Canadian lawmakers approved a bill aiming to ease the process that lets generic drug manufacturers produce patented medicines for export to poor nations at cheaper prices in a move the pharmaceutical industry says could undermine intellectual property rights.
The legislation amends Canada’s so-called “access-to- medicines” law, which was enacted in 2004 and meant to make it easier for generic drug producers to get licenses to produce patent-protected drugs for export. The bill, introduced by an opposition lawmaker from the New Democratic Party, has passed the House of Commons and still must be approved by the Conservative-controlled Senate before it can become law.
The measure is “a significant step to save lives” from treatable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, said New Democrat lawmaker Paul Dewar in a statement after the vote yesterday. “There is no reason for the Senate to delay the passage of this bill.”
A coalition including former Canadian ambassador to the U.N. Stephen Lewis and Canadian rapper K’Naan pushed for the bill’s passage. Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, the association that represents the industry in Canada and counts Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and Novartis AG (NVS) among its members, says the it risks fueling black-market sales, encouraging production of counterfeit products and removes “safeguards” on intellectual property.
The bill opens “the doors to export of a wider range of medications to developed countries that do not have a humanitarian crisis,” Russell Williams, president of the association, known as Rx&D, said in an e-mailed statement.
Williams said the industry is already working with governments and non-government agencies to provide medicines at no cost or a non-profit basis in poor nations.
The legislation was supported primarily by opposition lawmakers, while most legislators from the governing Conservatives opposed it.
“I don’t think this bill is helpful,” Industry Minister Tony Clement told reporters, adding there is a “lot to go” before the legislation would be signed into law.
Clement said he’s concerned the bill will serve the “commercial” interests of generic companies, and not deal with the humanitarian issues. Clement also said he doesn’t think Canadian companies can produce generic drugs cheaply enough for the legislation to be effective.
Apotex Inc., a Canadian generic pharmaceutical company that is the only manufacturer to have sought a license to export drugs to poor countries under the current law, released a March 8 statement backing the proposed changes.
“Apotex is the only company to have attempted to work through this complex legislation and it took four long years to send the first shipment of medicines via this cumbersome process,” the company said in the statement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Theophilos Argitis in Ottawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.