Regulator to restart consultations on long-delayed drug-price reform guidelines

OTTAWA — The federal agency that regulates the price of patented medicines plans to relaunch consultations on the finer points of long-delayed drug-price reform, the agency announced Wednesday.

Last year, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board stalled the implementation of new guidelines that would govern changes intended to lower the cost of patented drugs in Canada.

The delay was intended to give more time for industry groups to weigh in, which caused a major rift at the agency and culminated in the resignation of several board members and the executive director.

Without any implementing guidelines in place, the reforms themselves were put on hold indefinitely.

The agency said on Wednesday that it plans to hold a roundtable in December, but it has not yet announced when new guidelines are expected to come into effect.

"The intent of this phase is to foster a productive conversation, where all parties can voice their opinions and concerns," it said in a press release.

A slate of drug-price reforms had been in the works since 2016, but many of them were subject to court challenges and other delays.

The only measure to survive those challenges would see the board compare Canadian drug prices to those in a wider range of countries.

After multiple delays during the pandemic, that reform was put into place in July 2022. But it can't be fully implemented or enforced until accompanying guidelines are in place.

The reforms have long been fought by the pharmaceutical industry, along with some patient groups that fear that lowering the cost of drugs will dissuade companies from selling innovative new medicines to Canada.

Canada has the third-highest drug prices in the world, behind only the United States and Switzerland.

NDP health critic Don Davies has called out the agency and the government's role in delaying the implementation of the reforms over the last several years.

"Canadians need lower prescription drug prices now," Davies said in a statement Wednesday. "We continue to call on the PMPRB to fulfil its mandate to protect the public's interest. It's overdue."

Meanwhile, the agency announced Wednesday it has filled all the board member positions that were left vacant after last year's discord.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press