US pharma lobby group hits out at Canada drug import plans

The US pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA has hit back at legislative plans unveiled by former Democrat presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders to import pricey prescription meds from across the border in Canada to cut costs, saying it would risk boosting fakes in the country.

In a statement posted after Sanders and a group of Democratic colleagues introduced a bill in late February to allow the importation of cheaper medicines from Canada into the US, PhRMA said this would risk "potentially counterfeit and substandard drugs into the United States [that] are unsafe and put American patients at risk."

This all comes amid mounting pricing pressures in the US, which has been bubbling for years but grew hot during 2016's presidential race, and Sanders has been a leading figure in criticising the high price tags attached to new medicines in the country, as well as the "price gouging" from across the biopharma industry.

President Donald Trump has also signalled that he is keen to lower drug prices through an as yet undetailed plan of de-regulation at the FDA; tax changes that would allow money currently locked overseas to come back to US companies; and a "bidding process" that could also involve other countries promising to increase their drug prices (the US has some of the highest costs in the world) if they want a new trade deal with America.

PhRMA has aggressively defended its members from pricing criticism, and has been quick to try and dampen enthusiasm for this new attempt to get drug prices down.

It said: "Counterfeit drug manufacturing and trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business. Legislative proposals to allow importation of potentially counterfeit and substandard drugs into the United States are unsafe and put American patients at risk.

"This is because the U.S. government cannot guarantee that medicines entering the country via importation schemes will meet our strict safety standards."

Another lobby group for the industry, The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), which is focused on medicine safety, sent a letter to Congress urging them to not back the bill, which it says was signed by nearly 170 health care organizations, "to protect American patients from foreign counterfeits."

It also said that Canadian law "does not prohibit the transhipment of drugs from any country - including from countries with low manufacturing standards - into Canada and then on to the US."

It adds that Canadian law "explicitly states that the Canadian equivalent to the FDA does not have to inspect drugs for export."

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