Canada to alter patent laws to make, export anti-HIV drugs
Canadian government officials and representatives from the country's pharmaceutical companies have announced their backing of a plan to alter the country's drug patent laws to allow the firms to make and export generic versions of patented anti-HIV medications, The Wall Street Journal reports. Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, a lobby group for Canadian drug companies, said it will work with the country's lawmakers to draft legislation permitting the manufacture and overseas sales of the generic medications. The legislation is expected to contain a list of specific anti-HIV medications that can be legally produced in generic form by drugmakers, including a list of countries to which the generic medications can be legally exported. Officials with Canada's ruling Liberal Party say they plan to fast-track the legislation once it is drafted. But Andre Lemay of the Canadian department of foreign affairs and international trade said that the government wants to be cautious in order to avoid legal challenges. "You want to make sure that what you have is something you can live with and that it won't come back to haunt you three or four or five years down the road," he said.
Some pharmaceutical companies have expressed concern over the Canadian plan, saying the generic medications could be illegally exported to the United States and other Western countries. They're also concerned that their patents on anti-HIV drugs will be challenged in developed countries if Canada amends its drug patent laws. Harvey Bale, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, last week said the Canadian plan would erode global patent protections and "won't solve a thing," The [Toronto] Globe and Mail reports.
But AIDS activists welcomed the decision by Canadian officials. United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis said he hopes Canada's actions will spur other Western governments to change their patent laws to allow generic drug production. A group of 26 U.S., African, and European HIV/AIDS advocacy groups on Wednesday released a joint statement in support of the Canadian plan, calling on other governments to "follow the example of Canada and immediately adapt their relevant national laws" to help in the fight against AIDS in the developing world.