Reflections on 1 Year as President & CEO

Earlier this year I was asked to speak at The Coalition for a Better Future event in Ottawa that focused on strengthening the Canadian economy through a commitment and focus on the life sciences sector. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, the Canadian research and pharmaceutical industry contributes over $15.9 billion to the economy - a sector, whose potential has yet to be realized, in my opinion. And while our economic impact is important, what is critical and often not talked about when you think of “pharma”, is the impact that we make to the lives of Canadians daily. 

As I reflect on my first year as President and CEO of Roche Canada Pharma I want to share with you why I made the decision 21 years ago to join the innovative pharmaceutical industry. You see, my reason, like that of countless colleagues I’ve met, is deeply personal. At 25 years old I was diagnosed with arthritis. Thanks to pharmaceutical discovery and innovation, I went from 47 pills a day to one injection a month. This kind of innovation is life-changing. And I am just one example among the countless lives impacted by our industry. I am committed to this role and to the patients we serve because I wholeheartedly understand and believe in what we do - I have a daily reminder. So when the industry approached me back in 2002, I said yes because I know what innovation meant to my life and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to bring more life-changing and life-saving innovation to others. 

When I took on this new role just over a year ago, I was asked abouton the state of Canadian healthcare and the greatest opportunities to improve our systems. As I look back on my responses then, and my thoughts now, a year after engaging with and listening to stakeholders across the country, I believe Canada does have all the right ingredients to ensure strong and sustainable healthcare into the future, but we are falling behind in moving our strategies into action. I believe our greatest opportunities for focus and collaboration include:

First, having a strong and integrated health data infrastructure. In a 2023 report by the Public Policy Forum, Taking Back Healthcare, the authors note “Timely, accurate information about one’s own health is a key ingredient of a user-empowered health system.” This access to data is key to empowering patients, their healthcare provider(s), and providing better care for all. We recently saw in the Federal Government healthcare funding announcement, that there is a growing expectation that those involved in the delivery of healthcare - in my opinion, both the public and private sectors - commit to improving how healthcare data is collected and shared efficiently with patients and throughout the system. 

Secondly, increased collaboration and partnership between the public sector, biopharma companies, academia, and healthcare centres of excellence is a must if we are to see any meaningful change in our healthcare systems.  I can draw on many parallels and learnings from my experiences living in Belgium for three and a half years. There, all sectors worked together for two years to develop a life science sector strategy. 

This strategy highlights the third and critical solution to strengthening our sector, we must continue to invest in healthcare and value innovation. I’ll reiterate what I said in my, “The way we assess the value of new technologies must keep up with the pace of innovation. All parties - from clinical research to biomanufacturing, to regulatory approval, to reimbursement, funding, and care delivery -  need to value healthcare innovations as an investment in people, healthcare systems, and society, rather than a cost.”

Belgium brought together health and economic development officials, with the recognition that you need to consider both sets of policies in order to advance, together. Now, Belgium attracts investment in the life sciences sector, and most importantly, citizens access medical innovation faster than in many other countries around the world - including Canada. 

This for me is a prime example of why health and economic policies must work together. And, why continued investment in healthcare is critical to strengthen the Canadian economy and compete on the global stage.  

Having worked in all three sectors of healthcare: public, not-for-profit, and private, but also, as a patient myself, I look at the current challenges we face in healthcare through this unique lens and recognize the vital role each of us can play. Our capacity to collaborate and accelerate healthcare solutions was demonstrated during the pandemic, the question for me is: will we collectively move these strategies into action for tangible patient benefit, now? Canadian patients are waiting.

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