Leading drug-safety investigator Dr. Samy Suissa elected to the Royal Society of Canada

The Royal Society of Canada now counts among its 2,000 members the Director of the Centre of Clinical Epidemiology at the Lady Davis Institute, Dr. Samy Suissa. The internationally renowned pharmaco-epidemiologist joins the ranks of the national academy’s distinguished scholars, artists and scientists, who are selected by their peers for outstanding contributions to their field.

“To influence change at a higher level—it’s a rare opportunity,” says Dr. Suissa. “All of the members of the society meet once a year, along with key people who make vital decisions about the direction of our country. Having the attentive ear of such an elite group to my research on drug safety will heighten the impact of our mission to enhance the lives of Canadians. It’s a tremendous honour and responsibility.”

Dr. Suissa studies the real-world safety of medications, examining both the risks and benefits of pharmaceuticals, particularly for the treatment of chronic diseases. His landmark research on the effects of asthma medications, for instance, changed how asthma is managed and contributed to reducing asthma mortality worldwide. His work has also led to safer clinical practices with respect to oral contraceptives and hormone therapy in women, as well as medication use by the elderly.

As the current leader of the JGH-based Canadian Network for Observational Drug Effect Studies (CNODES), Dr. Suissa heads up a network of over 60 scientists throughout the country who research the effects and safety of medications commonly used by Canadians. The results of the collaborative work of these pharmaco-epidemiologists, clinician-scientists, statisticians and data analysts are shared with Canadian government regulators, so that they can make informed decisions about drug safety for the nation’s citizens.

The approach of CNODES scientists to evaluating medication safety is to access existing computerized health databases from provincial partners, including, for instance, that of the RAMQ (formerly, the Quebec Health Insurance Board). This work has led, in turn, to the development of new methods of data analysis and study design in the field.

“Rather than collect healthcare data one-by-one on patients, these ‘big data’ are an inexpensive way to answer major questions about medication safety quickly, accurately and efficiently,” explains Dr. Suissa. “That leads to safer practices that benefit not only the health of Canadians, but patients throughout the world.”