S2BN Edmonton Panel Discussion "Careers in the Pharmaceutical Industry- Demystifying Roles in M

On April 16th, members of the Edmonton Chapter of the Science to Business Network (S2BN) welcomed a group of expert panelists to the University of Alberta to discuss issues related to market access in Canada and about careers opportunities in this field. With special guest moderator Dr. Bruce Seet (President/CEO of S2BN Canada), our panelists engaged in a lively discussion about this important topic in the health care sector that functions to enable patients to access life-saving therapies.

Our guest panelists included:

Bennett Lee (BScPhm, MDiv)- Head of Market Access at Sanofi Genzyme

Kimberly Shulha (BSc)- Manager of Health Policy and Patient Access Alberta at Novartis

Christian Ouellet (MBa, AdmA)- Director of Government Affairs at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals

Nadine Vautour (BEng, MASc)- Governance Officer at the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH)

Clinical trial success is only the first step

One of the significant hurdles in bringing research discoveries to patients is to successfully demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a new therapy through various clinical trials for the purpose of regulatory approval. However, this is only one of the critical steps before patients in Canada can access new therapies. If the cost of a new drug is to be covered by the government, the drug needs to be evaluated both clinically and economically. In this process, government bodies, drug companies, and patient groups must work to determine the clinical, economic and patient value of a drug and eventually negotiate an appropriate and acceptable price.

As Bennett Lee described, our shared market access goals are to ensure that patients get rapid and continual access to the right drugs that they need. While many manufacturers consider the market access environment very early on in the drug’s life cycle, for governments, this process of evaluation may begin as early as 6 months prior to Health Canada’s marketing authorization for a new drug. Manufacturers would typically submit clinical and economic evidence to CADTH’s Common Drug Review (CDR) or the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR) which are expert bodies who provide a recommendation based on a clinical, economic and patient values assessment of a drug after consultation with healthcare professionals, economists, and patient groups. Such recommendations can suggest to reimburse, reimburse with conditions or do not reimburse.[BS1] Next, drugs are assessed by the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (or pCPA) who leverage the combined negotiating power of participating jurisdictions to negotiate prices on behalf of provincial governments. Finally, after these negotiations, a reimbursement decision is made by provincial drug plans which either approves or rejects drug plan coverage and determines if the therapy is made available to Canadian patients. Similar, but distinct, processes exist in Quebec such that new drugs may be evaluated by Quebec’s INESSS (L’institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux) as part of the province’s review and reimbursement recommendation process.

Growing demand for market access professionals with diverse expertise and experiences

Career opportunities in market access are diverse and many different educational backgrounds are required to meet the needs of this collaborative process. Bennett Lee, for example, is a pharmacist, and transitioned from a hospital pharmacy to market access for the government and then the pharmaceutical industry. Kimberly Shulha studied neuroscience before working in government relations. Christian Ouellet has an executive MBA and a certificate in organizational leadership, whereas Nadine Vautour is a biomedical engineer by trade with a Master of Applied Sciences who initially worked for a research funding agency for cancer immunotherapeutics (BioCanRx) but has now shifted her focus to work as a governance officer with CADTH.

Panelists highlighted the importance of soft skills for a career in market access. For instance, critical thinking, being able to synthesize data and communicate effectively are key to presenting complex information for a diverse set of stakeholders. Empathy was also noted as being important for understanding and navigating differing perspectives and for keeping patients at the center of decision-making. Lastly, adaptability was mentioned as an important skill, again emphasizing the cross-disciplinary and ever-changing nature of the market access process and the need to be able to learn about various areas with many stakeholders.


As our panel of experts showcased, bringing new innovative products to market requires more than scientific excellence and clinical trial success. As Dr. Seet notes, “Bringing new medicines to patients requires the development of a coherent value story for payers by addressing unmet needs, leveraging insights and demonstrating value to the healthcare system. This requires a collaborative approach with researchers, governments, payers, NGOs and most importantly patients.”He highlights the opportunities for STEM graduates saying, “There’s a growing demand for professionals who can interpret and communicate with various stakeholders regarding epidemiological, clinical, and health economic evidence in a way that effectively addresses patient’s values and unmet needs.”Overall, trainees in science interested in market access can adapt their unique knowledge and skill sets to work in a variety of positions in this field, whether it be for pharmaceutical companies, government organizations, or patient groups to make a difference and impact patient care in Canada.

To learn more about the process of market access in Canada, or careers in market access, please see our previous two S2BN blog post on the subject: https://www.s2bn.org/single-post/2018/09/21/Market-Access-The-Pricing-and-Reimbursement-Landscape-in-Canada

An additional resource for the market access process in Canada can be found here: https://www.cadth.ca/sites/default/files/cdr/cdr-pdf/Introduction%20to%20CDR%20and%20pCODR.pdf

The S2BN would like to express our sincere appreciation to our moderator, Dr. Bruce Seet, and our panelists for visiting us at the University of Alberta. We would also like to thank the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta for sponsoring our event, Robb Stoddard at BioAlberta for facilitating industry connections, and our event supervisor Dr. Siraki. Special thanks to Sarah Gilchrist at CADTH for supplying career information packages to attendees. We hope all our attendees enjoyed the event as much as we did!

Thank you to Dr. Bruce Seet for helpful edits to this blog post.

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