As Mississauga’s drug research companies prepare for possible new patent rules under the Canada-EU free trade deal, an industry group says improved intellectual property protection would be a shot in the arm for the city’s pivotal life sciences sector.
Russell Williams, head of the research-based pharmaceutical companies, said the significant presence of the innovative pharma companies in Mississauga means the local community would benefit from the patent changes being proposed in the free trade talks.
“This would be great for Mississauga,” Williams told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “Mississauga has built a cornerstone of a life-science cluster, and a great life science community.”
Williams’s group, Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, represents drug giants such as Roche Canada, GlasxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and others in Mississauga and other parts of Canada which carry out research and develop new drugs.
In free trade talks with the EU, the Canadian government is considering giving the Europeans a longer patent protection period — from eight years to 10 — in exchange for other concessions important to Canada — mainly in agriculture.
The proposed new patent rules have divided the drug industry. Drug developers who stand to benefit back the changes, but generic drug producers in Mississauga and other parts of Canada oppose the move because it would delay their ability to reproduce brand-name drugs and sell cheaper versions after patents expire.
While Mississauga has both kinds of companies in its Pill Hill drug cluster — which employs more than 25,000 people — Mayor Hazel McCallion backs stiffer patent rules because she believes it would lead to new investment and more jobs in the local pharma sector.
McCallion wrote an op-ed column saying stronger patent protection would generate more spending into drug research by companies, many of them the big multinationals who would have two more years to recoup their investments by exclusive sales rights to their drugs.
“We fought for patents years ago here in Mississauga and were able to work with the pharmaceutical industry to protect their patents,” she said.
Rx&D’s president Williams said there are three key issues in the trade talks: getting the right of appeal for research companies, data protection extended to 10 years from eight and patent term restoration.
Currently, the right to appeal exists only for generic companies. Data protection would not extend patents, but protects information disclosed during a licence application in Canada. It was established in 2006. Patent term restoration would add time onto a patent if governments decided. Similar legislation already exists in the United States.
Williams said the earliest time all three issues could come into effect would be 2022.
However, he also said they would all greatly help increase the likelihood of foreign investment and allow Canada to show off its scientists, infrastructure and partnerships.
As for speculation that patent changes would make drugs more expensive and add billions of dollars to the cost of provincial drug plans, Williams was emphatic that critics are misinformed.
“Nothing will change until 2022,” he said. “So those that are saying there will be increased costs don’t understand the reality. This is all prospective and they’re using antiquated, retrospective analysis that doesn’t serve them very well to set public policy.”
Williams said the argument that extending intellectual property to ten years would drive up costs doesn’t make sense because Europe already has that rule in place. “And their costs haven’t been driven up.”
Mississauga stands to benefit from these changes because when the cluster was first being set up, the municipal government was supportive. There was a great established infrastructure and relationships with institutions like the University of Toronto.
“There was a basis for a life-science community to develop,” he said.
Williams said Canada currently gets $1.3 billion on research, but increasing its competitive standing could significantly help it get more of the more than $110 billion being spent globally. “I’m totally convinced if Canada becomes competitive,” he said. “We’ve got great science, great infrastructure, the history, we’re well respected – if we’ve got the right IP, we could show the rest of the world just how well we could lead life-science research.”
“There are huge opportunities to build in Mississauga.”