Canadian Prime Minister Introduces Legislation That Would Allow Manufacture, Export of Generic AIDS Drugs
As expected, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Thursday introduced in the House of Commons 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, the Toronto Star reports (Whittington, Toronto Star, 11/7). If passed, the bill would allow the government to amend a World Health Organization list of essential medicines to include other drugs that are patented in Canada. Under the measure, about 50 countries would be eligible to receive generic drugs at a fraction of the prices charged in Canada. One official said that the legislation uses the same language as a November 2001 World Trade Organization statement on patented medications (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/5). The bill, which all parties in the House of Commons have "agreed to pass quickly," also calls for special markings on and packaging for the generic drugs sold as part of the program in order to prevent them from being sold on the black market or reimported into Canada, the Star reports. In addition, the bill also has a "right of first refusal" clause that would give the patent-holding drug maker 30 days to determine if it will fill contracts themselves with the same terms negotiated by a generic drug maker, according to the Star (Toronto Star, 11/7).
Liberal Party Tables Legislation
Chretien, who has served as prime minister for a decade, introduced the measure "on what was expected to be his last day in Parliament," the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. Although the measure is expected to die when Parliament ends its current session -- which could happen as soon as Friday -- lawmakers have said that they will continue to "work on the required changes" to bring the bill to a vote next session. In addition, Chretien's successor, Paul Martin, has said that he supports the legislation, according to the AP/Newsday (Cohen, AP/Long Island Newsday, 11/6). Canadian Alliance, Bloc Québécois, New Democrat and Progressive Conservative party officials "made it clear publicly" that members in Parliament would support the immediate passage of the bill as long as a parliamentary committee could later review the regulations regarding the measure's implementation, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. However, Liberal Party officials said that the legislation "needs some rewriting," adding that they promised drug makers and development group stakeholders that issues with the bill would be "ironed out" during committee review of the measure in the House of Commons, according to the Globe and Mail. Officials of Canada's industry, health and trade departments told Liberal House Leader Don Boudria that the measure cannot pass "as-is" because the departments told industry and development group stakeholders that the measure would be "tabled but then left open for public discussion," according to the Globe and Mail.
Canadian Alliance House Leader John Reynolds said, "It would seem [the Liberal Party] wanted to get this out so they could look good in the eyes of the public but when their bluff was called they are backing off. It's very important for the Third World countries that are suffering these diseases to get assistance from Canada" (Chase, Globe and Mail, 11/7). Health Minister Anne McLellan said, "This is a compassionate and effective Canadian response to a global challenge" (Palmer, Reuters, 11/6). "All countries -- and developing countries are no exception -- should be able to make sovereign decisions in determining which products are needed to respond to public health problems in their setting, without having to get further approval from the Canadian government," Richard Elliott, policy director for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said. Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew said, "This message will be heard around the world. I think we will become a model among other developed countries" (Toronto Star, 11/7). Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham called the legislation "important" and added, "[W]e hope to see other G-8 countries following suit" (PBS' Online NewsHour, 11/6). Murray Elston, president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, said that brand-name drug makers support the measure, but he added that it "will not work unless the medicine reaches patients," according to the Star. "There also needs to be ... proper physician supervision and adequate medical facilities," Elston said (Toronto Star, 11/7).