Drug Makers Prescribe Medicine for Canada's Health Care

Article excerpt

I want to talk to you this evening about the role of our industry in revitalizing health care.

As Canadians, we take justifiable pride in our health system. And I include myself as a Canadian -- a newly-landed immigrant who has had the privilege of working in this country for five-and-a-half years. Our approach to health care has served Canada well.

So, understandably, people are concerned when they hear about hospital closings or read of doctors leaving for the U.S. They worry about rising costs and our ability to maintain universal access to quality care.

Yet, there are solutions to the looming crisis in health care. The brand-name pharmaceutical industry possesses some of the answers. Over the past eight years, to give you one example, we've obtained federal approval to introduce 157 new drug therapies in Canada. That includes 18 new medications for cancer, 32 for cardiovascular disease, six HIV therapies, and 101 more drugs for treating a range of debilitating illnesses.

These drugs not only reduce disease and prolong life. Many contributed to dramatic cost-reductions elsewhere in the health care system by eliminating the need for surgery and lengthy hospital visits.

New, innovative medicines, appropriately prescribed and properly taken, represent part of the solution to rising health care costs.

The industry also understands medical research and its role in the health system. We fund one-third of all such research in Canada, which makes us the country's largest contributor.

As an industry, we have considerable expertise and many ideas to contribute to the debate about health care. So, of course, do governments, health care providers, and the public. By working together, I believe we can ensure a strong health care system that is accessible and affordable.

This evening, I am asking three things of you. I am asking you to share a vision of a revitalized health care system. I am asking for your leadership in helping us achieve it. And finally, I am asking each of us to take action.

There's a story of a passenger plane flying through thick fog. The pilot's voice comes over the loud speaker: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid to tell you we're lost. We don't know where we are -- and we don't know where we're going." There is a long pause, and the pilot adds, "But you will be pleased to hear, we are right on schedule."

Now, we may not always be pleased with the schedule. But unlike that pilot, we know exactly where we are.

Over the past four days, we've had a chance to discuss in depth the major issues facing the brand-name pharmaceutical industry. These are challenges, not just to the members of PMAC, but also to Canadians who want access to innovative, affordable therapies.

Foremost is the issue of protecting intellectual property. Drug companies must invest up to 12 years and half a billion dollars to develop and obtain approval for a new medication. That's a massive commitment of resources by anyone's standard. Before investing in R&D, companies must have assurance that their intellectual property will have a reasonable level of legal protection.

Fortunately, the federal government recognized that reality by increasing protection of intellectual property through Bill C-22 in 1987 and in C-91 in 1993. This legislation brought Canadian intellectual property standards to international levels.

That proved to be the right course. Since 1988, the brand-name industry has invested $2.5 billion in medical R&D and expects to spend another $2.5 billion by the end of the century. That's an investment that will produce many effective new medications, improving the quality of life for perhaps millions of people. It also translates into thousands of well-paid jobs for Canadians.

So, where do we stand today. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again."

Having won a reasonable level of patent protection, the industry now sees it being whittled away through continuing delays in the federal drug approval process. …