The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the benefits of investing in health research and innovation. Canadian researchers helped lead the global fight against COVID-19, by first profiling the body’s immune response to the virus and developing the lipid nanoparticles to deliver mRNA to the body’s cells – a breakthrough based on 40 years of research.
Canadians are proud of these achievements and consider health research to be a priority. Recent public opinion polling found that the vast majority (91%) of those polled believe health research makes an important contribution to healthcare and (81%) said it makes an important contribution to the economy.
However, the pandemic also exposed many gaps in Canada’s health research ecosystem. If Canada is to emerge stronger following the pandemic, a fundamental shift in how governments view and support health research is needed.
What actions can Canada take to support the health research sector?
⇒ HEALTH RESEARCH FUNDING
Make transformational investments in health research to protect Canadians from future health crises and capitalize on economic opportunities, starting with a minimum annual floor of two per cent of public spending on health ($3.7 billion), to be put toward fundamental health research, strategic initiatives to tackle pressing social issues, and knowledge translation.
Centralize investments in strategic science through the proposed Canada Advanced Research Projects Agency (CARPA).
Establish a government branch and/or funding program(s) focused on knowledge translation to move health research data and evidence into practice in the health system.
Fund health research priorities identified by the pandemic, including research into primary care prevention, health care equity/inequities, and social determinants of health.
⇒ NATIONAL CLINICAL TRIALS NETWORK
Develop a pan-Canadian framework for clinical trials that will make Canada a more attractive place to conduct clinical trials and become a leader internationally.
Establish a body to direct the development and implementation of a pan-Canadian clinical trials framework.
⇒ PARTNERSHIPS AND INNOVATION
Build or renovate buildings to create much needed lab and incubator space that attracts and brings together researchers, universities and colleges, industry, and non-profit organizations.
Facilitate the creation of health networks or hubs around research hospitals that bring together academia, industry, start-ups and incubators, and business.
Evaluate federal and tri-council funding programs to make the criteria less restrictive and more flexible to foster partnerships.
⇒ HEALTH RESEARCH DATA AND INTEROPERABILITY
Improve health system interoperability to support partnership creation, including through the creation of a pan-Canadian health data research repository.
Why must Canada better support the health research sector?
HEALTH RESEARCH FUNDING
Issue: While HealthCareCAN and our members commend the significant investments in health research announced in the 2018 budget and those made since 2020 to battle COVID-19, Canada continues to languish near the bottom of G7 and OECD countries for overall research and development spending.
Increased investments will ensure Canada’s health research sector can:
Catch up with the level of research investments in other G7 and OECD countries and become a leader in overall research and development spending.
Compete with other G7 and OECD countries for retention and recruitment of top health research talent.
Continue to pursue curiosity-based research that addresses the “how”, “what” and “why” to increase knowledge.
Afford to not only conduct research, but also disseminate the knowledge gained from that research and put that knowledge into practice.
Address issues important to people in Canada, such as wait times, inequities that impact health outcomes and the social determinants of health.
Investments in health research: How Canada compares internationally (% of GDP, as of 2019)
Issue: The number of clinical trials taking place in Canada has declined over the last decade due to several challenges and barriers, specifically related to the efficient and timely set-up of clinical trials. While individual provinces have undertaken localized or subject-specific efforts to address these issues, this has resulted in duplication, inconsistency, and different directions across the country. Canada’s lack of a focused, targeted approach for clinical trials at a national level has increasingly left Canada lagging behind peer jurisdictions.
A pan-Canadian clinical trials network ensures that:
Canada is competitive on the global stage and can make up gains lost to peer jurisdictions in recent decades.
Canada is a top market for clinical trials globally, benefiting the health of people in Canada.
Canada can continue to reap and expand the economic rewards derived from clinical trials.
Clinical trials are timely, properly resourced and affordable to conduct.
Duplication and inconsistencies across the country due to localized and subject-specific efforts are reduced or eliminated, re-directing resources to running clinical trials.
Issue: In recent years, new federal innovation and infrastructure programs have established criteria that restricts the formation of partnerships by identifying who are eligible partners. Often, research hospitals and healthcare organizations are not included as potential partners, despite the significant role research hospitals play in innovation.
An even playing field for healthcare organizations, including research institutes in the federal research and innovation ecosystem mean that:
Healthcare organizations have direct and equal access to compete for federal research and innovation funding alongside academia and industry, in recognition of healthcare organizations’ status asstandaloneentities that contribute significantly to Canadian research and innovation.
Research conducted in hospitals and healthcare organizations has the resources it needs (space, tools, funding, people) to address health challenges that matter most to people in Canada.
Hospital research institutes and healthcare organizations can better bring together researchers, clinicians, patients, academia, industry, innovators and governments, embedding them within the health system in a non-competitive context to drive new treatments and technologies, increase uptake of innovations within the health system, and commercialize promising products.
Researchers whose organizations aren’t affiliated with a university or who lack a university appointment can still access funding for their important research.
The best research ideas and innovations are pursued and funded, regardless of the type of institution where the research is being conducted.
HEALTH RESEARCH DATA AND INTEROPERABILITY
Issue: While the pandemic has motivated the federal government to invest heavily in health data systems, no coordinated approach or strategy has been developed. This has a negative impact on health outcomes, hinders research, impairs public health decision-making, and increases health system costs.
With the right tools to effectively communicate and share data and information, the health research sector could:
Lead to better coordination and accessibility of the health data needed to conduct health research and clinical trials that is currently siloed in institutions and jurisdictions across Canada.
Enrich the quality and availability of health data and research, and foster the partnerships and collaboration needed to drive innovation that will address Canada’s most pressing health challenges.
Make Canada a more attractive place to invest in and conduct health research and clinical trials.
Provide better data on which to make public health decisions and contribute to health system savings as a result of reductions in duplicative work across jurisdictions in Canada.
HealthCareCAN actions to strengthen health research and innovation
Recent and related letters, statements, media appearances, and press releases