Sandoz and parent company Novartis have said they will not charge higher prices for drugs sourced from overseas companies owned by the group to cover the current shortages in Canada.

"Sandoz and Novartis do not view the current supply situation in Canada as an opportunity to increase our profits," say the companies in a statement. "Our objective is to ensure that patients have access to the critical, high-quality medicines they need, and we will honour our pricing for existing hospital contracts, including supply we secure to service these agreements," they add.

Federal drug regulator Health Canada is currently reviewing applications from manufacturers to cover Canada's current drug shortages. These have largely been created by problems at the Boucherville, Quebec plant owned by Sandoz, which produces around 90% of the injectable generic drugs used in Canada.  According to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, overseas plants owned by Sandoz account for the majority of applications made to the agency, and the newspaper also reported experts as warning that newly-approved suppliers would be likely to charge higher prices. Low profit margins is one reason why the generics currently in short supply are produced by so few companies, the Citizen points out.

Sandoz says it is continuing the efforts it began in late 2011 to maintain reliable supplies of essential drugs, following the temporary slow-down at Boucherville.

"As part of these efforts, we have identified alternative supply from other reliable third-party suppliers. We recently filed submissions with Health Canada for 15 product families for medically-necessary products manufactured at our Boucherville facilities, which together represented about half our demand in 2011, and we will continue seeking additional alternatives," says the company.

Earlier this week, the Citizen reported that Health Canada had received 28 applications from facilities with the capacity to produce 15 of the drugs currently in short supply, and that more than half of these had come from overseas plants belonging to Sandoz.

As a result of the shortages, Health Canada has also begun to enable practitioners to access drugs which are not approved in Canada, in order to treat patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. This is being done under a special access programme (SAP), which authorises a manufacturer to sell a drug that cannot otherwise be sold or distributed in Canada, on a short-term basis and in cases where, for such patients, conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable or unavailable.

The SAP allows unapproved drugs to be made available in limited quantities provided they have been approved by a trusted overseas regulator such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Health Canada was reported during the week as stating that, so far, it had received 22 SAP requests because of the shortages, of which it had approved 17 and five were pending. No application so far has been rejected, it added.