fosters early access for patients.

In this regard, our industry association Innovative Medicines Canada has proposed an alternative approach to the federal government that would allow it to achieve its public policy objectives of reducing the price of drugs without undermining patient access to potentially life-saving medicines or vaccines, clinical trials, or investments in the country’s life sciences sector. The alternative approach includes an industry investment of $1 billion which, among other initiatives, could fund a manufacturing or commercialization accelerator to help Canadian biotech entrepreneurs commercialize, scale, and locally manufacture medicines, vaccines and medical devices in Canada. The proposed approach also includes commitments to work with the federal government on the development of a strategy to ensure Canadian patients have access to drugs for rare diseases, and to support the uninsured or underinsured by making available products for which they are not eligible.

For such a discussion to happen we need a willing partner. Pfizer, and our industry association, call upon the government of Canada to engage with us to work together collaboratively, once again, toward solutions that will benefit all Canadians for the short and longer term.