JDRF Canada Op-Ed in the Hill Times, February 14, 2024

OPINION:  Canada is on track to cure type 1 diabetes. With the right support, we can get there.

Research innovation is becoming increasingly competitive in the post-pandemic world and Canada is at risk of losing its foothold.

An estimated 300,000 Canadians (growing at a rate of 4.4% per year) live with type 1 diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease that occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin for the body, causing blood glucose to rise. Until cures are found, people with T1D must monitor their blood glucose throughout the day and take multiple daily insulin injections to survive. But insulin is only a treatment, and Canadians with T1D have a high risk of life-threatening complications, lower quality of life, and life expectancy that is 10 years less than the general population.

When it comes to diabetes research, Canada has historically punched well above its weight on the world stage. Since the discovery of insulin in Toronto in 1921, Canada has continued to make significant breakthroughs towards curing T1D; from the discovery of stem cells in 1961, to the development of the Edmonton Protocol – a method of transplanting pancreatic cells – in 1999.

In 2022, the federal government published the Framework for Diabetes in Canada; highlighting a need to better recognize, collaborate with, and support those impacted by diabetes. The Framework provides a common policy direction to help align national efforts to address diabetes. Like previous reports however, it recognizes that Canada continues to lack the necessary funding for diabetes research and for translating discoveries into practice. The federal government has an opportunity to make meaningful investments into research and demonstrate its leadership and commitment for better treatment and support for people living with diabetes.

Canada has the talent and capacity to continue its legacy of success and can be the place where the next major breakthroughs in T1D cures are discovered, driven to commercialization, and improve lives. But to maintain our leading research position and to reduce the immense pressure on our health care system caused by T1D and its complications, there needs to be sustained investment in research and innovation throughout the entire pipeline. That is why JDRF is recommending the federal government invest $50 million over 5 years in the JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes to fund new and existing translational T1D research – from discovery to clinical trials – to improve health outcomes, drive commercialization, create good jobs, and bolster Canada’s life sciences sector.

Funding translational research means bringing innovations to market. Investments in this space not only create jobs for research staff, highly qualified personnel, and students, but also allows for the potential of discoveries to spin-off into businesses. Without the right incentives, Canadian projects, and the research talent behind them, may choose to relocate to other countries with better opportunities. This leaves Canada in a position of starting research projects with heavy initial investment, but then losing out on the economic benefits that would flow from its discoveries, as well as the benefits of new treatments that Canadians need. By effectively moving research projects through the full pipeline into commercialization, Canada can demonstrate that it values innovation and that we can be a destination for attracting new talent and investments in this space.

Along with improving the lives of Canadians with T1D, bringing innovative solutions to market will also realize long-term benefits for governments looking to reduce health care costs (which in Canada are $27 billion due to diabetes). Innovations in T1D research reduce hospitalizations due to related complications (including diabetic ketoacidosis, hypoglycemia, kidney and cardiovascular disease, and mental health disorders), as well as improve quality of life and health outcomes, thereby reducing absenteeism and presenteeism related to T1D in working-age Canadians.

As research around the world brings us closer to cures for T1D, we cannot afford to abandon the progress we have made in Canada. It is crucial for our government to provide consistent and stable funding for Canadian researchers to launch the next moonshots that will transform T1D therapy – and lead to cures. Canada discovered insulin. Canada discovered stem cells and pioneered the Edmonton Protocol. Canada can lead the world in the discovery of a cure.

– Dr. Sarah Linklater, JDRF Canada Chief Scientific Officer

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