(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

As world waits for COVID-19 therapy, U.S. warily eyes Canada’s drug-price plans

Finding treatments for COVID-19 might take less time than finding a vaccine to prevent it

The United States is keeping Canada and its plans to overhaul its drug-pricing system on a “watch list” of countries deemed a peril to American intellectual property rights — just as a world racked by COVID-19 takes an interest access to in a California company’s experimental new drug treatment.

In its annual report on foreign threats to U.S. copyright holders, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative is raising concerns about Canada’s plan to change how it calculates the fair price of prescription drugs, though stopping short of Big Pharma’s demand that it be deemed a ”priority” trouble spot.

Canada’s plan has drawn “significant concern from stakeholders” because it would “dramatically reshape” how the arm’s-length Patented Medicine Prices Review Board evaluates drugs, says the report. The board plans to stop using the U.S. and Switzerland, home to the world’s highest drug prices, to help it determine what Canadian patients should pay.

“If implemented, the changes may significantly undermine the marketplace for innovative pharmaceutical products, delay or prevent the introduction of new medicines in Canada and reduce investments in Canada’s life sciences sector,” the U.S. report says.

The report acknowledges that Canada has agreed to intellectual-property reforms in the forthcoming U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which the USTR announced last week would become the law of the land on July 1.

That agreement may be Canada’s best defence against the escalating dangers of pandemic-fuelled protectionism in the United States, experts say — especially as the challenge of procuring weapons against COVID-19 moves from face masks to therapeutic drugs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for instance, has pointed out that finding treatments for COVID-19 might take less time than finding a vaccine to prevent it.

The existence of the USMCA, along with Canada’s recently proven track record in negotiating with its stateside neighbours, could bode well for “Buy American” becoming “Buy North American,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

“It would not at all be unusual to have some regional exception or inclusion with respect to domestic preferences,” Paul told a panel discussion hosted earlier this week by the Washington International Trade Association.

“The fact that we do have a USMCA entering into force soon … provides a pretty good framework for that.”

That’s likely to be even more important in the coming months as cross-border procurement concerns start to focus on issues like drug therapies and vaccine supplies. Already, remdesivir — an experimental drug made by California-based Gilead Sciences — is causing a buzz after a recent clinical trial suggested it could prove effective in mitigating the symptoms of COVID-19.

The antiviral drug has been on the World Health Organization’s list of promising treatments getting special attention since March.

Just days after U.S. infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed cautious optimism about the drug from the Oval Office, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the emergency use of remdesivir on patients infected with the novel coronavirus, buoyed by evidence that it shortens recovery times.

If it pans out, global demand will be enormous and countries with strong trade relationships with the United States may benefit.

Not everyone is happy to see the USMCA, known variously in government circles as CUSMA, ACEUM in Quebec and ”the new NAFTA” elsewhere in Canada, taking effect sooner than anticipated.

Conservative Sen. Don Plett, the Opposition leader in the upper chamber, doubled down Friday on his charge that the Liberal government had promised both Canada’s dairy processors and Conservative senators that the agreement would not kick in until Aug. 1.

And in an interview with The Canadian Press, Plett said he believes the government amended its schedule to help expedite the delivery of U.S.-made N95 face masks — the subject of an export ban imposed last month by President Donald Trump — and to beat back the idea of stationing American soldiers near the Canadian border.

”We were told directly that Trump had threatened to withhold N95 masks,” he said.

“The second argument, troops at the border … he wasn’t going there to declare an act of war, he was going to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border. And so to sell out our dairy industry, in order to make their negotiations with Trump easier, I don’t accept.”

The government has denied that it swapped an earlier implementation date for an exemption to the Trump administration’s export ban on protective medical gear or an end to the short-lived idea of sending U.S. troops to the border.

The July 1 date is expected to cost the processing industry an additional $100 million because the dairy sector’s “quota year” for a number of key products begins in August, and many of the terms of the agreement are tied directly to the production calendar.

“Your government threw Canada’s dairy farmers under the bus,” Plett fumed at Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate.

The government has denied that it ever promised an Aug. 1 come-into-effect date. Gold did not; instead, he refused to discuss “private discussions” with other leaders.

But he did made it clear that Canada’s fraught relationship with the unpredictable Trump administration was top of mind when the COVID-19 crisis began to intensify in mid-March, when the government fast-tracked the USMCA implementation bill through both the House of Commons and the Senate and began negotiating a mutual ban on non-essential cross-border travel.

“In the context of this new reality, I don’t have to remind senators that maintaining a good close collaborative and stable relationship with the United States, our most important trading partner and our neighbour, has become even more important than it already was,” Gold said.

“Ensuring that the deal passed when it did, and that protectionism didn’t take greater hold on this continent, if not beyond, was a major accomplishment of this government for which I believe Canadians, including the dairy sector, should be grateful.”

Gold did promise that the dairy sector would be compensated for the impact of the deal, although he provided no specifics.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusPrescription drug importsUnited States

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An app available through the Vancouver Island Regional Library’s website can help students during COVID times. (Stock photo)
New library app can help families with online learning

Sample tests, virtual flashcards available through Vancouver Island Regional Library’s website

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale as owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

The current boat used by Rugged Coast Research Society for remote shoreline cleanup operations will be replaced by a landing craft that will allow society members to haul four times as much marine garbage per trip from Vancouver Island’s remote shorelines. (Agathe Bernard photo/Rugged Coast Research Society)
Nanaimo-based research group needs bigger boat for coastal cleanups

Rugged Coast Research Society raising cash for landing craft to pull trash from remote shorelines

Pet owners are leaving more dog waste than ever before on Nanaimo’s paths and trails, says letter writer. (Stock photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dog owners need to pick up after their pets

Letter writer says he’s ‘disgusted’ by dog walkers not picking up their dog waste

The Nanaimo African Heritage Society is capping its month of Black History Month celebrations with a virtual gala on Sunday, Feb. 28. (News Bulletin photo)
Nanaimo African Heritage Society presents virtual Black History Month gala

Event to feature a variety of speakers and performers

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is among the artists participating in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibit. His piece, ‘We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart,’ depicts a Snuneymuxw creation story. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores the ways people think about place

‘Rain Shadow’ features work mostly by Vancouver Island and Gulf Island artists

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)

Most Read