Clement takes aim at high costs of
[PoliticsWatch updated 5:25 p.m. November 21, 2006]
Health Minister Tony Clement told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday that
issues surrounding two major pharmaceutical initiatives are still
The health minister said a review of the effectiveness
of Canada's Access to Medicines Regime is under way and
that the cost of generic drugs in Canada must be examined under a National
"Did you know that Canadians pay more on average for
generic drugs than most other countries do?" Clement
asked reporters on Parliament Hill. "Sometimes 15 to 25 per
cent more. If we can get even a 10 or 15 or 20 per cent reduction in
that amount, that's a whole lot more money available for provinces
to pay for catastrophic drugs that are coming online."
The minister said before any money is committed
to a national pharmaceutical strategy current costs must be
As PoliticsWatch first reported in July, internal documents showed
that officials working on the national pharmaceutical strategy
taskforce took aim at the price of generics in Canada.
For example, a May 2005 "conceptual paper" prepared for deputy health ministers
explained that "the most significant problem for non-patented drugs ... is Canada's lack of international competitiveness on prices."
The paper noted that Canada's generic drug prices are "significantly higher" than in other
countries. The documents cited studies that showed when compared to
Canada, generic costs ranged from 24 per cent lower in Germany to 68
per cent lower in New Zealand.
Also, Sheridan Scott, Canada's competition
commissioner, said in September that the Competition Bureau is to
conduct a "market study" of generic prices.
She said recent studies finding "generic prices to be generally high in relation to comparator countries, suggest that the related Canadian markets may not be providing the benefits that they could."
This comes at the same time that Clement's department is examining
ways to improve Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, which has
failed to effectively deliver lower-cost generic drugs to developing
In two years since the law was passed, Canada has failed to deliver
a single pill to any countries covered under the
"It's clear to me that there has to be an improvement in the
situation," Clement said on Tuesday in response to a question
from PoliticsWatch. "How best to get there, I think, is open for discussion. The review that I said would be under way is under way."
Critics say industry legal wrangling and finger-pointing are in part
responsible for the program's lack effectiveness.
Apotex, Canada's leading generic drug manufacturer, has been
approached by the aid group Medecins Sans Frontiers to create a
cocktail anti-viral AIDS drug called Apo-triAvir. However, the
company says legal disputes with patent holders are creating
Also, some point to the high costs of generic drugs in Canada as a
stumbling block. If developing countries want generic
versions, they are likely to seek them out from countries with lower
generic drug prices, such as India.
Apotex recently opened a facility in Banglore, India, but a company
spokesman told PoliticsWatch there are no plans to manufacture
Apo-triAvire or any drug there.
"99.5 per cent of what we manufacture we manufacture in Canada,"
said Elie Betito, director of public and government affairs
Betito said Apotex's facility in India is a small "pilot
plant" that conducts bio medical and clinical studies and "manufacturing, developing some of the final chemicals."
He said there are no plans for Apotex to step up production at that
"We're not at that stage. Those are just pilot plants they're tiny little things. We've got 5,000 employees and 21 facilities in Canada."
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