Covid-19’s effect on innovations in the Life Sciences industry

Sheryl Groeneweg explains how the pandemic has affected the sector (640 words, 3.5 mins)

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Innovation and technology created by the Life Sciences sector have allowed for an accelerated approach to creating treatments for Covid-19, according to Sheryl Groeneweg. While some feel the industry has been neglected in Canada, Groeneweg sees a bright future. 

Groeneweg, the Director-General of the Manufacturing and Life Sciences Branch of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, is responsible for the Life Sciences industry policy.

“New [advances] featured in the industry include things such as an orientation toward personalized or precision medicine and platform technologies that have been transformational,” she said. “One example of that would be [with] Covid-19, RNA-based vaccines were pre-Covid, considered a bridge too far, perhaps almost an impossible dream, but we see that has come to fruition. That will be a massive shift in the industry in terms of drug development and treatment development [in future].”

Groeneweg (photo below) discussed the pandemic’s impact on the Life Sciences sector during the season three finale of the NPC Podcast, a program for Pharma executives hosted by Peter Brenders. Brenders is the General Manager of BeiGene Canada (Listen to the episode here.)

In addition to RNA-based vaccines, Groeneweg has also seen an influx of IT-based industries entering the field, gathering health information from patients who wear different types of technology that can collect data.

While advancements in the Life Sciences sector have helped in the battle against Covid-19, some have suggested the Canadian government has neglected the industry or that the country has missed an opportunity. However, Groeneweg calls that an oversimplification of the situation.

“We are not out of the game,” Groeneweg said. “We're certainly very much in the game. I can rhyme off several industry players who have really accelerated what they’re doing to solve some serious issues [where] we needed gaps filled.”

She pointed to AbCellera, a Vancouver-based tech company that uses robotics and AI to automate drug discovery. AbCellera partnered with Eli Lilly last year and developed the monoclonal antibody, bamlanivimab, that is being used to treat Covid-19.

Additionally, Quebec’s Medicago, Groeneweg noted, created a new way to develop and manufacture vaccines using plant-based technology versus egg-based technology. Medicago’s Covid-19 vaccine is currently in Phase 3 of a clinical trial

Further, Vanrx Pharmasystems Inc., a Canadian-owned machinery and equipment manufacturer, produces modular fill and finish machines—machines used worldwide, she said.

“Companies like Moderna, for example, already had a Vanrx machine before Covid started,” Groeneweg remarked. “[They are] extremely well sought after. We have features in our Canadian landscape and companies who are very much on the frontlines of the Covid-19 response.”

The takeaway: Based on the learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic and future innovations in the Life Sciences industry, Groeneweg believes Canada will be better positioned when the next pandemic arrives. 

“The government has made a number of investments in a whole range of factors across the country, and these are, I think, a good start,” Groeneweg said. “The way forward is to ensure that there is systematic, across-the-board thinking and putting in place measures that will really have us in a fundamentally different place. I am quite confident that that will be the case, although, of course, I don’t want to get ahead of politicians.”

Further reading: The website Pharmaceutical Technology recently published an article looking at the key lessons that Life Sciences companies can take away from the global pandemic. Story here.

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YOUR HEALTHBIZ WEEK 05/04/21

  • According to a report from The Guardian, GlaxoSmithKline is planning on splitting its consumer-health business into two companies. GSK’s first-quarter revenues fell by 18% between January and March compared to the same period in 2020. The report notes GSK’s vaccine division has been affected by the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. Next summer, the British drugmaker will split into a consumer health venture and a business that focuses on pharmaceuticals, HIV and vaccines.

  • Pfizer acquired Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, a company developing a new treatment for drug-resistant, fungal infections in patients with compromised immune systems, Reuters reports. If approved, Amplyx's lead drug fosmanogepix would be the first new class of antifungal treatments in 20 years. The report notes drug-resistant fungi are a growing problem for hospitalized patients with weak immune systems.

  • Novartis received Health Canada approval for canakinumab to treat active Still's disease, including adult-onset Still's disease (AOSD). AOSD is a rare form of inflammatory arthritis that can be a complex disease with variable presentation and potentially life-threatening complications. The new indication follows the existing approval of canakinumab for Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis that permits its use in treating patients over the age of 16.


