More than a dose of collaboration: What Ottawa should do if it wants drugs and vaccines to be made in Canada and benefit patients

June 3, 2021

For many years, successive federal governments have created a policy environment harmful to innovation in the biopharmaceutical sector in this country. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on these shortcomings, revealing the dangerous lack of investment in pharmaceutical and vaccine research, development and manufacturing. The Liberal government now seems set on repairing this damage and “re-establishing” Canada as a leader in drug and vaccine production. For example, the 2021 federal budget included money to stimulate pharmaceutical manufacturing in Canada.

However, it is very much in question whether Canada was ever a leader in this field, despite some potential. And there is reason for skepticism that we ever will be without a major course correction in how new drugs are regulated in this country.

In recent decades, the brand-name pharmaceutical industry has made several attempts to develop a collaborative partnership, particularly with regard to damaging proposed changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board guidelines for drug pricing. But the doors and minds of the federal government were slammed so tight that multiple companies determined they had no realistic alternative but to go to court to fight.The results are mixed and appeal hearings are awaited. Quebec has joined the opposition, seeing the new rules as trespassing on provincial jurisdiction, by intervening in a constitutional appeal.

The new federal government regulations will drastically reduce the prices of medicines, in some cases possibly by 60 percent or more, which is unsustainable and will further deter developers from launching new medicines in Canada. Simply put, they will only increase the already numerous cost-containment barriers facing innovative biopharmaceutical companies, including the lack of globally competitive intellectual property protection for innovative medicines, and inhospitable government-controlled health technology assessment and price negotiation organizations.