Canadian Prime Minister To Introduce Legislation That Would Allow Manufacture, Export of Generic AIDS Drugs
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Thursday is expected to introduce to Parliament legislation that would amend the country's patent laws to allow drug makers to manufacture and export generic drugs -- including antiretroviral drugs -- to developing countries, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Chase, Globe and Mail, 11/5). Canada had considered changing the rules only for drugs that treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but the measure that Chretien intends to present to Parliament will "cover a far broader range" of medicines, according to government sources, the Toronto Star reports. The bill will include drugs from the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines that are patented in Canada, and the bill would allow the government to "expeditiously amend" the list of drugs to include other treatments, according to the Star. Under the measure, about 50 countries will be eligible to receive generic drugs at a "fraction of the prices charged in Canada," the Star reports (Lawton, Toronto Star, 11/5). One official said that the legislation will use the same language from a November 2001 World Trade Organization statement, adding that the WTO "said it would address 'public-health problems afflicting developing and least-developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics' and that's the language we are using" (Globe and Mail, 11/5).
Chretien said it would take "a few months" before the legislation could be approved, Reuters reports. Although some lawmakers have said that they want to push the measure through the legislative process quickly, the country's main opposition party, Canadian Alliance, has said that it would oppose fast-track approval, according to Reuters. CA officials said that the party supports the idea of providing low-cost antiretrovirals and other drugs to developing countries in Africa but added that the party is "disappointed" that lawmakers have not addressed how the bill's provisions would be implemented, according to Reuters. CA member James Rajotte asked, "How are we going to ensure that the drugs actually get to the people in Africa, how are we going to ensure there's a medical infrastructure in place (there) and how are we sure we're not breaking our own patent law?" (Ljunggren, Reuters, 11/4). Some HIV/AIDS advocates are concerned that the government could be establishing a system that could "destroy the incentive" for generic drug makers to go after supply contracts in developing countries that would maintain "downward pressure on patent drug prices," according to the Globe and Mail (Globe and Mail, 11/5). Another potential obstacle is the "chaotic state of Canadian politics," Reuters reports (Reuters, 11/4). Parliament is set for a one-week break next week, and the country's Liberal Party is expected to close the current session "soon after" the break, according to the Globe and Mail. The measure "almost certainly will not pass" before Chretien steps down and will have to be reintroduced after Paul Martin becomes Canada's next prime minister, the Globe and Mail reports (Globe and Mail, 11/5).
Chretien on Tuesday at a press conference with visiting South African President Thabo Mbeki said, "The goal is to make sure that this medicine be available to poor nations as quickly as possible and we're the first to act with (such) legislation." Mbeki said, "We are very, very happy with the decision taken by the Canadian government on the matter of affordable drugs and medicines. ... This is a critically important step which I hope will be followed by others" (Reuters, 11/4). "What we're doing here, this is half symbolic and half first step. We're not ready with all of the details," an unnamed official said, adding, "It's a complex scheme of royalties and applying for diseases. We're going into unknown territories, so to speak" (Toronto Star, 11/5). Richard Elliot, director of legal policy for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said, "We really have to question whether this kind of provision could ultimately defeat the purpose that is supposedly behind the legislation," adding, "If you are a generic company and you negotiated a certain price and you come back to Canada and seek permission to make the product, but every time the brand-name company that holds the patent gets to step in and meet the terms of the contract, then sooner or later ... you're not going to bother" (Globe and Mail, 11/5).