March 25, 2011 - Today the Macdonald-Laurier Institute issued the first in a series of papers on pharmaceutical policy called Pills, Patents & Profits. Pharmaceutical policy is vitally important in Canada because of the high cost of drugs and their increasingly central role in improving the health and life expectancy of Canadians. Applying documented practical experience, common sense and economic insight, one of Canada's leading health economists, Brian Ferguson, of the University of Guelph, identifies and discusses the five key questions on which sensible pharmaceutical policy depends but where misconceptions, misinformation and poorly conceived policy abound:

* Are patents the best way to reward those who develop new pharmaceutical products and keep the cost of life-saving medicines under control while encouraging innovative new treatments?

* Just how much does it really cost to invent new drugs? How much do inventors need to be rewarded?

* How do we strike a balance between rewarding the research work of the "brand name" pharmaceutical firms and encouraging "generics" to manufacture more affordable versions of proven drugs?

* How should government agencies decide which drugs to approve for sale, what is a fair price for approved medicines, and whether provincial and territorial health plans should cover them?

* How should Canadians be insured against so-called "catastrophic" drug costs, for extremely expensive medicines or for those a patient needs to take in significant numbers over a long period of time?

Today's paper explains why each one of these questions matters to Canadians affected by the quality, price and availability of therapeutic drugs and why it is vital that policymakers get the answers to these questions right — something they have not always managed to do in the past.

According to MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley, "Professor Ferguson reminds us that in the debate over the cost of and access to drugs, governments have heard a wide range of policy options, the vast majority of which are not just wrong but would, if implemented, be positively harmful. This series of papers aims to help us avoid those mistakes and ensure the most timely and economical access possible to the widest range of therapeutic drugs for Canadians."

Each subsequent paper in the series will answer one of these five questions in order to provide clarity about the effects of current pharmaceutical policy including  how much patients pay and what medicines they can get, and generate suggestions for legislative and regulatory reforms to enhance the well-being of Canadians.