Monday, November 04, 2013

On false promises

Last week, I linked to this story on the cost of prescription drugs under CETA. But let's follow up on another aspect of the giveaway to big pharma which might sound fairly familiar:
Russell Williams of R&D Canada, which represents the brand-name drug industry, questioned whether it was possible to estimate cost increases because it is impossible to predict what new drugs will hit the market a decade from now.

“Nobody knows what the prices will be. Nobody can predict a 2023 scenario with any credibility,” he said.

He also disputed that the changes will have no impact of investment by the industry, saying spending on research and development shot through the roof after 1987, the last time Ottawa made significant changed (sic) to patent protection.
Now, I'll leave it to others to assess whether it's accurate to say that there haven't been any significant changes to patent protection in the past 25 years (other than the Cons making clear that they'd be happy to stick Canadians with higher drug prices under CETA itself). But it's easy enough to assess Williams' spin against another major giveaway:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government quietly unveiled controversial new regulations Wednesday that will extend market protection for some drugs produced by brand name firms in a move critics predict will lead to higher costs for consumers and provinces already facing skyrocketing medicare bills.

The new rules, which took effect earlier this month, increase exclusive selling rights for all brand name drugs to eight years from five, with an additional six months of protection granted to drugs involved in pediatric studies.

The change will affect 25 per cent of manufactured drugs those that are not protected by the usual 20-year patents that exist on the majority of pharmaceuticals.
If the changes had been in effect over the last five years, it would have meant an additional $600 million in drug costs and blocked companies from producing generic versions of about 20 drugs, including Zoloft, Pravachol, Wellbutrin and Celexa, he said.
 So did big pharma tell the Cons not to expect any return on that freebie? Let's go to the tape...
However, the association representing Canada's research-based pharmaceutical companies said the regulatory changes will serve to put Canada in line with other countries and will be an incentive for companies to produce new and innovative drugs here.

"I think this is an important step in bringing in new medicines, innovative new medicines for patients and it will help Canada become much more competitive on the global scene," said Russell Williams, the president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies.
At best, one can try to parse Williams' words by saying that "important" might be less than "significant", or that he had some definitive of "competitive" in mind other than the R & D spending which hasn't materialized in the meantime.

But the more plausible reading is this: big pharma happily accepted free money and claimed the result would be greater investment in research, development and production. It then pocketed that free money without contributing anything in return (other than an avoidable drug shortage which boosted its own profits even further). And now, it's editing that generosity out of the historical record - while claiming we have to increase the giveaway tenfold in order to see the benefits it promised last time.

Which is to say that we shouldn't expect for a second that the latest handover to big pharma will result in anything for the public. And the fact the Cons haven't learned any lesson should serve as reason to question their competence in agreeing to CETA in the first place.

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