Brigitte Nolet is a tri-sector leader who, over the course of her career, has held various global and Canadian leadership roles in the not for profit, public and private sectors - most recently as General Manager Roche Belgium & Luxembourg. She’s most passionate about connecting with people to advance solutions to complex healthcare challenges. As the incoming President & CEO for Roche Canada Pharma, we asked Brigitte to share her perspective on the state of Canadian healthcare, what the future holds and how COVID changed the way we will need to tackle the biggest health challenges.
Q: As a Canadian who has lived and worked abroad, you have experience with healthcare systems in countries around the world. In your opinion, what are the positive aspects of our healthcare system?
BN: The external environment in Canada has so much going for itself - smart people; diversity in our population; high education levels; strong innovation mindset; open culture of collaboration; good healthcare. Our environment is strong in its individual pieces. Now it is about putting all of the ingredients together and baking that fabulous cake.
It is about finding the 2-3 things that Canada is really good at and where our healthcare systems can most benefit, and then concentrating on those elements until they are implemented. Here I think of the evolution of health data and the role artificial intelligence, or AI, plays in clinical care and research and development (Rx&D) into the future, along with patient access to new science.
Q: The Commonwealth Fund’s 2021 report comparing the healthcare systems of 11 developed countries ranked Canada in 10th place in equity and healthcare outcomes, and ninth in access to care, ahead of the United States, which was at the very bottom. What are some tangible steps that Canada can take now to improve the quality of our healthcare system and access to treatments?
BN: Tackling our healthcare challenges is going to take all of us. The issues are too complex for one group alone to solve. There is no one province or jurisdiction, corporation or industry that can solve issues in isolation. COVID taught us about teamwork in healthcare and we cannot lose sight of this learning as we address other healthcare challenges.
What I currently see - and it is just a few weeks in, but from my experience as a government official and coming back now after 8 years abroad - is that Canada has all of the right ingredients to ensure strong and sustainable healthcare into the future, it is a matter of being clear on its ambition for healthcare and working with all stakeholders to help make it a reality.
Q: What are some of the areas where you see the greatest opportunity for focus and collaboration in healthcare?
Health needs to be seen as an investment and should be prioritized in order to address the next big health challenge, post pandemic. A few areas of opportunity for the greatest impact, include:
Health Data: The role of health data will be critical to the evolution of healthcare systems. The countries who understand how to upscale their systems the fastest and thoughtfully harness this evolution, will be the ones where we see large advancements in life sciences investments and where we will see the most impactful change in healthcare efficiency - meaning better outcomes for our patients.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Healthcare Delivery: Being able to gather and make sense of data in a fraction of the time and cost is revolutionary for healthcare. The world saw the power of AI in action during the pandemic when vaccines were developed and produced at a speed the world has never seen before. I am learning that Canada could actually be a world leader and should act quickly to hone this space - but it needs health data to do it.
Public-Private Partnerships: We will solve the complexity of our healthcare challenges together - governments; industry; research institutions; patient groups; hospitals; healthcare practitioners, and non-traditional partners that can bring great value, like the tech industry. And those countries that are successful will be the ones who work as a team and who know how to bring expertise together and streamline it so that it is efficient and impactful.
Access to Innovation: Science is amazing and is only getting better (ie. tumour agnostic therapies; cell and gene therapies, etc.) and it is all evolving very quickly. However, our healthcare systems are not ready to adapt to them - for more efficiency and for healthier citizens, the amazing new science must make its way to people in Canada in a faster and more efficient way.
Canada ranks 19th of our 20 OECD countries for access to new drugs. Following Health Canada regulatory approval, Canadians wait almost twice as long as other OECD countries to obtain access to new drugs. A 2020 report by Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) found that Canadians who rely on public insurance plans face significant delays in accessing new medicines, in large part due to our sequential approval and listing process, with delays worsening in the last decade.
Q: Why did you decide to come back to Canada?
BN: I have to admit that it was always in our plans to come back to Canada, but I never imagined that it would be as the General Manager of the affiliate. We had a two year plan that turned into an 8-year adventure where I gained invaluable experience and my family and I were able to see the world. But once you have worked at Roche Canada, you know how special it is; how remarkably smart and dynamic your colleagues are and how innovative we are - and it stays with you, no matter where you are.
And ultimately, the opportunity to come back and make a positive contribution with the affiliate that launched my international career and to make a positive contribution to the health care systems of my home country, well that is an opportunity that I could not resist!