Drugs may be marketed for years without price controls: York prof
TORONTO, July 28, 2010 − Canada needs a new system for controlling drug prices that does not depend on whether or not a drug has received a patent, according to an article by York University professor Joel Lexchin.
Drug prices in Canada can be unregulated for years, a period during which companies may overprice the drugs and market them, says Lexchin, a professor in the School of Health Policy & Management in York’s Faculty of Health.
His commentary, “Marketing before patenting: implications for price controls in Canada,” appears in the journal Open Medicine. It is based on new research which examined how many drugs in Canada are marketed before they are patented, whose prices are therefore not controlled by the federal Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. He also looked at the time period between marketing and patenting, and any excess revenue generated before those drug prices were regulated.
In total, 42 drugs were marketed between 2000 and 2008 before being patented, and complete data was available for 33 of those.
“Some of these drugs were potentially being marketed for weeks before they came under the jurisdiction of the review board and had their prices controlled, but some of them may have been marketed for years,” says Lexchin. “Only 3 of the 33 drugs were found to be overpriced, but the fact that one of the 33 drugs may have been marketed without price controls for more than seven years is troublesome.”
When drugs are finally patented, their prices are reviewed, and if a drug is deemed to be overpriced, the review board can order a company to repay any excess revenue to the federal government. The problem is that if companies overprice their drugs, the drugs may not be added to provincial formularies such as the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary. In Ontario, the government covers most drugs listed on the formulary for people who are eligible, so if a drug is not on the list, the cost will not be covered.
In addition, although excess revenue from the drugs is eventually recovered, it is paid to the federal government, not the provincial governments which fund drugs through their drug benefit schemes, or to private insurers or people who are paying the cost out-of-pocket, says Lexchin.
The best remedy for various problems caused by using patent status to regulate prices is simply to treat all drugs on the market equally and regulate all prices, he concludes.
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Janice Walls, Media Relations, York University, 416 736 2100 x22101/ email@example.com