Author Archives: Kevin Charles

Contributor Bio: Stephanie Gatto

Stephanie is an access to medicines junkie armed with research tools and a penchant for social justice. She has a background in global public health and is a researcher in Vancouver BC.

James Cowan: Not all senators against bill C-393

Liberal Senator James Cowan and Leader of the Opposition shares his opinion on the state of Bill C-393 this weekend at the Toronto Star:

I am writing to correct a point made in this otherwise excellent article. Craig and Marc Kielburger made a strong case that Bill C-393 could have gone a long way to save potentially millions of lives. They went on to say that “Canada’s unelected Senate” stalled the bill that had passed in the House of Commons.

Canadians should know that it was not the whole of the Senate, but rather the Conservative majority that insisted on delaying action on the bill until the government fell on the no-confidence motion in the House of Commons. In fact, it was a Liberal senator, Yoine Goldstein, who introduced the first bill in Parliament in March 2009 to fix the problem with Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime, and help make it possible for people in developing countries to access affordable life-saving medicines. That bill unfortunately died on the order paper when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. Bill C-393, the NDP bill referred to by the Kielburgers, was virtually identical to Goldstein’s bill.

My Liberal colleagues and I — joined by both a Conservative and a Progressive Conservative senator — spoke strongly about the importance of this bill, and urged that it be considered promptly and passed into law before the expected election. To our disappointment, with their new majority in the Senate, the Conservatives were able to repeatedly adjourn debate on the bill, and effectively stalled it until the government fell.

The issue has not gone away. The need for affordable drugs in developing countries is as great as ever.My colleagues and I are already discussing the best way to move forward with this important initiative.

James S. Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Roche Wins as High Court Limits University Patent Rights

The United States Supreme Court recently announced their decision on a landmark case revolving around university patent rights on life-saving medical technologies. The technology in question, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR), is a highly effective tool in diagnosing infectious diseases and detecting new and emerging threats.

Originally developed by Stanford scientist Mark Holodniy, advancements in real-time PCR were claimed to be owned by the university, under the conditions of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act that outlines universities’ legal rights for research funded by the federal government. Holodniy later signed agreements that transferred ownership of his PCR work to Cetus Corp, now owned by Roche Pharmaceuticals. Stanford argued that the Bayh-Dole Act superseded any agreement made afterwards by Holodniy and Cetus.

However, in the ruling led by Chief Justice John Roberts, it’s said that the 1980 law doesn’t displace the historical principle that inventors are allowed to have first claim on their work. This decision will certainly affect future cases of patent ownership and potentially all technologies that were jointly developed through federal funding, university research and industry collaboration.

The patent for real-time PCR will be held by Roche until 2021.

For more coverage on this case, the full article by Bloomberg News is available here.

A press release by Roche on the court’s ruling can be read here.

CIHR Reverses Drug Trial Policy

Canada’s national funding agency for health sciences, CIHR, made a controversial move to cancel a policy that required full public disclosure on results from drug trials. Without full disclosure of study results, the public may not be privy to important early details about drugs that may be ineffective or worse, significantly toxic. Transparency, a necessity for gathering evidence and truth in making healthcare related decisions, is believed to have been further undermined by the lobbying efforts of Canada’s pharmaceutical corporations. CIHR has increasingly drawn fire for its closeness with industry, having appointed last year an executive from Pfizer to their national board. Quoting Sir Iain Chalmers, co-founder of the U.K.’s respected Cochrane Collaboration research body: “It seems to me that CIHR has decided that it’s going to put my interests and the interests of other patients behind those of industry…. I think that’s tragic.”

The full article by the National Post is available here.

UNICEF Begins to List Prices Paid for Vaccines

UNICEF recently announced that it would list the prices paid for vaccines to pharmaceutical corporations and it’s now available online. The decision to withhold this information until recently came out of a concern to avoid confrontation with pharmaceutical organizations. This is not a surprising demand by the industry, considering that increased transparency on the true costs of treating illnesses has protected them from a level of scrutiny and competition that would undoubtedly lead to calls for lower prices.

For more details on UNICEF’s announcement, visit the New York Times article here.

Drugs and Profits: NYT Op-Ed on Avastin

Dr. Frederick C. Tucker recently wrote an opinion on the state of Avastin–a very expensive anti-cancer drug designed to suppress the growth of breast cancer tumors when used jointly with primary chemotherapy drugs such as Taxol. Avastin received accelerated approval by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but is now known for having significantly toxic side effects that outweigh quality of life, does not lengthen patient lives and whose approval is likely to be revoked.

Avastin itself is part of a new class of modern drugs generally referred to as biologics–medicines derived from an organic source. Akin in the way that vaccines are derived from pathogenic bacteria or viruses, many new biologic drugs are derived from recombinant DNA. The value of biologics has largely been contested and in cases like Avastin, where it costs an additional $90,000 to treat one cancer patient a year, we might ask why we are willing to spend so much on a drug that neither improves the quality of life nor extends it?

Now that Avastin’s effectiveness as an anti-cancer drug is questioned, Genentech, Avastin’s manufacturer, is frantically trying to find a way to hold its market share by commissioning more studies to demonstrate improved quality of life or prove it’s value for treating another unrelated illness–macular degeneration. As Dr. Tucker writes, drug companies are better off spending their money on discovering a genuinely innovative medicine instead of marketing a failed one.

Dr. Tucker’s full op-ed on the case of Avastin can be read here.

Drop a beat: Grannies rap about access to medicines

Canadian grannies and their families rap to K’naan’s Wavin Flag to demand that Canada make good on its promise to provide affordable medicines to countries in need. A child dies every 6 seconds in developing countries because of a lack of affordable, lifesaving medicines. Some 17 million children in Africa have been orphaned because of HIV/AIDS. Most are being raised by their courageous, desperately poor grandmothers. You can help–take action at http://www.aidsaction.ca/ and contact your local politicians today!