Healthcare systems have been deeply impacted by the SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, resulting in a variety of issues and problems affecting the daily lives of Canadians. Some challenges include health system capacity, managing remote and rural populations, along with less direct yet also important challenges such as maintaining productivity while distancing.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing gaps in the Canadian healthcare system, while showing the incredible value that the life sciences sector brings to our country. Issues such as system capacity shortages, lack of virtual care, and data fragmentation across the country are igniting a pressing demand for sustainable change. We have started to see incredible flexibility and leadership in our health system’s immediate response to the pandemic. However, it is important to use valuable learnings from this crisis to catalyze meaningful long-term change in our life science ecosystem.

This crisis has also shown that a strong healthcare system needs high-quality data, health researchers, infrastructure and manufacturing capacities, across governments and academia, and within the private sector.

As we shift the focus to the recovery, Roche believes there are great opportunities for accelerating innovation in Canada and moving our nation from the middle of the pack to the top in international competitiveness and investment in the life sciences sector. There are many actions the Canadian government can take to promote the growth of this sector at home and abroad:

Revive the Health & Biosciences Economic Strategy Table

First, we recommend the federal government revive the Health & Biosciences Economic Strategy Table. In the absence of a coordinated plan that creates a positive environment for large multinationals and small home-grown start-ups to expand capacity, achievement of the recommendations will not happen. We encourage the government, with input from industry, patients and other stakeholders, to revitalize this work to identify specific and measurable next steps that will bring the recommendations to fruition. It’s also important to acknowledge the need to rethink some of the recommendations in the context of pandemic planning and building our capacity for the next potential crisis.

Common Data Infrastructure

Secondly, a strong data ecosystem has been cited as a key success factor in the response to COVID-19; at the same time, the pandemic has exposed significant limitations in the ability to collect, access, integrate, share and analyze high-quality data, with associated negative impacts on health system effectiveness and efficiency.

On May 22, the Toronto Star published an article referencing Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments on the need for a co-ordinated approach for data sharing across the country. This is due to the fact that each province and territory is responsible for collecting and storing data on their own population wherein the data is compiled in different manners. COVID-19 has magnified concerns that data cannot not be easily compared between jurisdictions because each province uses different data collection methodologies, data standards and policies which leads to interoperability challenges. Furthermore, most provincial data is publicly inaccessible and incomprehensive.

We believe that an important way in which the world can win this fight is through the sharing of safe and secure healthcare data and knowledge, abiding by local privacy laws, to better inform patient care and health system decision making. How we generate, synthesize and mobilize knowledge in an efficient supply chain will determine how we as a population will rise or fall in the present and in the future.


Personalized Healthcare

Finally, we strongly believe in a collaborative approach to transform our healthcare ecosystems into data driven systems where efficiencies lead to cost effectiveness and investments and provide both health benefit and economic growth. There needs to be an increase in investments with programs like the Scale AI and Digital Superclusters that Roche is proud to be part of. By rewarding innovation and increasing investment into innovative technologies such as genomic sequencing, cloud computing, digital health tools for remote patient care and monitoring, as well as medicines that deliver superior outcomes, we stand to deliver unprecedented value in both health benefit for patients and economic growth for our country.

This is the  foundation of personalized healthcare, and the future we strive for at Roche. COVID-19 has demonstrated that a single virus can have vastly different symptoms and outcomes that are dependent on an individual’s demographic, medical history and socioeconomic condition. Recognizing these important differences through personalized healthcare will ensure that we get the right treatments to the right people in time for optimal health benefit. These technologies will position Canada as a leader in personalized healthcare and allow us to provide patients with exactly what they need from their healthcare systems.

Whether through diagnostics or medicines, Roche is committed to being a partner to navigate and ultimately end the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hope is that public-private collaborations built around common data infrastructure can be a foundation from which to build more resilient healthcare systems in the aftermath of this crisis.