In Canada, the provincial government of Quebec has announced that the price freeze on prescription drugs, which it imposed in 1994, is to be lifted on April 18.

In future, medicine prices will increase at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index, said the province’s health minister, Philippe Couillard, who added that the move would protect around 18,000 pharmaceutical industry jobs in Quebec.

Mr Couillard also announced that, starting in July, the province will provide prescription drugs free to around 250,000 welfare recipients and 29,000 seniors on low incomes. In addition, the prices of generic drugs are to be capped, to ensure that they remain affordable, he said.

The purpose of the new plan, which was pledged in the 2003 provincial elections by Mr Couillard’s Liberal Party, is to “balance economic development with social justice,” said the Minister. It will incur some costs but also savings, he told a press conference in Quebec City, adding that “next July you will not have a single penny of impact of that policy, because these adjustments are only done in respect to the previous year. So the first impact will happen in July 2008.”

The new policy has been welcomed by Philip Blake, chairman of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D). The development “not only recognises the role new medicines play in the province’s health-care system, but acknowledges the important contribution a dynamic pharmaceutical industry makes to the people of Quebec,” said Mr Blake.

Jerome Silvestre, chairman of Rx&D’s Quebec Committee and president of Sanofi-Aventis Canada, also applauded the lifting of the price freeze. “Over the past 12 years, the research-based pharmaceutical community has been restricted by a measure that prevented it from increasing prices to cover inflation notwithstanding the fact that, since 1994, the CPI has increased 22%. By addressing this issue under its new policy, the province sends a positive signal to our community that will encourage further the R&D of new therapies for patients,“ he said.

At present, the research-based industry in Quebec generates over 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province and contributes more than C$2 billion to its economy, said Mr Silvestre. Lynne Taylor