U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Says ‘No Question’ Canadian Antiretroviral Drug Initiative Will Be Approved
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis on Tuesday in Winnipeg, Canada, said he is "confident" about the future of a Canadian initiative to provide inexpensive antiretroviral drugs and other medicines to developing countries, CP/CTV.ca reports (CP/CTV.ca, 2/25). The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Commons in November 2003, would amend the country's patent laws to allow drug makers to manufacture and export generic versions of patented drugs -- including antiretroviral drugs -- to developing countries. Under the measure, about 50 countries would be eligible to receive generic drugs at a fraction of the prices charged in Canada. The bill also calls for special markings on and packaging for the generic drugs sold as part of the program to prevent them from being sold on the black market or reimported into Canada. In addition, the bill has a "right of first refusal" clause that would give a patent-holding drug maker 30 days to determine if it will fulfill contracts with the same terms negotiated by a generic drug maker (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/18). Lewis, who is scheduled to make a presentation early next month to the House Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, which is currently considering the bill, said that Prime Minister Paul Martin will keep the bill as a "priority," according to CP/CTV.ca. Lewis said, "There's absolutely no question the legislation will get through. I would be quite surprised and deeply, deeply distressed personally if it didn't." He added that there likely will be "some debate" on issues, including the right of first refusal clause, CP/CTV.ca reports (CP/CTV.ca, 2/25). Earlier this month, Lewis said that the clause is a "serious flaw" of the bill, adding that the clause should be removed because it "compromise[s] the integrity of the legislation" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/18).
Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard on Tuesday during an Industry and Technology Committee hearing on the bill said that the Canadian government is ready to amend the legislation to remove the flaw, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. She said, "Our government really does not want to find itself in a situation where it enacts a law and then no one participates in sending the medicines" (Chase, Globe and Mail, 2/25). Robillard added that the committee's "work [on the bill] will be very important" and called for members of parliament on the committee to craft amendments that "strike a balance to allow both industries to participate." However, Robillard did not offer any specific suggestions on how to revise the bill, the Ottawa Citizen reports. Representatives from generic and brand-name pharmaceutical companies were scheduled to address the committee on Thursday, according to the Citizen. The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association is expected to propose an amendment that would require generic firms to inform a patent holder of their intent to bid on a contract to supply medicine and allow the brand-name company the option to make a competitive bid, the Citizen reports (Ottawa Citizen, 2/25). But New Democratic Party MP Brian Masse said, "Right now the pharmaceutical companies already have a right of first refusal because they are the patent holders, and if they wanted to provide these medications abroad at a lower cost they could do so already. There's nothing stopping them" (Globe and Mail, 2/25).