Critics hope new cabinet will step in on drug-price overhaul

Incoming changes meant to lower excessive costs of pharmaceuticals provokes resistants from manufacturers and patient groups

Critics hope new cabinet will step in on drug-price overhaul

The arrival of a new federal cabinet represents hope for detractors calling for a temporarily halt on incoming regulations that would overhaul the way drug prices in Canada are set.

As reported by the Canadian Press, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) is set to implement a change in how it caps prices of medicines in Canada this January.

The shift is meant to address the prohibitively high costs of certain drugs, and in turn improve accessibility and affordability for Canadians who need them. But patient groups and drug manufacturers, along with pharmacists, doctors, academics, and some provinces are pushing back on the new rules.

One point of resistance is the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assigned a new minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, to take charge of Health Canada, which oversees the initiative, just last week.

“I think it's premature and even irresponsible for anybody to be making any decisions until the new senior policy-makers for government are in place and have a chance to settle in and be briefed and to hear from stakeholders,” said John Adams, the volunteer board chair of the Best Medicines Coalition, which represents 29 patient groups who want access to safe, effective medicines.

Health Canada expects that the changes, first announced in 2019, will result in billions of dollars saved for Canadians from lower patented drug costs over the next 10 years. But according to critics like Adams, a steep drop in the sticker price for medicines will dissuade drug firms from launching new products in the country, thus locking Canadian patients out of potentially life-saving new therapies.

Health Canada downplayed that risk, saying there’s no evidence of a link between lower drug prices and reduced access to medicines.

“With these changes, Canada will continue to be an important market for new medicines. New medicines are launched in major markets in very similar time frames, including in countries with prices below those in Canada,” a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement to the Canadian Press.

Beyond the introduction of new medicines into the Canadian market, some critics argue price caps would smother innovation in the biomedical industry.

“We strongly recommend waiting until new ministers and other political appointments have been made, mandate letters have been issued, and decision-makers have been briefed on this issue before moving forward,” a coalition of eight Canadian life-sciences organizations wrote in a letter to government ministers earlier this month.

The organizations also argued that a federal biomanufacturing and life sciences strategy announced last summer, which aims to enable innovation through “world class regulation,” should take precedent over what they view as a stifling effect represented by the upcoming PMPRB rule change.

The new regulations were originally supposed to be put in force in July 2020, but were delayed three times in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on industry players’ ability to comply with associated reporting obligations.