Canada - Global health R&D

This section focuses on global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world’s most disadvantaged people. Following the scope of Policy Cures Research, it focuses on three main areas: 1) emerging infectious diseases (EIDs); 2) poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs); and 3) sexual and reproductive health (SRH). As part of the EID R&D funding, it also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). Although this section excludes domestic funding for health R&D that does not benefit low- and middle-income countries, not all funding mentioned qualifies as ODA. (For more on what is and is not included, by disease, read G-Finder’s scope document.)

Canada was the 12th-largest donor to global health R&D in 2019

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, Canada contributed US$17 million in total to R&D in these three areas in 2019, making it the 12th-largest public donor to R&D for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs), and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) altogether. The largest share (34%) of this funding was spent on R&D for PRNDs only. 21% was spent on R&D for EIDs, and 10% on SRH. The remainder was spent on R&D initiatives targeting more than one disease area.

Canada spent less than US$4 million on R&D for EIDs in 2019

In 2019, Canada spent less than US$4 million on R&D for EIDs. This makes Canada the 12th-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in 2019.  Almost all of this was funding exclusively for EID R&D. Just US$45 thousand was spent on funding for R&D relevant to both EIDs and PRNDs.

Canada’s funding for EIDs decreased significantly in 2019 compared to 2018 (US$8 million) and 2017 (US$5 million) driven by a decrease in funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Canada disbursed US$3 million to CEPI in 2017, US$7 million in 2018, and only US$1 million in 2019. It is worth noting that it is common to see spikes and dips in EID funding as donors respond to outbreaks, and do not necessarily indicate a significant re/de-prioritization of the sector; however, consistent funding for EID R&D (for example, funding for the CEPI) is essential to ensuring preparedness in advance of EID outbreaks and ensuring a rapid response — in terms of both research and containment — to emerging disease threats.

The largest share (43%) of Canada’s funding for EID R&D in 2019 went to R&D for more than one disease. Almost all this funding went to CEPI. 41% of Canada’s EID R&D funding went to universities to support R&D related to coronaviral diseases (including MERS, SARS, COVID-19). Smaller shares of funding were used for R&D related to bunyaviral diseases (such as Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever and Rift Valley fever; 7% of EID funding), Zika (7%), and filoviral diseases (including Ebola, Marburg, 3%).

Although EID R&D has not been a specific priority for Canada, because of the pandemic, COVID-19 has become a research priority for the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), Canada's federal funding agency for health research, which is supervised by the Ministry of Health.

Between March and October 2020, Canada committed US$626 million for COVID-19 R&D

According to Policy Cures Research’s COVID-19 R&D tracker, between the start of the pandemic and October 2020, Canada announced funding commitments totaling US$626 million for COVID-19 R&D. US$160 million of this went towards therapeutics, US$141 million towards vaccines, US$35 million toward basic research, and US$17 million towards diagnostics. The remaining US$272 million has been committed for unspecified purposes.

Among its commitments, Canada pledged US$28 million to CEPI at the outset of the pandemic in April 2020 to support its efforts to develop vaccines for COVID-19. This came from the budget of Global Affairs Canada (GAC; see ‘Main actors’). Later, in June 2020, Canada’s Minister of International Development announced a CAD120 million (US$90 million) commitment to Access to COVID-19 Accelerator (ACT-A). US$15 million of this was related to R&D and went to in CEPI. CEPI (along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance) is convening the vaccine pillar of ACT-A. Budget 2022 commits a further CAD732 million (US$552 million) for ACT-A in FY2022/23. ACT-A is a framework for collaboration through which donor countries have committed funds toward R&D for COVID-19; however not all ACT-A funding is for R&D, since it also has strong health system strengthening and vaccine distribution components. Between June 2020 and May 2021, Canada committed a further CAD700  million (US$528 million) to ACT-A, though not all of this was for R&D.

For additional information on the broader ACT-A global health response to COVID-19, see sector: ‘Global Health’.

Canada’s funding for PRNDs decreased in 2019 after years of growth

In 2019, Canada invested US$12 million in R&D for PRNDs, including funding for R&D exclusively relevant to PRNDS (US$6 million) and areas of overlap with EIDs (US$45 thousand) and SRH (US$6 million). This makes Canada the 13th-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2019. In 2019, funding to this disease area decreased for the first time since 2015.

Most of Canada’s funding for PRNDs in 2019 took the form of basic research (42%). Vaccines received 14% of funding, and drugs, 11%. Unspecified products received 30%. Almost half of Canada’s spending on R&D for PRNDs was directed toward HIV/AIDS (49% of PRND R&D funding in 2019). Other priorities included tuberculosis (28% of PRND R&D funding in 2019) and kinetoplastid diseases (10%).

Canada is the eighth-largest funder of R&D for SRH

In 2019, Canada spent approximately US$8 million on R&D for SRH, including US$6 million on HIV/AIDS (which is also counted as part of the PRND funding outlined above). This makes Canada the eighth-largest donor to this sector in 2019. 2019 saw a 30% decrease in Canada’s funding for SRH R&D compared to 2018, mostly driven by a dip in HIV/AIDS funding (which fell 39%).

In addition to HIV/AIDS (76% of SRH R&D funding), Canada made disbursements for R&D for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (8%) and human papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV-related cervical cancer (6%). One-quarter (26%) of SRH R&D funding went toward basic research, 16% went towards vaccines. The largest share (52%) was disbursed for unspecified products.

Canada is committed to the issue of women's and girls’ health including SRH and maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH). Most of Canada’s funding for HIV/AIDS research comes from the ‘CIHR HIV/AIDS Research Initiative’ under the framework of the ‘Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada’. One of the four priorities of this initiative is to “Contribute to the global effort to reduce the spread of HIV and mitigate the impact of the disease”. Other key SRH R&D programs are run through Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), including through its programs maternal and child health and better sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for adolescent girls in Senegal.

GAC and CIHR jointly lead decision-making on global health R&D

Responsibility for global health R&D policies and funding lies with GAC and CIHR, as well as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Within CIHR, overall strategic directions are set by the Governing Council. The Science Council of CIHR is a management committee that develops and implements CIHR’s work. Within the three business portfolios — Research, Knowledge Translation and Ethics (RKTE); External Affairs and Business Development (EABD); and Resource Planning and Management (RPM) — RKTE is responsible for the administration of funding programs, including for global health R&D. CIHR is also guided by a Framework for International Relations and Cooperation (2006).

Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) is another important player in funding Global Health R&D in Canada. GCC is an independent, not-for-profit organization established in 2009. It receives most of its funding from the Canadian government. GCC funds ideas that integrate science, technology, and social and business innovation, with a “feminist investment approach”. Global health R&D is a theme cutting across the six specific challenges that GCC has chosen to work on: 1) Promoting the work of scientists and innovators; 2) transitioning to scale; 3) saving lives at birth; 4) saving brains; 5) promoting global mental health; and 6) funding the ‘humanitarian grand challenge’, a challenge to fund innovative humanitarian solutions in conflict-generated crises in partnership with the US, UK, and the Netherlands.