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Category: Innovation
Published: December 8, 2020

COVID-19 Brings into Sharp Focus the Value of a Strong Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Industry

By Jim Keon
Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges and uncertainty for global supply chains in all industries, with border closures and export restrictions imposed by some countries, and significant reductions in global transportation capacity.

Canada’s generic pharmaceutical industry was not immune from these challenges.

With nearly three quarters of all prescriptions filled with generic medicines, the security of our nation’s supply of prescription drugs rests largely with Canada’s generic pharmaceutical industry.

The 11,000 Canadians that work in the generic pharmaceutical industry should be proud of the contribution they make each and every day to making prescription drugs more affordable and accessible for Canadian patients. Never have we seen greater evidence of the essential nature of that contribution than in the past several months as they have worked tirelessly to overcome the many challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic to ensure Canadians continued to have access to the prescription medicines they need.

Compared with many countries that rely solely on importing their prescription medicines, Canada is fortunate to have extensive domestic generic pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity and capabilities. This is particularly important in times of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other industrial sectors, such as aerospace, agriculture and energy, Canada’s generic pharmaceutical industry has not traditionally had access to significant government support or intervention to enhance its essential role in Canada’s health-care system and economy.

In fact, government objectives such as achieving the lowest possible prices over the past decade have served to weaken Canada’s domestic pharmaceutical sector and resulted in job losses, increased reliance on imports, and a more vulnerable pharmaceutical supply chain for Canadians.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, concern is now being expressed by governments and others about Canada’s increasing reliance on imports from jurisdictions that are more economically competitive for global manufacturing investment, such as China and India. 

With the difficult lessons of COVID-19 as a guide, the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association (CGPA) published its Blueprint for a Sustainable Supply of Prescription Medicines for Canadians that identifies measures to:

  • Enhance Canada’s existing pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity and domestic capabilities
  • Create a more resilient pharmaceutical supply chain with increased redundancy
  • Ensure Canada’s role within a well-functioning global supply chain
  • Encourage the establishment of a more coordinated approach to equipping Canada for future health emergencies.

The pharmaceutical industry and supply chain are fully globalized. Regardless of where manufacturing occurs, ingredients and inputs are sourced internationally. It is unrealistic to believe that all medicines, or the ingredients required to produce them, could be manufactured or sourced in Canada in a sustainable way.

It is, however, possible to strengthen Canada’s existing pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, promote a well-functioning global supply chain, and adopt a coordinated approach to better equip Canada for future health emergencies, such as identifying essential generic medicines to domestically produce and stockpile for Canadian needs.

Governments and industry need to apply the lessons learned from the pandemic and change the way we think about the importance of prescription medicines – and the Canadians that develop, manufacture and get them onto pharmacy shelves – so that the first priority is maintaining a stable and resilient supply for Canadian patients.

Jim Keon is President of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association