Prescription Drug Reimportation Could Limit Biotechnology Innovation, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan Says
State programs to reimport less-expensive, U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from Canada could limit innovation in the biotechnology industry, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said on Thursday after he met with industry leaders in a private conference in Claremont, the Los Angeles Times reports. Most medications reimported from Canada are manufactured by large pharmaceutical companies, but biotech industry leaders raised concerns that the practice could "have a chilling effect on private investment in biotech start-ups," according to the Times (Gellene, Los Angeles Times, 2/20). McClellan said, "We want to do all we can to keep health care costs down, but we don't want to kill off innovation in the process" (Jacobs, San Jose Mercury News, 2/20). McClellan added that his visit to California was not related to reimportation bills under consideration in the Legislature (Los Angeles Times, 2/20). One of the bills, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) would allow California to reimport prescription drugs from Canada for state prisons. Under the legislation, the Department of General Services, which purchases prescription drugs for the California prison system, youth authority and mental hospitals, could reimport medications from Canada, which would could save the state as much as $30 million per year (California Healthline, 1/23). A second bill, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer (D-Los Angeles), would require the Board of Pharmacy to establish a Web site that compares prices for prescription drugs at U.S. and Canadian pharmacies. The Web site also would provide links to Canadian pharmacies certified by the pharmacy board (California Healthline, 2/13).
At the conference, Dr. Drew Senyei, managing director of Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, criticized the reimportation bills. He said, "A state-mandated importation program would be crippling for biotech and have severe long-term economic consequences for the state." However, consumer advocates and state lawmakers who support the legislation said that U.S. residents and government agencies pay "too much for prescription drugs and are carrying a disproportionate share of the cost of drug development," the Mercury News reports. Frank Clemente, director of Congress Watch at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said that the bills would help address the "tremendous price gouging and excessive profits" in the pharmaceutical industry. Frommer added, "Competition in the pharmaceutical arena doesn't slow research." According to Burton, "It seems to me if the companies were losing money selling drugs in Canada, they wouldn't be selling them there" (San Jose Mercury News, 2/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.