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Why Canada has a leg up in the new world of pharmaceuticals

Marc de Garidel is chairman and CEO of French pharmaceutical company Ipsen.

Two major trends are causing seismic changes in the global landscape in medical innovation, and Canada is well positioned to benefit from these tectonic shifts. These changes could lead to improvements in health care for Canadians, as well as high-quality job creation.

The first trend can best be described as the collapse of the walls that separated in-house research at health-care companies from their partners in academia, emerging biotech companies, clinicians and ultimately patients.

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The second trend is increasing specialization within the sector, with the larger companies sharpening their focus to fewer diseases, such as cancer, and even specific forms of these diseases, which are often defined and driven by genetic abnormalities.

For mid-sized biopharmaceutical companies such as mine, these trends allow us to better leverage our research by partnering with leading global institutions while remaining competitive against larger companies by having a sharp focus in our research-and-development and health-care delivery operations. For Canada, this means that the expertise and experience garnered by leading researchers and clinicians at renowned Canadian medical institutions will help in the development of new therapies to advance care for patients around the world.

Open innovation is another way of describing these R&D shifts, and it speaks to Ipsen's approach. Collaborating with academic centres such as Harvard and the Salk Institute, researchers, clinicians and other smaller biotechs enables us to compete in our niche areas of medical innovation.

For example, at our research facility in a French biotech hub, our researchers work seamlessly with smaller biotech companies, leading academic researchers and clinical researchers from medical centres around the world to advance research based on expertise in the areas of peptides and toxins.

Just like the technology clusters in Kitchener-Waterloo or Silicon Valley generate products that were once unimaginable, bringing together the best and the brightest in the pharmaceutical field fosters an ecosystem of innovation, producing more advanced treatment options for the treatment of rare diseases.

Statistics Canada data tells us that R&D in the pharma sector here has fallen below $1-billion since 2011; there are fewer multimillion dollar investments in large brick-and-mortar facilities. However, as is happening around the world, the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly externalizing its innovation, and Canadians are adapting to this trend.

A recent survey by the association of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies and KPMG calculates that this new kind of R&D investment amounted to $247-million in 2013.

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In Canada, medical clusters in key centres across the country create both expertise and deep experience in the treatment and often complex management of diseases. This gives Canada a leg up in the research world. Creating an environment where researchers can take advantage of the work of colleagues in similar fields produces better outcomes. Because Canada has these medical experts, there is a greater opportunity for physicians to play a role in participating in and designing global clinical trials.

The health clusters are world-renowned for their clinical research. And it cannot be overstated how valuable it is that Canada has a very diverse population, which is needed in order to run successful and credible clinical trials. With half its population born outside the country, Toronto is often described as the most multicultural city in the world. For researchers, this means that a broad cross-section of patients can be enrolled in trials that can better reflect the real-world experience for treating physicians.

When I was in Toronto last year, it was very clear to me that Canada had all the ingredients needed to build a successful, high-performance R&D team that would allow us to make progress on the medicines and diseases we focus on. During my visit, we began to explore relationships with researchers at Princess Margaret and Sunnybrook hospitals. Our conversations led to our decision to make a multimillion dollar investment opening a Canadian affiliate in the Greater Toronto Area.

Thanks to the high quality of talent in this country, we were able to quickly find and hire local staff with the experience we require. They will support our goal to foster these research partnerships and improve patient lives. We have also begun to build partnerships with hospitals in Montreal and Calgary.

I believe Canada is well positioned to play an even larger role in the expanding pharmaceutical industry. Spending on medicines globally is expected to exceed $1.2-trillion (U.S.) by 2017. Global market sales are increasingly being driven by emerging countries who are aggressively trying to improve health-care access. The high quality of research being conducted in Canada and robust clinical trials run here are increasingly being recognized around the world.

A recent report by BIOTECanada notes "Canada's global biotech success is founded in its ability to advance scientific innovation by leveraging a diverse and vibrant ecosystem comprised of individuals and companies in every province across the country."

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Ipsen and other biopharmaceutical companies are part of this ecosystem, and we see a very bright future in Canada. One that opens up more opportunities for researchers, physicians, and, most important, for patients, while creating high-quality jobs in Canada and around the world.

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