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April 11, 2003

MPs to probe drug rule that limits competition
By Glen McGregor

After shelving a planned study of Canada's drug patent laws, the House of
Commons industry committee has reversed its field and decided to review the
use of "evergreening" tactics that keep lower-priced generic drugs off the
market.

The Liberal-dominated committee last week voted to put off its examination
of the patent rules until late June, likely after the end of the current
session. Two Liberal MPs voted with the Opposition to scuttle a motion by
Liberal MP Dan McTeague to address the subject sooner.

But that decision drew outrage from lobby groups such as the Canadian Health
Coalition, which urged members to contact MPs on the committee. On Wednesday
night, the committee voted during an in-camera session to begin its review
on June 2.

Canada and the U.S. are the only two industrialized countries that allow
brand-name drug companies to keep a generic competitor off the market by
simply alleging patent infringement. The "automatic injunction" gives
brand-names an additional 24 months of market exclusivity on top of the
20-year patents on drugs. By filing new patents on minor variations of an
older drug, a drug company can extend its market exclusivity to years.

U.S. President George W. Bush last year called for changes to the U.S. law
that allows gaming of drug patents by the brand-name manufacturers.

Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow recommended in this report on the
health care system last year that similar rules in Canada also should be
reviewed. The generic industry says changing the patent rules in their
favour could save the health care system $1 billion a year.

The brand-name industry, however, insists that it needs the special legal
protection to foster innovation of new medicines. Without it, generic
manufacturers would knock off their products to grab market share, then
litigate any patent infringement allegations later, they allege. That would
cripple the development of new drugs, the brand-names argue.

Lobbyists from brand-name pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Glaxo
Smith Kline were on hand for last week's industry committee meeting to
bolster support for pushing back the review date until later in June --
which would effectively kill any study. The House of Commons sits until June
6, but could extend until the 20th.

Now, three days of hearings are slated to begin June 2 with testimony from
Health Canada, Industry Canada, and drug company representatives.