Last week the federal government signalled that, to reach a new trade agreement with Europe, it might extend pharmaceutical patents. The move could cost Canadians up to $2 billion per year. Supporters argue that it will attract research investment and generate jobs.
But longer drug patents will not attract new research to Canada.
Pharmaceutical firms locate research investments on the basis of the quality of local scientists and the cost of running clinical trials. If we want industry to invest in Canada, we need to invest in our capacity to conduct research. One way would be to double the budgets of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research -- which would cost less than extending pharmaceutical patents.
But if Canada must change drug patents to win a trade deal, let's at least fix our broken intellectual property system while we are at it. The patents that apply to other technologies fail the pharmaceutical sector. They fail for a number reasons.
First, most patented medicines must be studied in clinical trials to establish that they are safe and effective enough to be sold to Canadians. This can take years after firms file their initial patents, which reduces the time they can charge monopoly prices (the 'carrot' that patents create to give firms incentive to develop new drugs).
The proposal to give firms a guaranteed period of market exclusivity (i.e., a guaranteed length of monopoly sales) after regulatory approval would not only benefit firms, it would also allow regulators to demand better pre-market drug trials and to take more time to evaluate trial data.
The current rush to approve medicines while manufacturers' "patent clocks" are ticking means that some medicines make it to market that later must be recalled because of harms they cause to patients -- harms that could be detected with more thorough pre-market evaluation.
The second failing of the patent system for pharmaceuticals is that, although disclosure of scientific information is a key benefit of the patent system, the information of greatest value to society is not publicly disclosed when a patent is filed. This is because data about the safety and effectiveness of most medicines is gathered after patents are granted.
Few Canadians realize that pharmaceutical companies can and do keep regulatory data about safety and effectiveness secret. This secrecy should end. And it can be ended by making full public disclosure of regulatory data a condition of extended pharmaceutical patents.
Finally, the patent system fails in the pharmaceutical sector because nobody appears to know when generic competitors can enter the market. This is because pharmaceutical companies often file multiple, overlapping patents on the same drug and use these often-bogus patent claims to block regulatory approval of generics. This generates a lot of income for patent lawyers and consultants but provides no value to society as a whole.
If the International Trade Minister wants to extend drug patents, the Health Minister should use the opportunity to improve our regulatory system too: Provide a clear and unambiguous period of market exclusivity after a drug has met high standards of pre-market regulatory approval; Require that all data considered by that regulatory process be made available to the public; And allow all generic competition as soon as the period of market exclusivity has expired.
Such a system would be a windfall for truly innovative pharmaceutical companies, would dramatically improve regulatory transparency, and would likely mitigate the aggregate cost-impact of conceding pharmaceutical patents as part of our trade negotiations.
But simply granting longer drug patents under the guise of attracting research investment is patent nonsense.
Our system is not perfect, but US is 10 times worst then ours... (for the not wealthy) They can do what they want, but if they want to remortgage their house because they have cancer and need treatments, it's their choice. In Canada, you don't have to! You might wait a little and that's frustrating, but if your case is serious you will go in front of the line. simple. Proud to be Canadian and not American ! I broke bones skiing, biking in Canada, except for the ambulance, it was completely free. I don't want to imagine how much it is in the US. - <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503306&offset=50&total_comments=73" target="_hplink"> Guillame Martin-Dore</a>
I had a life threatening brain tumor. The docs here would have sent me to Johns Hopkins if they couldn't do the surgery safely here. OHIP would have paid my fees and travel costs. My surgery was cancelled once because there was a multi-vehicle pile up and other people needed the spots more than I did. Otherwise, care was excellent and timely! <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503342&offset=0&total_comments=73" target="_hplink">- Laura Cooper Lyons</a>
My husband and I just spent 3 months living in Ottawa because our 13 year old son was diagnosed with Cancer in April and he was so very well taken care of! Everyone was amazing and we didn't wait for anything! Even before he was diagnosed and we didn't know what was wrong, the wait times for testing to figure out what the heck was going on was good, and we live in Northern Ontario! We still own our home and are not in debt to pay for treatment! Because we live in beautiful Canada :) My son is alive because we live where we do and we are forever grateful! - <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503362&offset=0&total_comments=73" target="_hplink">Jennifer Guerard</a>
They should know that everyone here gets health care. That no one is declaring bankruptcy or losing their home because of medical debts. No one is going without insurance because of pre-existing medical conditions or because they can't afford it. That it may not be fancy, but we get what we need and our government spends less per capita than theirs does. I won't say that it's a perfect system, but I'm terribly grateful that it's there for me and my family. - <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503367&offset=0&total_comments=73" target="_hplink">Amanda Young Brinda</a>
They need to know that I have my life back due to a new hip and knee....went from being crippled to leaving city life and buying a farm, working with my 6 horses, playing with 4 boisterous dogs. If I lived in the States, as a contract worker so no insurance plan, I would be immobile and probably suicidal, unable to afford what my Canadian Medicare has provided for me. What I received is truly priceless. - <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503414&offset=0&total_comments=73" target="_hplink">Val Tannage </a>
They need to know you can go to sleep every night and if illness strikes they can access health care without fear of losing their home, their life savings or incurring huge debt. They should know that they are being cared for by a system that has a far lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy. They Should know that their coverage won't be cancelled because of previous illness. - <a href="https://www.facebook.com/HuffPostCanada/posts/358991540845074?comment_id=2503605&offset=0&total_comments=73" target="_hplink">Martin Palmer</a>
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