Officials from Health Canada will meet with Bayer executives Monday over the government's controversial decision to bypass the drug company's patent on the anthrax-fighting drug, Cipro.
Pharmaceutical giant Bayer has threatened to sue Health Canada after it gave a $1.2-million contract to Toronto-based Apotex Inc., which makes a generic version of Bayer's anti-anthax drug Cipro. Bayer owns the Canadian patent rights to the drug.
A settlement between the government and Bayer is expected to emerge from today's meeting. But experts say Health Canada may end up paying more than if it had turned to Bayer in the first place.
Speaking to CTV's Question Period on Sunday, Health Minister Allan Rock flatly denied assertions his department may have gaffed by violating the Patent Act, thus opening the government up to a hefty lawsuit.
"I went out there and I did what I had to do to make sure we had the stockpile of drugs Canadians need. That's my job and I did it," an irritated Rock said.
He defended Health Canada's decision to award the contract to Apotex, saying his officials were acting on direct orders from him to find a large enough supply of antibiotics in the event of an anthrax outbreak in Canada.
"Health Canada officials were under my direction to go out and stockpile the drugs we needed. . . .They (Health Canada) did what they thought was necessary. I stand behind them," Rock said.
He also challenged Bayer's assertion that Health Canada never contacted the firm about supplying 1 million pills of the drug. He said Health Canada officials asked on two occasions for Bayer to supply the drugs, but were told there wasn't enough supply.
That's in stark contrast to Bayer's version of events.
During a news conference Friday, Phil Blake, executive vice-president of Bayer's health care division, said it wasn't asked by Health Canada to fill a large order.
"We never received an order for that quantity of tablets," said Blake.
Bayer said it would donate 200,000 Cipro tablets to "front-line workers" in Canada.
Under section 19 of the Patent Act, the government can use a patent in some cases without the holder's permission as long as it is sought for a public, non-commercial use. It also states the government must reimburse the patent holder "adequate remuneration."
Rock refused to say if the federal government would be forced to reimburse Bayer.
So far, there have been no reported cases of anthrax infection in Canada. At least nine cases of inhaled and cutaneous, or skin, anthrax have been confirmed in the U.S.