Canadian pharma industry calls for early action on US import plan

by Leo Almazora07 Aug 2019

Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) is asking the government to respond immediately to US plans to import drugs from the country, warning that “reliance on reactive measures after shortages occur may pose a risk to Canadian patients.”

As reported by Reuters, the industry group prepared its talking points for staff and member companies last month, before the Trump administration announced it would allow pilot programs by US states and other entities to import cheap drugs from Canada as a means to contain drug costs.

In one early draft of its talking points prepared in May, IMC called for Canada to prohibit bulk exports of drugs by wholesalers in Canada, adding that “there should be strict and significant penalties” for such activities particularly where they are “prohibited by law.”

In a more recent statement, IMC said that an export ban “is not part of our current positioning shared with our members,” though it said the government “has tools that could be used to prevent shortages.”

IMC’s membership, Reuters noted, includes major drug companies based in the United States and abroad whose profits could be hit by large-scale shipments of cheap medication from Canada.

“Our government’s priority is ensuring that all Canadians can get and afford the medications they need,” Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for the Canadian health minister, said in a statement. “All statements and decisions surrounding Canada’s drug supply are made based in the best interest of Canadians, and we are examining all options to ensure it remains secure.”

Citing position papers prepared by IMC, Reuters said the industry group is concerned that drug manufacturers may be unable to enforce contract terms preventing Canadian buyers from re-exporting drugs.

“Although purchasing agreements with suppliers may contain clauses that would prevent bulk export to the US, many Canadian pharmaceutical companies are subsidiaries of US corporations and may become obliged to do so through US legislation,” the group said in July.

But even if the US administration’s plan comes to pass, consultations required to pass new regulations could mean that actual shipments won’t reach the country for a year or more.

As a “first step,” the IMC suggested that the Canadian government publicly declare its intention to protect drugs meant for Canadian patients in case of any shortages. According to Reuters, Prime Minister Trudeau made a statement along those lines at an event held Thursday in the Arctic city of Iqaluit.

“We recognize the new situation brought on by American announcements, and Health Canada will continue to ensure that our priority is always ensuring that Canadians have access to the medication they need at affordable prices,” he said.