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Canadian House Of Commons Passes Bill That Could Ease Access To Generic Drugs In Developing Countries

Canadian lawmakers in the country’s House of Commons on Wednesday “approved a bill aiming to ease the process that lets generic drug manufacturers produce patented medicines for export to poor nations at cheaper prices in a move the pharmaceutical industry says could undermine intellectual property rights,” Bloomberg reports (Argitis, 3/10).

The proposed legislation, C-393, amends “Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime, which, despite being on the books for more than half a decade, has been used by only one company to send one HIV/ AIDS shipment to another country,” according to PostMediaNews/Montreal Gazette (Minsky, 3/10).

“Health, humanitarian and other advocacy groups say the access regime is too complicated and is preventing life-saving HIV medicines and other drugs from getting to poor countries,” CBC News reports. “They argue that organizations and generic drug manufacturers have given up on trying to work within the system” (Fitzpatrick, 3/9).

Under current law, “a generic pharmaceutical company [must] apply for a permit to produce a patented medicine only after it has received an order,” PostMediaNews/Montreal Gazette continues. The proposed amendment instead offers a “‘one license agreement,’ which allows a generic pharmaceutical company to produce and distribute as much of a given drug as it pleases without having to re-apply and sift through piles of red tape each time a developing country expresses interest,” according to the newspaper. The bill will now move to the Senate (Minsky, 3/10).

“The measure is ‘a significant step to save lives’ from treatable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS,” Canadian Democrat lawmaker Paul Dewar said in a statement on Wednesday. He called upon the Senate to pass the bill, according to Bloomberg (3/10).

Still, some argue the legislation “violates intellectual property rights and will dampen the enthusiasm of brand-name pharmaceutical companies to invest in medical research, the Globe and Mail reports (Galloway, 3/9). “Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, the association that represents the industry in Canada … says the [bill] risks fueling black-market sales, encouraging production of counterfeit products and removes ‘safeguards’ on intellectual property,” Bloomberg writes (3/10).

Stephen Lewis, the former U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said C-393 could have a significant impact on improving women and child health in developing countries – a focal point of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who led the 2010 G8, Globe and Mail writes. “I can’t imagine anything … that synchronizes more directly, that integrates more directly into his involvement in maternal and child care than would this legislation,” Lewis said (3/9).