Back in 2012, things looked grim for Canada's Big Pharma industry. A significant number of the industry's high-earning products were about to lose their patent protection, and face replacement by low-margin generics. But Canada's pharma industry, the eighth largest in the world, maintained its levels of innovation as well as formulating an innovative and successful business strategy.
How do you strike a balance when treating children with drugs in the absence of such evidence? Most people might be surprised to learn that much of the medications given to children in Canada have never been adequately studied or even formally approved for the conditions they are commonly prescribed to treat.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is being negotiated in secret, but leaked documents from the negotiations have revealed that the United States is pushing hard for strict intellectual property rules that would protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of patients. These rules would extend patent monopolies and delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs, allowing the big brand-name drug companies to maintain their high prices for longer periods of time. This would put lifesaving medicines out of reach for millions of poor people around the world. It could also lead to higher drug prices here at home.
And as nations are just starting to get their heads around how to solve the obesity crisis, surely we shouldn't dump everything out of our toolbox before the real work has even started. We need to keep our public policy options open, to make room for initiatives to clean up a food environment that is literally killing us.
Focusing only on the cost increases associated with stronger (but still lagging) intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical innovators is simplistic and wrong. It is the balance of these costs and benefits that are the ultimate determinant of whether or not Canadians are better off, not just the post-2023 increase in drug costs to provincial governments, patients, and insurers.
There are academic pharmaceutical researchers still publishing independent, peer-reviewed articles, just as there are still farmers who have small farms with the kinds of smiling animals one sees in children's books. But more and more pharmaceutical research is done factory farm-style, with organized precision and efficiency, all paid for by drug companies. Welcome to new science.
Marc-André Gagnon, assistant professor at Carleton University, argues in a recent article that more than 80 per cent of new drugs entering the market are merely carbon copies of existing drugs -- commonly called "me-too" or "follow-on" drugs -- without any real therapeutic advance. Such criticisms, however, reveal a complete ignorance of the nature of the innovation process in the pharmaceutical industry.
Paying less for drugs sounds like a good idea, right? Well, as with everything else, one needs to look at the whole picture and see what he gets in return. With regards to bulk purchasing, although there might be some savings initially, it is clear that the long-term disadvantages of such a policy outweigh its short-term benefits.
We cannot deny the fact that the costs of prescription drugs have been increasing at a considerable rate over the last few decades. While total healthcare spending per capita has almost tripled during this period, per capita expenditures on prescription drugs have increased six-fold. But should this trend be a source of concern?
It's easier, more effective, and cheaper to let healthy bodies fight off disease and infections than to weaken those defence mechanisms and then compensate for them medically. If we want a stable health system, we must put more resources into reducing pollution and environmental degradation and creating a way of life that keeps bodies and minds happy and in good health.