The campaign to legalise the importation of cheap prescription drugs into the USA has received backing from an unlikely source.

Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee in Washington, Peter Rost, Pfizer’s vice-president of marketing for endocrine care, said: “The Industry is making a historic mistake in opposing importation,” according to the Canadian Press. However, his view is not generally shared by Pfizer itself or many of the other major drugmakers. Indeed not that long ago, Mr Rost’s employers said that “unauthorised exporting and importing side-steps quality and safety standards, and opens up the door to counterfeit goods,” and clamped down on the importation of cheaper medicines from Canada [[11/08/03b]].

Mr Rost’s comment were perhaps not all that surprising as he had made similar statements before about the need to help people who can’t afford drugs through establishing a closed market [[13/09/04c]].

Also at the hearing, Canadian Press notes that Minnesota’s governor Tim Pawlenty spoke in defence of his state’s programme that helps residents purchase Canadian drugs, which has provoked the threat of legal action from the US Food and Drug Administration, and Edward Kennedy, the sponsor of the import bill, also praised the Minnesota system.

However, US Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, was less enthusiastic, saying that any system that legalises drug imports must be limited to regulated pharmacies to make sure that counterfeit medicines do not get into the US. Proper processes need to be put in place “to assure every citizen is sure to have a safe medicine when they get it,” he added. In reply, Sen Kennedy said that the proposed legislation has safeguards as “we all agree an unregulated, black-market system has dangers.”

This bill is a revised version of legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year, but did not get through the Senate as Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, refused to allow a vote.