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April 1, 2003

Victory for big drug makers
MPs shelve review of policy that helps keep generic rivals off the market
By Glen McGregor

With pharmaceutical company lobbyists watching closely, the House of Commons industry committee yesterday voted to shelve a review of the drug patents law that had been recommended by the Romanow Commission.

Two Liberal MPs were brought in as alternate committee members to defeat the motion to study the patent medicine regulations that allow brand-name companies to sue to keep lower-priced generic versions of drugs off the market.

The committee had agreed last year to review the law, a move that the generic industry considered a major victory, but opponents pushed the issue down the agenda until June -- after the House is likely to break for the summer -- and effectively ended any planned review.

In his report on the health care system, Roy Romanow said last year that the government should consider overhauling the Patent Medicines (Notice of Compliance) Regulations.

The regulations block Health Canada from approving a generic drug for up to two years if there is any allegation of patent infringement. By filing sequential patents on minor improvements on a drug and then alleging infringement on each, brand-name companies can "evergreen" the market for a drug long after its original 20-year patent expires. The industry says the patent regime is necessary to foster innovation of new medicines.

Canada and the U.S. are the only countries to give such a legal privilege to drug companies, but U.S. President George W. Bush last year indicated he wants the law changed to end the gaming of drug patents by the brand-name companies.

Canada's patent drug law was enacted in the last days of Brian Mulroney's Conservative government and has been jealously guarded by Quebec MPs from all parties. Most of the brand-name companies are clustered on the island of Montreal.

Ontario Liberal MP Dan McTeague tried to get the patent law issue back on the table by bringing a motion before the committee to review the law next month. But Liberals Marlene Jennings and Lynn Myers showed up as alternates at the meeting yesterday and voted with six Opposition MPs to defeat the motion, which had support from seven Liberals.

Representatives from brand-name drug companies AstraZeneca, Glaxo Smith Kline, and the industry lobby group Rx & D were on hand for the vote to bolster opposition.

Afterwards, an angry Mr. McTeague denounced his party colleagues as "ignorant" for their unwillingness to study the law. "Obviously, they don't care about what Roy Romanow said, or what President Bush said," he charged. Canadian consumers are "being fleeced" because delays in getting generics to market keep drug prices high, he said.

Mr. Myers said he voted against the reviewing the law because he believes the current regime is working well.

-- The End --

Response:

=====================================================

When Dan McTeague said his Liberal colleagues were “ignorant” for their
unwillingness to study the patent issue, he was 100% correct.

The reality is that Medicare is sustainable. It is the out-of-control brand-name
prescription drug costs that are not!

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  MEDICARE  FACTOID:

     Increase in total health spending as a percentage
     of GDP for Canada from 1985 to 2000:     0.8 %

     Increase in prescription drug costs in Canada from
     1985 to 2000 (unadjusted):                      344 %

   Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information

   On the Web: http://www.healthcoalition.ca/drug-costs.pdf