Dr. Jason Field
President & CEO, Life Sciences Ontario
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, every Canadian now knows what it’s like to live in fear of a disease for which there is no treatment. But that’s been the reality for years for the millions of Canadians affected by rare diseases in themselves or a family member.
Just as vaccines are helping ease the worries of the pandemic, we’re on the cusp of a new and promising era for treating rare diseases, says Dr. Jason Field, President and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario, which represents and promotes the province’s vibrant and diverse life sciences sector — one of the largest in North America.
“Our great challenge is to ensure our health care system and policies are ready to embrace and deliver the remarkable new treatments that science has to offer,” says Dr. Field. “Canadians won’t benefit from these new technologies if they aren’t made readily available to them.”
Funding and access are crucial for new treatments
This requires more than funding, he adds, noting that the federal government has already pledged significant new funding for rare disease treatments starting in 2022.
“We need to ensure we don’t have excessive regulatory barriers, like the new federal drug pricing policies, which effectively block Canadians’ access to many of the newest treatments,” he says. “We also need sufficient testing and diagnosis facilities in our health care system to ensure rare diseases are identified in patients as soon as possible to maximize the potential for effective treatment.”
Human genetics will drive innovation
Dr. Field notes that better health for citizens will be driven in large part by our deeper understanding of human genetics, which is offering exciting new ways to treat diseases, so it’s important to embrace technology and reap both the health and economic benefits that will result.
Dr. Field is also enthusiastic about the potential for the life sciences industry to be a real driver of post-pandemic economic growth, noting that the Ontario government identified life sciences as one of three priority sectors that needs to be targeted and supported to drive a successful economic recovery.