Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to address Bill C-393, which seeks to make substantial operational changes to the legislative framework for Canada's access to medicines regime under the Patent Act and for the Food and Drugs Act.
While I and other hon. members of the House are committed to improving access to medicines in the developing world via Canada's access to medicines regime and other initiatives, I have some strong reservations about Bill C-393 and its proposed changes. However, let me begin with some background on Canada's access to medicines regime.
The stated purpose of the regime is to increase access to lower-cost, Canadian-made generic versions of patented pharmaceutical products needed to address public health problems in developing and least-developed countries.
The development of Canada's access to medicines regime was a landmark event, as there was no other international precedent at that particular time. Thus, in crafting the regime, the government focused on three important objectives: first, to increase access to patented drugs and medical devices in the developing world; second, to continue to respect Canada's international trade obligations; and third, to maintain the integrity of our domestic patent system for pharmaceuticals.
In 2004, the then Liberal government introduced legislation to establish this regime by amending the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. Shortly thereafter, Bill C-9 received royal assent with the unanimous support of all parties in both the House and the Senate.
I will now turn to discussing some of the problematic elements of Bill C-393 that propose to alter the scope of eligible drugs for export under the regime and the health and safety review of these pharmaceutical products.
First, I am concerned that Bill C-393 seeks to eliminate the list of pre-approved products for export in Canada's access to medicines regime. While some critics of the regime allege that the list makes Canada's access to medicines regime too rigid and inflexible, it does serve an important and practical purpose. Specifically, the list of pre-approved products for export minimizes the discretionary elements of the regime, and as a result, expedites the decision-making process. It also provides prospective users with the assurance that, assuming all other statutory requirements are met, an application for authorization under the regime will be issued by the Commissioner of Patents.
Second, I am concerned about the proposed changes to the drug review process in Bill C-393. If passed, these changes would significantly alter the level of domestic oversight regarding the safety, efficacy and quality of products exported under Canada's access to medicines regime. This is because Bill C-393 suggests, among other things, making the existing mandatory Health Canada review an option. Further, it suggests allowing the export of eligible products under Canada's access to medicines regime to be made on the basis of a review by a foreign regulatory authority.
Such an abeyance of Health Canada's review would not be permitted for drugs and medical devices destined for the Canadian domestic market. In addition, during the statutory review of the regime in 2007, developing countries and generic drug manufacturers expressed strong approval for the very drug review that Bill C-393 seeks to remove. These potential users of Canada's access to medicines regime went on the record as stating that Health Canada's review was a useful mechanism for ensuring that products sent to the developing world under the system are safe, efficacious and of high quality.
Some critics of Canada's access to medicines regime state that the Health Canada drug review is unnecessary and allege that it duplicates the World Health Organization's pre-qualification process for listing pharmaceutical products that are eventually purchased by international aid agencies in developing and least-developed countries without appropriate regulatory capacities.
However, I do not agree with them. Health Canada has a long-standing and excellent relationship with the World Health Organization in this regard, both in undertaking reviews for the international organization's pre-qualification program and in working with the World Health Organization on other initiatives to build regulatory health and safety capacity in the developing and least-developed countries.
Furthermore, since Health Canada's reviews are accepted by the World Health Organization for its alternate listings process, Canada's domestic drug reviews are not duplicative. The alternate listings process, which is an abbreviated process for listing drugs to the pre-qualified program, is available for drugs reviewed by Health Canada, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.
I would like to conclude by reiterating that while the government remains committed to Canada's access to medicines regime and a broader long-term approach to fighting public health issues in the developing world, we simply oppose Bill C-393 and its proposed changes to the regime.
In my opinion, several of these changes to the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act raise concerns about their potential impact on the effective operation of Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. Many of these changes also do not support the humanitarian objective of improving access to safe and efficacious medicines in the developing world.
Finally, there is little evidence that the proposed amendments in Bill C-393 will make a meaningful difference in the volume and frequency of export under Canada's access to medicines regime. To date, Canada's compulsory licensing for export regime is the only one of its kind worldwide to have successfully authorized an exported drug to a country in need. This demonstrates that Canada's Access to Medicines Regime can and does, currently work.
For those reasons, I urge all hon. members in the House not to support Bill C-393 not because the intention is not good, but the bill is simply flawed.