Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to discuss the motion tabled by the member for Vancouver Kingsway related to pharmacare. I too will be supporting this motion, because I believe and our government recognizes that the cost of drugs can directly affect the lives of Canadians.
Families should not have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for the drugs they need. That is why we have committed to implementing universal pharmacare to ensure that all Canadians have equitable and affordable access to the medicines they need.
Today I would like to highlight how the federal government is supporting innovative research to advance drug discovery and develop new therapies to improve the health of Canadians.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the main federal agency responsible for funding health research across Canada. Every year the Government of Canada, through this group, invests over $1 billion in research initiatives that will generate new knowledge and evidence and lead to better and more affordable treatments for Canadians. Clinical trials are the cornerstone of an evidence-based practice and ensure timely access to new drugs and treatments for Canadians.
In 2016, CIHR launched the innovative clinical trials initiative. With an annual investment of $11.7 million, this initiative is supporting research focused on the development and implementation of innovative methods in clinical research. This specific initiative is part of the larger strategy for patient-oriented research, a national coalition of federal, provincial and territorial partners dedicated to the integration of research into care.
The SPOR innovative clinical trials initiative will contribute to increasing Canadian competitiveness in innovative clinical trials research and provide a stimulus for researchers to adopt new methodologies to conduct clinical trials. It will also encourage collaboration with various stakeholders, including patients, decision-makers and key stakeholders.
Innovative clinical trials use designs that are alternative to traditional trials methodologies. These new methods can reduce the cost of conducting trials, reduce the amount of time needed to answer research questions and increase the relevance of research findings to patients, health care providers and policy-makers. The direct outcome of these new methods is improved effectiveness of the trials while keeping the same high safety and effectiveness standards for the drugs. This will result in lowering the cost of drug development, ensuring that new, affordable and effective drugs are available for Canadians.
As part of this initiative, CIHR is supporting the CLEAN Meds project, led by researchers at Unity Health Toronto. Through a randomized controlled trial, researchers are investigating the effects of providing patients with free and convenient access to a selected set of medications. Each person is randomly assigned to either receive usual access to medications or to receive access to essential medications at no cost.
Preliminary findings from the CLEAN Meds trial demonstrate that the distribution of essential medicines at no charge for one year increased adherence to treatment medicines and improved some disease-specific health outcomes. These findings could help inform changes to medicine access policies such as publicly funding essential medicines.
Through the innovative clinical trials initiative, CIHR is also supporting a team led by Dr. Jacob Udell at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto. This work is looking at ways of leveraging big data to facilitate recruitment of patients in clinical trials, measurement of patient characteristics and follow-up of patient outcomes. It is expected that this approach will transform how clinical trials are conducted in Canada, which would ultimately contribute to lower drug development costs.
Leading researchers across the country are also conducting research to improve the safety and effectiveness of drugs. For example, CIHR is supporting a research project led by Dr. Michal Abrahamowicz at McGill University that aims to improve monitoring of adverse drug reactions. While most new drugs help improve patients' health, some may have important unintended side effects and others may be less effective than existing drugs. This research will allow for the development of new statistical methods that will allow for more accurate assessments of the safety and effectiveness of different drugs used by Canadians, and help to reduce the risk of serious adverse events.
Of course, underpinning all of this research are CIHR's research investments into the development of new drugs and therapies. For example, through CIHR's investigator-initiated programs, our government is investing $4.7 million in a research program led by Dr. Hanns Lochmüller at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, right here in Ottawa, to discover and test several new therapies to treat neuromuscular diseases. Over 50,000 Canadians have a neuromuscular disease, of which there are over 150 types. Neuromuscular disease is associated with progressive muscle weakness, disability and early death, and can cause significant economic burdens on families that are affected.
Through his research, Dr. Lochmüller is using a combination of genomics, molecular biology, animal models and clinical trials to improve the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disease. His objectives are to reveal the genetic mechanisms of 20 new genes associated with neuromuscular diseases, discover five new therapies and study seven therapies, four of which were repurposed and three new. The hope is that this research will lead to new ways to treat neuromuscular diseases.
Through the Canada research chairs program, CIHR is also supporting research led by Dr. Weihong Song at the University of British Columbia on Alzheimer's disease. Dementia has a significant and growing impact in Canada. We know that there are more than 419,000 Canadians aged 65 and older diagnosed with dementia. The impact of dementia on individuals, their families and the health care system is significant. In the absence of a cure or effective therapy, the total annual health care costs and out-of-pocket caregiver costs for Canadians with dementia are expected to exceed $16 billion by 2031. As the Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer's Disease, Dr. Song is studying the cause of dementia found in Alzheimer's disease and working to discover new drugs targeting Alzheimer's disease.
CIHR is also supporting groundbreaking research by Dr. Mick Bhatia at McMaster University in the hopes of uncovering new treatments for leukemia, a cancer that starts in blood stem cells.
Our government is committed to accelerating medical breakthroughs for people affected by rare diseases. Approximately one million people are affected by more than 7,000 different rare diseases in Canada. These diseases often appear at birth or emerge in early childhood. One-third of children with rare diseases die before their fifth birthday. For the vast majority of these conditions, there is no treatment available.
Canada, through CIHR and Genome Canada, is a founding member of the International Rare Diseases Research Consortium, which was established in April 2011 with a goal to develop 200 new therapies for rare diseases by 2020. I am pleased to note that the consortium had surpassed this target a few years early, with over 279 new medicinal products and therapies for rare diseases developed by 2017.
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that ensuring equitable access to necessary medicines is a priority for our government.