UPCOMING NATIONAL PHARMA CONGRESS WEBINARS 

The National Pharma Congress Spring Webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 2021 (click here to register), and the Summer Webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Be sure to watch the NPC HealthBiz Weekly for updates on the events.


CANADIAN HEALTHCARE MARKETING HALL OF FAME

The Canadian Healthcare Marketing Hall of Fame awards were established in 2002 to honour healthcare marketers who have contributed to our avocation and are an inspiration to others.

More than 100 honourees have been selected during the past 18 years. In the selection committee's view, they stand for a representative cross-section of the qualities that make our business unique and fulfilling. Each week, NPC Healthbiz Weekly will acknowledge one past Hall of Fame Honouree.

2009 Inductee
Steve Gregory 
IsaiX Technologies  
Montreal

Editor’s note: Steve is the President of IsaiX Technologies Inc.—a role he has held since 1989.

Inspired by a school project of his son several years ago, his then 11-year-old son interviewed a Second World War veteran who fought in Pachino, Sicily, in support of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Steve Gregory took up the cause of Canada’s soldiers.

“There was nothing written about this battle in Sicily,” says Gregory, president of Montreal-based IsaiX Technologies, Pharmahorizons, and Chyma Systems Inc. “It is an unknown story of Canadian courage and heroism.”

Except for stories written by venerated Canadian author Farley Mowat, who himself was a soldier in the Second World War with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, there was scant documentation about the battle where Canadian soldiers pushed back German defences in the summer months of 1943.

On a trip to Italy in 2006, Gregory and his son visited the graves of the soldiers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira, Sicily, who fought in this battle. “That experience caused me to take up this up as a cause,” says Gregory. “Close to 500 men died in Sicily over the span of six weeks in 1943, and these men are forgotten souls.”

Gregory then launched the 2013 Canadian Citizen’s Memorial Campaign in Sicily, also known as Operation Husky 2013 (www.operationhusky2013.ca). The project is named for the soldiers who participated in the 1943 invasion of Sicily, in which the 1st Canadian division fought between the English and the Americans. It was the first independent role in the Second World War for Canadian soldiers. 

Gregory’s goal is to organize hundreds of Canadians to travel to Sicily in 2013 to participate in a daily march and ceremony as a tribute to the memory of the more than 500 men who fought and died or were wounded in battle. The march will follow the path taken by the 1st Canadian division.

“My mission is to involve Canadians,” says Gregory. “This will be a commemorative march to remember the men who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. These are fallen heroes. These are forgotten souls. Men died in this heroic battle, and Canadians don’t know about it.”

Gregory has also sponsored and co-founded the 3rd battery of the 2nd field regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. The unit acquired a 1939 gun tractor to pull the group’s cannon, which now serves as a source of pride for the regiment.

In addition, Gregory has become an activist to promote the rights of other veterans, particularly reservists, who have recently been abroad in locations such as Afghanistan.

“Increasingly, the Canadian Armed Forces must rely upon reservists to fulfill its missions,” explains Gregory. “Out of 1,000 soldiers that go on a mission, at least a few hundred are reservists. It might be a car dealer or hospital worker who leaves for six months, and when he or she comes back, there may not be a job for them any longer.”

In 2008, Gregory was named Montreal chapter president of the Canada Company, a charitable organization dedicated to supporting active members, reservists, cadets, and veterans. The organization boasts influential business people such as Paul Desmarais, Peter Munk, Galen Weston, and Jim Balsillie. 

The organization has raised monies to create a scholarship fund for the children of soldiers lost in Afghanistan, among other accomplishments, and is lobbying for a national reservist policy that protects the employment of men and women in Canada’s reserves who make the sacrifice of serving abroad in missions.

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NEXT WEEK

The 05/11 edition of NPC Healthbiz Weekly will feature Josh Neiman, Senior VP and Chief Commercial Officer of BeiGene Limited, on bringing anti-cancer therapies to Canada. It’s easy to get your no-charge subscription and have the issue sent to your phone or inbox each Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. sharp.

Stay safe, stay sure, and stay on your game. We’ll see you again next Tuesday.

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