Canada is a strong nation economically, with a $1.7-trillion gross domestic product and spending on research and development in excess of $30 billion annually. By any measure these numbers are among the best in the world. But pharmaceutical research, once strong, is in decline in this country. The closure of research labs by Merck, Boehringer-Ingelheim and AstraZeneca in the past two years has left us with no pharma-based pre-clinical research in all of Canada… Despite the enormous amount spent annually on research and development in Canada, decline in discovery research across the country has been accelerating. Discovery research has traditionally been the mission of research universities and is recognized through awards such as Nobel Prizes. But Canada has only one Nobel Prize in medicine, awarded in 1923 to Frederick Banting and John Macleod for the discovery of insulin. Compare that to Boston, where the Harvard Medical School alone claims eight different Nobel winners in medicine, including two expatriate Canadians from McGill University. In New York City, the small Rockefeller University, a research-focused institution, has no fewer than 15 Nobel laureates in medicine; its most recent, the late Ralph Steinman (who received the award posthumously, in 2011), was also an expatriate Canadian from McGill. The president of Rockefeller, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, is a Canadian Rhodes Scholar from McGill. Clearly, Canada generates talent, but we seem to be unable to provide talented Canadian researchers with top-notch opportunities here at home, in Montreal or elsewhere. Could the empty labs of Merck, AstraZeneca, Boehringer-Ingelheim and Perkin-Elmer be used to retrieve young Canadian talent gone elsewhere to do discovery work? After all, the labs are in place, and the talent is definitely available. Can we not make Canada a magnet for talented young people in pharmaceutical research?
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