Research, innovation, advancements… are all words the pharmaceutical industry has used for several years now to speak about its commitment to bringing new medicines and diagnostics to market.  Innovation, in particular, has been at the heart of many discussions about the life sciences sector (i.e. businesses that help improve the quality and standard of life) in Canada.  But what does innovation really mean?  And why is investing in innovation important?  

As one of the few global pharmaceutical companies with an established research (or what we call Product Development) site in Canada, we’re often asked about the value of this offering to Canadians.  And our answer is simple… investing in clinical trials and offering Canadians the ability to participate in medical research in their own backyard is, by far, the best thing we can do for the health of Canadians today and tomorrow. Understanding what drives this belief requires us to take you back to the basics.

Before a medicine or diagnostic test can be used with patients, it must undergo a rigorous testing process. Part of this process is conducted through clinical trials (or what we call medical research) - studies that help us determine whether a new drug, diagnostic test or procedure is both safe and effective.

Over the last 40 years we (as a society) have seen incredible progress in the way illnesses, such as cancer are treated.  And we owe these advances to medical research and, above all else, the millions of patients who have volunteered to participate in clinical trials. Chris Slabon, a paramedic from London, Ontario, is just one example of a Canadian who has helped advance science and our understanding of disease through this participation in a clinical study.

Nearly five years ago, Chris visited his doctor to assess a suspicious mole on his chest. He was subsequently diagnosed with melanoma at age 44, underwent surgery and was put on a treatment plan. After a year, Chris had stopped responding to the therapy and his melanoma had metastasized. Fortunately, he received a call from the cancer clinic asking if he would be interested in participating in a clinical trial.

“When I was offered the chance to be in the trial, I thought ‘there is no way I’m not doing this,’” says Chris.

“I had made up my mind because there was nothing else to do. This was the only option in front of me. As a paramedic, I practice evidence-based medicine every day. Clinical trials are how we determine which treatment options work best for people and get the evidence to make sound medical decisions.”

When Chris was diagnosed, he was given a 10 year mortality of 50%, meaning that only half of all people with his illness would live for 10 years. Today, Chris is healthy and cancer-free.  As he says, “If i didn’t have to take pills every day or go to the cancer clinic for follow-up appointments, my life would be pretty much normal.”  

You may be surprised to learn that Canada is a leader in clinical trial research, ranking fourth globally. We are recognized around the world for the quality and expertise of our research clinicians and for our ability to conduct research in complex therapeutic areas with diverse population bases. We compete for clinical trials with other global sites and securing a clinical trial within Canada means that research dollars are invested into our economy.

In 2016, Roche ran 1,540 clinical trials globally, with more than 311,000 patients participating in research across 32,500+ sites all over the world. Of those trials, roughly 13.5% were conducted in Canada, totaling to a $14.7 million investment into the Canadian economy.

Aside from the economic impact, this medical research directly benefited Canadian patients who had the opportunity to access new medicines that had been shown to offer improvements over standard treatments, and had the chance to help others living with the same condition.

At Roche, our Pharmaceutical Product Development site (one of five sites globally) oversees clinical studies in Canada, as well as the United States.  As a Director working at the site, Caroline Bakuska works with physicians to help support them with the execution of trials at their clinic or institution. A problem solver by trade, she ensures that our medical research produces high-quality data and focuses on the safety of the individuals who participate in the studies.

“Clinical trials are becoming more and more complicated because the diseases we are studying are so specific and specialized,” explains Caroline. “We want to ensure that our medicines are reaching the right people at the right time, and that we are demonstrating a treatment’s benefit to patients. I feel lucky and proud to work for a company that is willing to take risks and invest in areas that have a high unmet medical need.”

Our commitment to offering clinical trials in Canada is not solely rooted in our willingness to take risks.  The investment has no merit if we’re not willing to make trials accessible and a viable option for the every day Canadian.  For this reason, the Roche Canada Product Development site has incorporated patient-centric practices into their day-to-day operations to help make trials more accessible and understandable to Canadians. Our study management teams have embedded options like the use of mobile home nurses, as well as mobile devices into the trial design to help increase participation, as well as retention for patients who are unable to come to regular site visits.  These technologies allow us to reduce the burden on patients, while ensuring we are collecting the relevant pieces of information needed to verify and validate the use of the medicine and/or diagnostic test being studied.  

For employees like Caroline, clinical trials are more than a day at the office.  As she explains, “At the end of the day, we are all patients. One day down the road, my son, my mother, or even I might need a life-saving treatment.  My work is meaningful because in a clinical trial, every day matters because each one brings us closer to making a potential new treatment available to patients; each day brings us one step closer to helping Canadians fight diseases so they may live healthier lives”

For more information about clinical trials or to find a Roche-sponsored study, please visit

Roche clinical trials in Canada

May 18, 2017

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