Speech on M-132 Federally Funded Health Research

November 3, 2017

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to support the private member's motion that is being brought forward by my friend, colleague, and neighbour down the way on federally funded health research.

This study will be focusing on lowering drug costs, but also looking at increasing access to medicines both in Canada and around the world. Like my hon. colleague, I, too, have noticed that there is a knowledge-transfer problem in Canada. In the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Economic Development, we have heard similar testimony to what he is presenting on the problems around intellectual property.

The issue currently before us in the House is a symptom of a much larger problem. I support this study, because it is the first step to addressing a problem, which is admitting that there is a problem, and this problem may affect the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Intellectual property is relied on more and more to protect the fruits of service economies such as ours. However, a cumbersome and outdated IP regime can in fact make it even more difficult to protect intellectual property, and worse, it can stand in the way of life-saving medical services.

Perhaps the most worrying example of this problem is in regards to the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa. As the member for Kitchener Centre has mentioned in his speech, Canada played a large role in developing a vaccine, yet due to an intellectual property dispute with an American company who purchased the commercialization licence from the government, the vaccine sat in laboratories for months when it could have been saving lives. This is why the study is so important. It is about more than knowledge transfer. This study is about saving lives.

We all want to see each investment the government makes reach its fullest potential, especially when it applies to investments within health sciences and research, but it is particularly a tragedy when taxpayer-funded medical research sits on the shelf unused when, in fact, this IP should be flying off the shelves. Not only should this research be available to Canada, but as the motion states, it should be accessible around the world.

The health sciences program at the University of Guelph is an increasing draw for students from across Canada and in fact from around the world. Many people do not think of Guelph as a centre for health research, but when we put it in the context of health of animals and vaccines that protect animals from diseases, it starts making sense. Guelph has done this for over 190 years.

Many of these students, both graduate and undergraduate, who are studying at the University of Guelph are working at the Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations to learn about the human heart. They start with looking at hearts of smaller animals and then they apply their studies to the human heart. The CCVI was developed to find innovative ways to fight heart disease. It received funding through grants from numerous source, which include the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and other sponsors that are essential to support the great work of the professors and students working in this area.

To name just a few examples of the incredible medical research going on at the University of Guelph, Jeremy Simpson's work is studying heart failure symptoms that apply to women differently than men. I recently visited his lab, and I had presentations from his researchers on what they are doing around heart diseases, looking at the gender-based differences between heart disease in women and men, and what they are doing to actually help women survive heart conditions that up until now were thought the same as heart conditions found in men.

Dr. Petrik's lab is focusing on developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of late stage ovarian cancer. Again, for women who have ovarian cancer, it is very difficult to detect, but the research he is doing is actually almost at the breakthrough point. He is collaborating with researchers in the United States and around the world, and we are hoping for his breakthrough soon so that we can end this terrible disease that affects so many women in Canada. Professor Glen Pyle's laboratory uses molecular research to treat heart failure.

I could go on and on, but there are a lot of examples of the type of research that could significantly increase benefits to the public. This is all to say that the brilliant research being conducted in my constituency of Guelph and across Canada must benefit Canadians but also help people around the world.

It would truly be a tragedy if any one of these research projects were to run aground because of difficulties on IP regime, funding, or other barriers to access to market.

It is our responsibility to address this problem. Whether the cause is a lack of awareness about IP, which is often the case, or bureaucratic licensing disputes, no medical breakthrough should sit idle in a lab when it could be saving or improving lives. This serious problem is at the centre of the hon. member's motion and should, if approved by the House, be a central issue for the health committee to study.

I am proud to say that our government has already shown leadership on this issue. Canada recently became the 20th country to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty, allowing the treaty to come into force. The treaty aims to bring the global community together to better address growing demand for published materials for those with print disabilities.

With proper funding and protection, Canadian intellectual property could contribute so much more to the world. Canada has a proud tradition of leadership in the field of medicine. From doctors Banting and Best, who developed lifesaving insulin to treat diabetes, to Dr. William Penfield, who developed a surgical method for treating epilepsy, known as the Montreal procedure, Canadians can be proud of their work.

If Canada is to carry on in this great tradition and remain on the cutting edge of medical advancement, we must revisit Canada's intellectual property regime. We in the House owe it to Canadians and the world to make sure lifesaving medical advancements are available to those in need.

I would like to express to my colleagues, constituents, and stakeholders that the motion is not about assigning blame or fault. The motion is about making the most of Canadian ingenuity and innovation in the field of medical research. We cannot accomplish this goal by pointing fingers. We can accomplish this goal if we harness the unique strengths of businesses, governments, universities, and colleges. Each has a role to play, and each has strengths to contribute. It is my sincere hope that the health committee study initiated by the motion will bring together all these stakeholders and suggest some solutions to this growing problem. A new strategy to streamline Canadian medical IP is what we are looking for.

I would like to again thank the member for Kitchener Centre for putting forward this important motion for debate. His experience as a pharmacist, and the work he has done in helping the people of Kitchener Centre will now continue on, to looking at broadening the scope to all of Canada, and looking to help the world.

Canadians are rightly proud of their health care system, which itself depends upon research and discovery. I implore all my colleagues in the House to support this important motion so the legacy of Canadian medical innovation and advancements can benefit Canadians and the rest of the world. I am very pleased to present my support to the member for Kitchener Centre.