Canada's New Plan for Generic-Drug Sales ; Thursday, Canada Crafts Legislation That Would Allow Its Generic Drugmakers to Sell Medicine to Developing Countries

By Doug Alexander Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Canada's New Plan for Generic-Drug Sales ; Thursday, Canada Crafts Legislation That Would Allow Its Generic Drugmakers to Sell Medicine to Developing Countries


Doug Alexander Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Canada is on the verge of becoming the first country to allow drug companies to legally make and export cheap, generic medicines for needy nations.

Thursday, a parliamentary committee in Ottawa will review draft legislation that would let drugmakers seek licenses to make generic versions of patented medicines to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in developing nations. The legislation could become a template for other countries to follow.

But what should be good news for poor countries is being overshadowed by a looming battle in Canada's Parliament. The battle pits pharmaceutical companies that have poured billions of dollars and countless research hours into developing these medicines against the generic-drug industry and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that say the world should "do the right thing." Canada's challenge is trying to strike the right balance between the two sides.

"The question is whether Canada gets it right," Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the group spear- heading NGO lobbying efforts. "Will it be a good precedent or a bad one?"

Canada is the first country to act on the World Trade Organization's Aug. 30, 2003, decision to revise international patent rules to let developing nations import copies of brand-name drugs in cases where they can't make their own medicine. Strict rules prevent drugs from being diverted to wealthy countries.

The WTO's decision aimed to soothe the controversy sparked by Brazil and India, which have been exporting AIDS knock-off drugs to Africa, but in violation of WTO rules. Brazilian and Indian generic- drug firms must implement the WTO's patent rules by next year, which means they'll be following Canada's lead.

Flawed legislation

But not everyone is happy with Canada's prescription to tackle the world's health woes. Critics say the proposal undermines efforts to deliver affordable drugs to nations needing them most.

"The existing legislation is flawed because it includes the opportunity for brand-name companies who hold the patents on medicines to block or undermine potential competition in the marketplace," Mr. Elliott says.

The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association (CGPA), which represents 22 companies, says generic drugmakers aren't interested in making medicine under these conditions.

"The government's intention is laudable, but it is unlikely that any generic pharmaceutical company in Canada will use it unless substantial amendments are made," says Jim Keon, CGPA president.

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