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Tory MP says drugs to Africa bill may never work

[PoliticsWatch updated 7:00 p.m. April 23, 2007]

OTTAWA  — A Conservative MP said Monday that Canada's legislation allowing generic drug companies to send cheaper versions of brand name drugs to developing countries may never work because of the reluctance of recipient nations to identify themselves.   
 
"It seems to me that we've hit an impasse where if no country then actually wants to be identified this legislation will never work," said Conservative MP James Rajotte, who is the chair of the Commons industry committee. 

The MP made the conclusion after hearing two hours of testimony from representatives of the brand-name and generic drug industry. 

The committee wrapped up three days of hearings Monday on Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, a program that allows generic drug companies in Canada to sell drugs currently under patent protection to developing nations. The law has failed to send a single drug to a developing nation since it came into effect 2004. 

One of the conditions of the law is that the recipient country must be identified. 

Generic drug company Apotex has created a generic version of an AIDS cocktail that requires permission from three separate patent holders. Apotex has blamed regulatory hurdles in the legislation for their inability to get the drug to the developing world. 

When pressed by Rajotte to explain why the process has come to a halt, Jack Kay, CEO of Apotex, said it was because the country that made the order through Medicins San Frontiers "did not want to be identified. It's that simple."

The rival drug industries sat side-by-side at the same table during Monday's testimony before the committee. 

Not surprisingly, there were a number testy exchanges when brand-name industry representatives alleged that generic prices were too high to compete with India and the generic representatives said the brand-name companies had no incentive for the law to work. 

The mood in the room prompted independent MP Andre Arthur to allege that Canada had messed up when it drafted the law. 

"We've taken the goodwill of the world and put it smack in the middle of the minefield of a war between the generic and the brand names," Arthur said. 

While the generic drug companies told the committee they wanted to be allowed to immediately receive a compulsory licence to export the generic copies, the brand-name companies said the bill needs to be given more time before anyone can conclude that it does not work.  

"I will respectfully point out that this is young legislation," Russell Williams, president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, said in his statement. 

He also blamed a lack of awareness about the legislation as one of the problems with the bill, citing a meeting he had with 25 African ambassadors before Christmas, most of whom were unaware of the law. 

Last week, bureaucrats from four government departments were grilled by committee members about what efforts they had made to promote the program. 

Bureaucrats reassured the committee they had been conducting outreach with their colleagues in developing nations at international meetings. 

But on Monday, NDP MP Brian Masse recommended that the committee examine the matter further and ask the government to provide information on how much "financial and time-allocated, staff resources" had been spent by the government on promoting the law since it was passed in Parliament. 

Health Canada said in a written response to PoliticsWatch last week that it had made "numerous efforts to raise public awareness" about the program internationally at global forums on "building the regulatory capacity
in developing countries."

Specifically Health Canada noted that it launched a Website and developed a CD-Rom in July of 2006, more than two years after the program became law. 

"It's pathetic," Masse told PoliticsWatch last week after being shown Health Canada's written response. "The reason they're not promoting it is because they know it's a flawed program that was implemented and doesn't work and that's part of the reason why there hasn't been the will to move the instruments of the government and bureaucracy to fulfill the mandate of the bill."

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> Bureaucrats can't explain why drugs not getting to Africa

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