Canada’s Past Drug Patent Policies Seen as Example for Current Debate, NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’ Reports
In the second of a series of reports on AIDS drug access in African nations, NPR's "Morning Edition" yesterday reported on the 20-year patents Canada gives to the pharmaceutical industry and the influence multinational corporations have over governments of even developed countries. NPR's Jon Hamilton reported that from 1969 to 1993, Canada was a "haven" for generic drug manufacture. Canada used compulsory licensing practices -- which involves paying a "small royalty" fee to the patent-holding pharmaceutical company to produce its drugs within the country -- that put brand-name drugs under heavy price competition with those produced generically. However, when negotiations began for a free trade agreement between the United States and Canada, the United States and the pharmaceutical companies lobbied the Canadian government to limit its compulsory licensing practices. Although Canada represents less than 2% of the worldwide drug market, the country was forced to give in to pressure from pharmaceutical companies because the industry provides research funding for government-sponsored researchers. The companies leveraged this influence by saying that if the government removed its price control, the industry would "guarantee" research funds. Therefore, in 1987, legislation was passed that allowed the pharmaceutical industry seven years of exclusive marketing before generic drugs could be produced and sold, and in 1993 the law was extended to 20 years. Although the change has brought an increase in research funds, some believe that the patent extensions have also increased costs for the government and consumers.
Dr. James Wright of the University of British Columbia said, "Drug budgets are breaking the health care banks" in Canada, with provincial governments "struggling" because of high drug costs. NPR noted that although the "wealthy firms have powerful influence over which drugs are developed, and who can get them," public opinion may be able to sway the tide against the larger companies' influence in developing countries (Hamilton, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/6). To listen to the full report in RealAudio, enter http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=3%2F6%2F2001&PgID=3r into your Web browser and scroll down to the "Drug Patents" story.