The government of Canada, with the input of all provinces, has been working to open markets, cut red tape and achieve growth through a series of bilateral and regional trade negotiations.
One of the furthest advanced is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union (EU).
A key component of this negotiation is the intellectual property protection (IP) of pharmaceutical discoveries. It is this specific area on which I and my company are most keenly focused. Why would a Canadian company argue in favour of an EU demand for a Canadian IP plan that is better harmonized with the EU? It’s simple, really: investment, jobs and improved patient access to novel medicines.
Xenon is the largest privately-held innovative biotechnology R&D company in British Columbia, if not in all of Canada. We have a number of novel medicines in development which we hope will be transformative for patients. Our lead product is a new drug for the treatment of chronic pain – a medicine that is non-addictive and hence a potential breakthrough in pain management. This product is based on a Canadian discovery and has been developed by Canadian scientists. This research success has attracted interest from major investors and companies from around the world. As a result, Xenon has had the privilege of employing well over 100 highly-skilled and well-paid Canadian science graduates since our founding.
For a company like Xenon to remain competitive and bring discoveries such as these to market, a competitive IP environment is imperative to us, to our employees and to the patients who will one day be able to access these new discoveries. Companies like Xenon cannot invent new medicines without significant investment and such investment depends on a competitive IP environment. The new medicines our team is developing at Xenon will hopefully improve the ability of many Canadians to participate more fully at work, be more present for their families and contribute meaningfully within their communities. This is the kind of societal benefit that can be derived from sound IP policies.
Canada is sliding rapidly in its global position as an innovative economy and a competitive IP landscape is crucial to reverse such trends. For Canada, the CETA negotiation represents a significant opportunity to ensure we remain competitive with a major trading block. We need the same rigorous standards and predictable investment environments to benefit our own companies, our own academic research institutions, our own hospitals and our own patients.
There is legitimate concern that a more “competitive” IP environment will lead to increased health care costs as a result of possible longer periods of market exclusivity before a generic medicine can be sold.
With or without CETA, the increased use of medicines will continue in primary and specialist care settings. While this represents a cost pressure, appropriate use of innovative medicines should keep patients healthier, out of doctors offices and out of emergency rooms, which are among the most significant costs to our health care system. These system savings should more than mitigate the cost pressures of new drug utilization.
We must also recognize that short-term cost containment does not equate with good social policy. A non-competitive IP regime in Canada will be a major disincentive to inward investment and job creation, let alone limiting access to novel medicines for Canadian patients who need them. Looking at the impact of cost-containment through a near term lens, is unwise. At the end of the day, it is the provinces that determine what medicines they will reimburse and what prices they will pay. Improved IP in CETA does not change this whatsoever.
The ultimate question is the greater cost to Canada if it does not modernize and harmonize its IP system to an internationally competitive standard. This outcome will be significant for our health care system, our research institutions and our cutting-edge companies.
Canada is now at a trade and prosperity crossroads. We can continue with an economy that depends on how deep we can dig, how far we can log and how much we can fish. Doing so would risk us seeing other modern knowledge economies waving to us as they pass. I and the scientists at innovative Canadian companies like Xenon, strongly encourage the federal and provincial governments to endorse a strong, stable intellectual property system through robust trade agreements like CETA.