MSF calls on Canada to ensure medicines developed with public funds are affordable and accessible

October 29, 2020 – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has delivered a petition with more than 91,000 signatures to Canada’s Minister of Health, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, calling on the Canadian government to take immediate steps to ensure fair, affordable and equitable access to any medicines, vaccines or other health technologies developed with Canadian public funds, including for any innovations developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MSF and its supporters are demanding that Canada attach conditions to the funding it provides for medical research and development (R&D), requiring recipients to ensure that medicines and vaccines developed with public funds will be affordable, available and accessible to those who need them most. Without immediate action to attach such safeguards, MSF says, the Canadian government risks spending billions to develop new medicines that will simply be sold to private pharmaceutical corporations and priced out of reach of patients and health systems — including Canada’s.

“It’s unacceptable that potentially lifesaving medicines or vaccines developed with Canadian public funds – provided by Canadian taxpayers – could be priced out of reach of those who need them, in Canada or around the world,” says Dr. Jason Nickerson, MSF’s Humanitarian Affairs Advisor. “Public funds should deliver public goods. Any institution or organization receiving public funds should be required to ensure that any medicines, vaccines and other health technologies developed with the support of Canadians be made affordable and accessible to everyone who needs them.”

Lives over profits

COVID-19 has put into sharp focus that public funding is essential for developing the medicines we need. Canada alone has already allocated more than $1 billion on COVID-19 research and development, and every year spends hundreds of millions of dollars supporting medical R&D. These are vital investments that lead to the discovery of new lifesaving medicines and vaccines. And yet, despite being developed with public funds, they often become the property of private pharmaceutical corporations, who are free to price them to as they see fit, often prioritizing their own profits over patient access.

“This system cannot continue,” says Nickerson. “Canada should insist on enforceable commitments to access and affordability in any licensing agreements between publicly funded research institutes and the pharmaceutical industry, requiring final products to be made available at fair prices, and demanding fair access conditions for patients and health systems. When the public invests to develop lifesaving medicines, we should be able to keep control over what we have paid to help generate.”

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the world’s leading independent emergency humanitarian medical organizations. MSF launched the Access to Medicines Campaign in 1999. The Campaign’s objective is to increase access to and develop affordable, practical and effective lifesaving medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tests for neglected diseases.