Quebec said it will save at least $1.5-billion over five years after reaching an agreement with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices for generic drugs.

The deal, announced Sunday by Health Minister Gaetan Barrette, will take effect in the fall and marks the end of acrimonious negotiations during which the government threatened to pursue competitive bidding. Barrette declined to give details because generic-drug makers are currently holding similar talks with an alliance of Canadian provinces.

"We pay too much for our drugs, and this was about finding a balanced, reasonable meeting point to protect the industry and jobs, while paying less," Barrette said at a press conference in Montreal. "In effect, this is a 40 per cent saving, which is huge."

Story continues below advertisement

Canada's second-most populous province spends about $800-million on generic drugs each year and has been trying to reduce health-care costs by instituting changes affecting doctors, pharmacists and others.

The government will use the savings on health-care services, Barrette said. Private insurers will also benefit from the new negotiated prices, though it will be up to them to decide whether to translate the savings into lower premiums, he said.

The industry, which had called on the minister to return to the negotiating table when talks broke three weeks ago, said the savings will come through discounts and the launch of new generic prescription medicines.

"The government of Quebec is clearly recognizing the value of the generic pharmaceutical industry to Quebec's health-care system and economy, and the importance of ensuring there exist incentives for generic pharmaceutical manufacturers to invest in bringing new, cost-saving prescription medicines to Quebec and Canada," Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said in an emailed statement.