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AIDS drug for Africa gets final clearance [http://www.PoliticsWatch.com Updated 5:35 p.m., September 21, 2007]

The final hurdle has been cleared allowing a Canadian generic drug company to send copies of a patented drug cocktail to Rwanda. 

OTTAWA  — Canadian generic drug company Apotex has been given the final go ahead to deliver a patented HIV/AIDS drug cocktail to Rwanda.

On Thursday the Federal Commissioner of Patents issued  a compulsory licence for ApoTriavir under Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). The existing patents are held by Glaxo Smith Kline, Shire and Boehringer Ingelheim.

The CAMR program, which was created to allow generic drug companies to sell copies of patented drugs to developing nations, had been coming under fire over the last year because it failed to deliver a single pill since Parliament passed the legislation in 2004. 

Last year, Health Minister Tony Clement announced a review of the program and the Commons industry committee held hearings into problems with the program this spring. 

"Canada is very proud to be the first country to grant a compulsory license under the August 2003 WTO waiver," Health Canada told PoliticsWatch in a statement.  

"This is an important milestone with regard to access to medicines in the developing world and we hope that this not only results in affordable HIV medicines being available in Rwanda, but also helps us to better understand how CAMR may be used to most effectively advance this humanitarian objective."

Apotex will now sell 260,000 packs of the drug cocktail to Rwanda over the next two years. 

Critics of the CAMR program, including Apotex, provided a lukewarm response to the news, noting that the granting of a compulsory licence doesn't fix existing problems with the program. 

"It's taken over three years just to get this close to filling a single order for a single drug," said Richard Elliot, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "Even if this order goes through, there's clearly a lot that's wrong with the regime."

In an interview with PoliticsWatch, NDP MP Brian Masse, who sits on the Commons industry committee, said the new development doesn't change the concerns he has with the program. 

"It doesn't take away from some of the systemic problems we still have with the bill," he said. "The real issue here is whether or not we're going to have a system that will meet the goals of what Canada wanted and I still think there's going to be problems in the system to do that." 

Masse listed the problems as recipient countries being required to identify themselves, the small number of drugs that are eligible for the program and how  CIDA and Health Canada's promote the program in the developing world. 

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